A Lucky Child: A Memoir of Surviving Auschwitz as a Young Boy

A Lucky Child: A Memoir of Surviving Auschwitz as a Young Boy


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The profoundly moving memoir of a young boy's odyssey through the Holocaust.

In a new edition of his bestselling memoir, Thomas Buergenthal tells of his astonishing experiences as a young boy. Buergenthal arrived at Auschwitz at age 10 after surviving two ghettos and one work camp. Separated from his mother and then his father, he managed by his wits and some remarkable strokes of luck to survive on his own. Almost two years after his liberation, Buergenthal was miraculously reunited with his mother and in 1951 arrived in the U.S. to start a new life.

Since the initial publication of this book, new documents have been made available, allowing Buergenthal to finally learn the details of his mother's search for him and the truth about his father. With a new afterword by the author sharing these revelations, A LUCKY CHILD is a classic that demands to be read by all.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780316339186
Publisher: Little, Brown and Company
Publication date: 04/07/2015
Pages: 304
Sales rank: 128,400
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 9.10(h) x 0.90(d)
Lexile: 1150L (what's this?)

About the Author

Considered one of the world's leading international human rights law experts, Thomas Buergenthal served as a judge at the International Court of Justice and prior thereto as judge and president of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights. He is the Lobingier Professor of Comparative Law & Jurisprudence at the George Washington University Law School, and the recipient of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum's 2015 Elie Wiesel Award.

Read an Excerpt

One day my mother came home in a very excited state. She told my father that she and a girlfriend had gone to a famous fortune-teller. Before going in, Mutti had taken off her wedding ring, and because she looked much younger than her age, she was very surprised when the fortune-teller, after studying her cards, proclaimed that my mother was married and had one child. In addition to knowing a great deal about our family background, the fortune-teller told my mother that her son was "ein Glückskind" - a lucky child - and that he would emerge unscathed from the future that awaited us.

-from the book

Table of Contents

Foreword Elie Wiesel xi

Preface xv

Chapter 1 From Lubochna to Poland 3

Chapter 2 Katowice 26

Chapter 3 The Ghetto of Kielce 38

Chapter 4 Auschwitz 64

Chapter 5 The Auschwitz Death Transport 87

Chapter 6 Liberation 98

Chapter 7 Into the Polish Army 115

Chapter 8 Waiting to Be Found 131

Chapter 9 A New Beginning 150

Chapter 10 Life in Germany 161

Chapter 11 To America 193

Epilogue 207

Acknowledgments 227

Reading Group Guide 231

What People are Saying About This

Cynthia Ozick

"In the plainest words and the steadiest tones (as an intimate would speak deadly truth in the dead of night), Thomas Buergenthal delivers to us the child he once was: an unblemished little boy made human prey by Europe's indelible twentieth-century barbarism, a criminality that will never leave off its telling. History and memory fail to ebb; rather, they accelerate and proliferate, and Buergenthal's voice is now more thunderous than ever. Pledged to universal human rights, he has turned a life of gratuitous deliverance into a work of visionary compassion."--(Cynthia Ozick, author of Heir to the Glimmering World)

Kate Braestrup

"The unsentimental tone of Buergenthal's writing magnifies his deliberate decision not to make melodrama out of a story that is plenty dramatic enough. Like Primo Levi and Anne Frank, Buergenthal can only tell the story of one life, but through that life we are led to consider and honor all the lives of those who weren't so lucky."--(Kate Braestrup, author of Here If You Need Me)

Elizabeth McCracken

"A Lucky Child is an extraordinary story, simply and beautifully told. Heartbreaking and thrilling, it examines what it means to be human, in every good and awful sense. Perhaps most amazingly of all, Thomas Buergenthal remembers and renders the small mysteries and grand passions of childhood, even a childhood lived under the most horrific circumstances."--(Elizabeth McCracken, author of An Exact Replica of a Figment of My Imagination)

