In the spring of 1944, 15-year-old Tibor "Max" Eisen and his family gathered for Passover Seder, when there came a knock at the door and a neighbor's warning of a roundup of Hungarian Jews. The following morning, police forced open the gates and gave the family five minutes to pack all of their belongings. A transit camp followed, then the train to Auschwitz-Birkenau. Eisen managed to survive the death camp after a Polish political prisoner and doctor took him in, providing security, clothes, and food. Following the war and a three-year-long journey, Eisen immigrated to Canada, where, at last, in 1949, he started rebuilding what was left of his life. This affecting account sheds fresh insight into the horrors of the Holocaust; Eisen's descriptions of the prison hospital will provide new information to many readers, even those already well familiar with the World War II literature. VERDICT In the vein of Holocaust memoirs such as Elie Wiesel's Night and Primo Levi's Survival in Auschwitz, this significant new entry offers further documentation of a dark period in history. It will be a solid addition to all World War II collections.—David Keymer, Cleveland
A horrifying yet inspiring story of a young man's life before, during, and after the Holocaust.
Eisen was living in Czechoslovakia when the Nazis began their sweep across Europe. He points out that many did not believe that the roundup would include them, but, of course, it eventually did. He spends some 50 pages discussing his pre-Holocaust life—school, summers working on a farm—and then tells about his family's arrest, the train to Auschwitz, and the "cruelty of the SS guards." Those familiar with the vile history of the camp will recognize the routines and indignities (and worse) that the author and his family experienced. Eventually, all of his family members were "selected" for murder, and he records his sad farewell with his father, who implored him to tell the story. As the war wound down, the prisoners were moved, occasioning yet more unspeakable horrors, including some starving, desperate prisoners' resorting to cannibalism. Eisen had just turned 16 when the Americans liberated the camp. In the final third of the book, the author deals with the immediate post-Holocaust years: his struggles to get back to his town and decision to leave, the kindness (and unkindness) of strangers, his re-arrest by the communists, his fortunate release from prison, and the complicated and highly risky decision to leave Europe for Canada. Eisen subsequently married, had a family, found a career in bookbinding, and, in 1988, began speaking frequently about the Holocaust to a wide variety of groups. His research has taken him back to Auschwitz numerous times. He acknowledges at the outset that he cannot, of course, remember everything that happened in 1944, but, as readers will quickly discover, so much of what happened to him resides firmly in the category of unforgettable.
More gruesome evidence of what we will do to one another; more sanguine evidence of the determination to remain human.
A gripping, harrowing read, chock-a-block with pulse-quickening detail.
Max Eisen reveals, with clarity and honesty, his personal resilience and determination to survive against impossible odds, and bear witness to the horrors of Auschwitz. His humanity and generosity shine through in this powerful and page-turning memoir.
Such were the overwhelming odds stacked against him, Max Eisen should not have survived. Chance, some good people, and not a little luck all played their part, but his dogged determination to overcome the lethal physical and mental onslaught is truly remarkable.
By Chance Alone is a story of great pathos, and told with directness and simplicity, of the sufferings and grief and fear of one boy in a terrible time and a terrible place.
Max Eisen’s important, timely memoir reminds us that horror does not happen overnight and that no one is immune to it. By Chance Alone is a testimony to the human experience of needless, senseless suffering. May we learn from it.
An astounding narrative . . . a timely examination of the human capacity for cruelty, ignorance, and depravity. It is also a message of hope, a cri de coeur, and a reminder that small acts of kindness can have an immeasurable impact on another person’s life.
[An] extraordinary memoir.