A Lucky Child: A Memoir of Surviving Auschwitz as a Young Boy by Thomas Buergenthal
Thomas was very young when Hitler came to power and ended up being one of the youngest prisoners of Auschwitz and Birkenau. Since most of the younger children sent to these camps had to undergo selection upon their arrival, many were not even given the chance to attempt to survive there experiences and were simply killed right away. Thomas, however, was on a train that came from a work camp where most of the young, elderly, and physically weak people had already been slaughtered when the camp was liquidated, so they escaed the horrors of selection. Because of this twist of fate, and ever so many other similar twists of fate, Thomas believes that he was – as a fortune-teller told his mother he would be – a lucky child.
Thomas was very young during the war – only days away from his 11th birthday on V.E. Day – and waited more than 50 years to write his memoir. This gives “A Lucky Child” a very different feel from other Holocaust memoirs, such as “Night,” which Elie Wiesel published just 10 years after the war ended, when he was 26. The combination of a child’s view of events and the long reach of memory gives “A Lucky Child” a hazy, almost dream-like quality. The horrors of war and the disturbing reality of what Thomas’s fate might have been are approached in a very matter-of-fact way that can be quite disconcerting. In some ways this made “A Lucky Child” a less emotional book, but without making it at all dry.
In fact, I was amazed at how quickly it read “A Lucky Child” read, although perhaps I shouldn’t have been surprised. Almost anyone telling sharing their most important childhood memory, something that formed them, that they’ve never been able to forget over the years, is going to be interesting. Add to this the fact that Thomas basically should NOT have survived given the circumstances and the story becomes one you don’t want to interrupt. I was filled with great desire to find out how he managed to live where so many perished and read this whole book in one day.
Although the subject matter is clearly difficult, “A Lucky Child” focuses more on the narrative and less on horrific details, making it a good read both for those who want to understand what happened and those who are cautious about approaching stories such as these, for the emotional difficulties they pose. It was a remarkably well-written memoir and I loved reading at the end how Thomas took his difficult childhood experiences and transformed them into a career working for human rights around the world.
If this topic interests you at all, I highly recommend “A Lucky Child.”