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Lucky Child 4.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 114 reviews.
TheBookInn More than 1 year ago
Thomas Beurgenthal- born May 11, 1934 in Lubochna Czechoslovaka. His parents Mudek & Gerda Beurgenthal . Thomas and his family living in Lubochna are made to pack up and move out of their hotel, ending up in a small apartment in Zilina. Thomas's father found a job as a traveling salesman so that left Thomas and his mother home alone. One day the police came to the door and ordered them to pack their belongings. They were told that the Jews were being expelled from the country. Thomas's mother demanded to talk to the chief of police and told him that they were Germans, showing him her passport, which was a Germans drivers license. The chief ordered the police to escort them home. Deciding it was to dangerous to continue to live there, they decided to move to Poland. One day his mother came home very excited. She had visited a fortune teller who told her about her family and that her son was "ein Gluckskind" - A Lucky Child . But on their lucky day Hitler invades Poland and this is the start of Thomas's remarkable struggle to survival story begins. When reading his story, my stomach was in knots . I have a hard time reading about the Holocaust, such a horrendous crime. Thomas does a wonderful job , detailing his time in the camps, how he was able to survive day to day . I wanted to cry and hug him and make his hurt go away. It was a fascinating read and I highly recommend it.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This was a great read. If you want to learn a little more about the holocaust from someone's personal experience read this -
grumpydan More than 1 year ago
When reading A LUCKY CHILD, I thought about the film LIFE IS BEAUTIFUL, both seen through the eyes of a young boy. This memoir about Thomas Buergenthal's life in concentration camps during the Holocaust is truly unforgettable. How this young child survives through the horrors of such an ordeal is beyond me? He truly was a lucky child and to write it down for generations to read, we have become the lucky ones. This book details the losses he experienced, the travels through various 'work' camps, the liberation by the Russian army and the search for his parents afterward. His story is a remarkable one and to learn that he has devoted his adult life to international and human rights law shows what an amazing person he has become. This is a must read.
belizeme More than 1 year ago
I very much enjoyed Mr. Buergenthal's book. While I had never read any books about concentration camps and the human suffering and injustices found therein, I was certain that this book would be excellent having reviewed it online before purchasing. The author's style of writing was easy to follow and my interest was piqued immediately. I found tears in my eyes as he described some of his experiences but also enjoyed the lightheartedness found in one experience in the infirmary. Having read this book, I have found a new interest in learning more about individual accounts of time spent in concentration camps during World War II. Thank you, Mr. Buergenthal, for sharing your experience with the world and also for the very important work you currently do to address human rights.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Awesome,inspiring read!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Since I'm a 2nd world war child myself it brought back lots of memories, It is a long time ago but the fear and hunger memories you live through will never go away. The book is excellently written: not over dramatic but well expressed and believable.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
There is a market for books and memoirs about the holocaust; and this one was very well written. I personally am re-building my library of books and memoirs about the holocaust now that l own a nook. I wish Odd Nansen's books were available, l would have liked to read them as well.
Katiebug33 More than 1 year ago
Very good book. Hard to believe a child and his mother survived those horrible death camps.
ReneeSuz More than 1 year ago
Some books are remarkable and moving; this is one of them. Buergenthal recalls his boyhood under Hitler; from Jewish ghetto to work camp to Auschwitz. His story is one that never should have been written since odds were against him being a young Jewish boy. How did a young boy of eight years survive a work camp, how did that same boy at 10 years old live through Auschwitz.... even after reading Buergenthal's memoir it's unfathomable but truth is stranger than fiction. The memoir continues through liberation by Soviet soldiers, time spent as 'mascot' to the Polish Army, a Jewish orphanage, reuniting with his mother at 12 1/2 years old and finally emigrating to America. Buergenthals' book is more than just a memoir; it's also a book about learning to let go of hatred. He writes "we were forced to confront these emotions in a way that helped Mutti and me gradually overcome our hatred and desire for revenge. ... I doubt that we would have been able to preserve our sanity had we remained consumed by hatred for the rest of our lives.... while it was important not to forget what happened to us in the Holocaust, it was equally important not to hold the descendants of the perpetrators responsible for what was done to us, lest the cycle of hate and violence never end." Thomas Buergenthal survived the Holocaust and has devoted his life to international and human rights law. He is currently the American judge at the International Court of Justice in The Hague.
khuggard on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
If this book were fiction, I would think it was over-sensationalized. But since it is a memoir, I simply sit and marvel about all that happened to this young boy and his ability to survive it. I appreciated Buergenthal's honesty about the anger he experienced after the war. In fact, I think it is this acknowledgment of the anger he experienced that makes the overall message of forgiveness so much more believable and compelling.
Lilac_Lily01 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
"A Lucky Child" is the moving tale of Thomas Buergenthal who as a young boy survived the Nazi concentration camps. This memoir was very touching and the pictures in the book made everything more real. It's hard to understand how anyone can live through something as horrific as a holocaust and not be broken by it. Yet Buergenthal is a great example of that.
tjsjohanna on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I found myself amazed and touched by the experiences Mr. Buergenthal recounts in his memoir. While the author takes a somewhat less emotional look at his childhood - still, I found myself at times stopping to imagine what his experiences might have felt like. That he found the ability to take such horrifying experiences and turn them into a drive for something better is so admirable. The personal photos really brought home to me the fact that Mr. Buergenthal lost so much of his family. This is a readable look at one man's childhood experiences as a concentration camp survivor - and as he himself states: "the individual story of each Holocaust survivor is a valuable addition to the history of the Holocaust." This is certainly a welcome addition.
kentlibrarysuffield on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This is one of those rare books that one dreads reading because of the subject matter and then is pleasantly surprised and almost uplifted by it.A very difficult read, a terrible experience for a child, but the outcome, his reunion with family and his accomplishments as an adult make this book more than worthwhile to read.
dreamreader on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I became immersed in literature of the Holocaust - both personal accounts and fiction - while a student at Simmons College in the 60's, where Professor Lawrence Langer taught a course on the subject, and so I felt fortunate to be sent an advance copy of Thomas Buergenthal's "A Lucky Child". The author states up front that his memories may be clouded by the passage of time regarding events he may have personally witnessed versus those he heard talked about, and about specific chronology. That in no way detracts from his personal testament as a survivor of this atrocity. With the perspective of time and a life lived in the service of human rights, his narrative stands with those of Elie Weisel and others who have survived as voices for a population and culture eradicated by evil. As the population of survivors dwindles, these personal accounts become more imperative.
lmikkel on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This memoir was a gripping read. The story of Buergenthal's survival, against all odds, in the Nazi death camps, is told in a measured tone. Mr. Buergenthal waited many years to write his story because he wanted to distance himself from the painful events he describes. The distance that he achieves helps his narrative in the sense that we receive it intellectually rather than emotionally. To perceive the events of the Nazi era without drama is to perceive anew the horrors that were perpetrated in that time. I was especially moved by Mr. Buergenthal's realization that his survival was entirely due to luck. Although his parents prepared him to take advantage of any opportunities to survive that came his way, luck was the determining factor time and again in the story of his survival. His experiences as a child during the war determined his future career and Mr. Buergenthal devoted his career to the protection of human rights. He takes the opportunity in his book to remind the reader that human rights violations still occur, despite the many lessons our society has had, and that we all need to be vigilant on behalf of the rights of human beings everywhere. I highly recommend this book.
atelier on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This is the poignant memoir of survival in the Nazi terror and death camps by a child who was only ten years old when liberated in 1945, having survived Auschwitz. As with every time I try to contemplate the kind of horror that supposedly civilized human beings can inflict on other human beings, I found in this intensely personal story thoroughly uplifting. The author is currently the American judge at the International Court of Justice in The Hague. A well-written and deeply personal telling of this touching story.
verka6811 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Few children survived the concentration camps - especially Auschwitz - making Buergenthal truly lucky. As children were systematically exterminated by the Nazis, he managed to escape death time and time again. Buergenthal was raised in captivity, traveling with his parents and then alone from a ghetto in Kielche to German labor camps, to Auschwitz, and finally to Sachsenhausen. At every turn, Buergenthal survived due to a mixture of wit, determination, and sheer luck. Oddly, even getting into Auschwitz was luck, since he was not subjected to selections that most prisoners arriving there went through, and narrowly escaped being sent directly to the gas chambers. Buergenthal was finally liberated at the age, and luck struck again when he was miraculously reunited with his mother almost two years later.Buergenthal's Holocaust memories are brief, but he makes a point of all the kind acts in the midst of misery. There was the Nazi soldier who handed over his coffee to him when he was cold, the infirmary orderly who changed Buergenthal's admittance card and hence saved him from the gas chamber, and the Norwegian prisoner Odd Nansen who bribed officials to keep Buergenthal alive. I think each Holocaust memoir has a message, and I felt that Buergenthal's message was that people can be selfless and good even when they themselves are struggling to survive.
DevourerOfBooks on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
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.¿
Lallybroch on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I've always been fascinated by the Holocaust. I've been amazed by how good people could treat other human beings so terribly, and how so many people were able to withstand such atrocious treatment and conditions to survive. That such a young child was able to survive is even more amazing.Mr Buergenthal waited quite some time to write his memoir. He explains in the preface that he wanted a little distance from the experience before he wrote about it. While this is certainly understandable, I think this distance from the events did come through in the writing. The story wasn't lacking in emotion by any means, but I didn't have the sense of immediacy that I've gotten from some other Holocaust memoirs I've read.If you are interested in the Holocaust and life in the concentration camps, this is an easy to read memoir that gives you a glimpse into some of the most notorious camps. The books also includes a map and photos. I loved the pictures! Sometimes when reading I would forget just how young Buergenthal was while living in the camps, and these pictures helped remind me
labfs39 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I have read many memoirs of Jews who survived the Holocaust, but this one stands out in my mind, although I can't quite put my finger on why. It may be his extreme youth and the extraordinary fact of his having survived Auschwitz at the age of ten, even after losing the protective presence of both parents. It may be the unusual fate of the boy after his release from the camps: becoming a mascot of the Polish army and the miracle of being reunited with a family member thought perished. Or maybe it is simply the tone of the book, measured, thoughful, and reflective on the events that shaped his illustrious career as an international human rights judge. I think perhaps it may simply be the innocent joy and beauty present in the face of the little boy captured in photos with his parents that are included in the book. If this epitome of youthful exuberance and simple childish joy can be treated so callously and cruelly, with casual disdain, than how can we hope to avert less obvious evil?

"They have forced me to reflect on what it is that allows or compels human beings to commit such cruel and brutal crimes. It frightens me terribly that the individuals committing these acts are for the most part not sadists, but ordinary people who go home in the evening to their families, washing their hands before sitting down to dinner, as if what they had been doing was just a job like any other. If we humans can so easily wash the blood of our fellow humans off our hands, then what hope is there for sparing future generations from a repeat of th genocides and mass killings of the past?"
jwhenderson on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This is yet another memoir of the gruesome reality of the holocaust. From personal experience as a child, Thomas Buergenthal, now a judge at the International Court of Justice in The Hague, relates his story in clear prose which makes it a fast, gripping read. Five years old in Czechoslovakia at the start of World War II, Buergenthal remembers being crowded into the ghetto and then, in 1944, feeling ¿lucky¿ to escape the gas chambers and get into Auschwitz, where he witnessed daily hangings and beatings, but with the help of a few adults, managed to survive. I found this an excellent book that holds its own with other similar stories I have read; Ivan Klima's short account of his childhood in The Spirit of Prague and Elie Wiesel's Night come to mind as examples, both better in my judgment. However, this is certainly a welcome addition to the literature of the holocaust that we need to keep reading lest the past be forgotten.
veevoxvoom on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Summary: Thomas Buerganthal relates his experiences as a child growing up under the Nazi regime and his survival in the concentration camps, as well as his life after the war.Review: I've read a lot of Holocaust memoirs, and I agree with Buergenthal when he says that each one is important. When he talks about how US and UK publishers told him "Holocaust stories don't sell", I shared his uneasiness. It is only by telling the story that we can put a face to the numbers, that we can learn more about humanity. The thing that stood out about Buerganthal's memoirs was that I had never read an account of the camps by a child survivor. This isn't that important -- child or adult, the story would have been just as powerful -- but it does make for an interesting difference.The question, of course, is how much can he remember? Quite a lot, it seems like, although he admits right away that some of the memories may come from his mother's recollection rather than his. Still, it's a startlingly clear portrait filled with the emotions, blind spots, and gut instincts of a child. Buergenthal's older voice narrating the events tempers his experiences with retrospect and wisdom, but the child's voice is not lost.I do think that the first half of the book about his experiences during the war were more compelling than the second half, where he escapes the camps and learns to rebuild his life. However, the second half does offer valuable insight, especially since Buergenthal stays in Germany. I've often wondered how Jewish people who stayed in Germany after the Holocaust coped with that, and Buergenthal gives me the answer: uneasily.His experiences as an adult working for human rights ties up the package with a broader, overarching theme about what humans can do to each other.Conclusion: Worth reading, especially for the child's perspective.
awssis on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This was an amazing book! For Thomas to tell his story as a child surviving, was heartbreaking, yet he told his story in such a way you could see light where I thought none could have existed. His telling of the events after the camps were liberated were very interesting, I had read very little on this, and found it amazing that after all these survivors had endured, he just couldn't be returned to his mother because he didn't have the proper paperwork to cross the borders!!! Great read, I highly recommend A Lucky Child due to the unique perspective.
jcovington on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I recieved this book some time ago and only recently got the chance to read it. My wife saw it on my nightstand and commandeered it, unable to put it down. I wasn't either. The author's story is told in a detached way, which is understandable, since he is writing on the events of his childhood while in his 80s, but also, it seems that most Holocaust memoirs are written that way. It must be hard to revisit such terrible places in the memory.It is a beautiful story, with the joys of childhood interwoven with the pain of the events he lived through and, I think, this adds an uplifting message to what could have been a catalogue of horror.
arubabookwoman on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A Lucky Child: A Memoir of Surviving Auschwitz as a Young Boy by Thomas BuergenthalAlthough originally written in English, this book was published in several other countries before a U.K. or U.S. publisher would issue it in English, the thought being that there were already "enough" Holocaust survivor stories. Buergenthal, a judge on the International Court of Justice in the Hague, and a Holocaust survivor, feels that to speak in terms of numbers is to dehumanize the victims and to trivialize the tragedy. Each Holocaust survivor has a personal and unique story to tell, and each must be heard.Buergenthal wrote his story more than 50 years after the events he describes. However, he is able to skillfully capture and convey his experiences and emotions through the eyes of a child. He was only 4 years old when Hitler invaded Poland in 1939, and just 10 when he was rescued, barely alive, from a concentration camp. In each of the camps he inhabited, he was usually the youngest prisoner. Because he was so young when his ordeal began, he knew no other life, and so observes events without context. He quickly learns the necessities for survival.His mother attributed his survival to good luck, since when he was an infant a fortune-teller had told her that he was a "lucky" child. His story, however, shows that his survival was more than a matter of luck: the quick thinking and wits of his parents, the compassion of strangers, the support of his friends all played a part, in ensuring that he lived to relate his remarkable story.Highly recommended.4 stars