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

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Overview

Thomas Buergenthal, now a Judge in the International Court of Justice in The Hague, tells his astonishing experiences as a young boy in his memoir A LUCKY CHILD. He arrived at Auschwitz at age 10 after surviving two ghettos and a labor camp. Separated first from his mother and then his father, Buergenthal 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 ...

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

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Overview

Thomas Buergenthal, now a Judge in the International Court of Justice in The Hague, tells his astonishing experiences as a young boy in his memoir A LUCKY CHILD. He arrived at Auschwitz at age 10 after surviving two ghettos and a labor camp. Separated first from his mother and then his father, Buergenthal 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.

Now dedicated to helping those subjected to tyranny throughout the world, Buergenthal writes his story with a simple clarity that highlights the stark details of unimaginable hardship. A LUCKY CHILD is a book that demands to be read by all.

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  • Thomas Buergenthal
    Thomas Buergenthal  

Editorial Reviews

The Oklahoman
"Reminiscent of Anne Frank and Elie Wiesel...Buergenthal [speaks] most eloquently for the millions of Holocaust victims who cannot."
The Free Lance-Star
"An incredible tale."
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
"A remarkable, sometimes astonishing story of finding protection and kindness from unlikely sources, uncanny narrow escapes and a powerfully strong will to live."
Booklist
"You think you've heard it all....But this one is different. The clear, nonhectoring prose makes Buergenthal's personal story-and the enduring ethical questions it prompts-the stuff of a fast, gripping read."
The Sydney Morning Herald
"A Lucky Child does not wallow in the horrors nor does it shirk the darkest events. It is a clear-headed account of Buergenthal's experiences and how they determined his life."
Elizabeth McCracken
"An extraordinary story, simply and beautifully told. Heartbreaking and thrilling, it examines what it means to be human, in every good and awful sense. Thomas Buergenthal remembers and renders the small mysteries and grand passions of childhood, even a childhood lived under the most horrific circumstances."
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."
Cynthia Ozick
"In the plainest words and the steadiest tones, Thomas Buergenthal delivers to us the child he once was. History and memory fail to ebb; rather, they accelerate and proliferate, and Buergenthal's voice is now more thunderous than ever. A work of visionary compassion."
From the Publisher
"In the plainest words and the steadiest tones, Thomas Buergenthal delivers to us the child he once was. History and memory fail to ebb; rather, they accelerate and proliferate, and Buergenthal's voice is now more thunderous than ever. A work of visionary compassion."—Cynthia Ozick, author of Heir to the Glimmering World

"An extraordinary story, simply and beautifully told. Heartbreaking and thrilling, it examines what it means to be human, in every good and awful sense. 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

"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

"Reminiscent of Anne Frank and Elie Wiesel...Buergenthal [speaks] most eloquently for the millions of Holocaust victims who cannot."—The Oklahoman

"An incredible tale."—The Free Lance-Star

"Buergenthal's authentic, moving tale reveals that his lifelong commitment to human rights sprang from the ashes of Auschwitz."—Publishers Weekly

"Powerful....The author's story is astonishing and moving, and his capacity for forgiveness is remarkably heartening. An important new voice joins the chorus of survivors."—Kirkus Reviews

"A remarkable, sometimes astonishing story of finding protection and kindness from unlikely sources, uncanny narrow escapes and a powerfully strong will to live."—The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

"You think you've heard it all....But this one is different. The clear, nonhectoring prose makes Buergenthal's personal story-and the enduring ethical questions it prompts-the stuff of a fast, gripping read."—Booklist

"A Lucky Child does not wallow in the horrors nor does it shirk the darkest events. It is a clear-headed account of Buergenthal's experiences and how they determined his life."—The Sydney Morning Herald

Nora Krug
Buergenthal's…plainspoken autobiography demonstrates that it is still possible for a Holocaust memoir to astonish…Though [his] ultimate fate is known from the start…the book still manages to conjure up suspense as Buergenthal escapes one near-death moment after another.
—The Washington Post
Publishers Weekly

Not many children who entered Auschwitz lived to tell the tale. The American judge at the International Court of Justice in the Hague, Czechoslovakia-born Buergenthal, is one of the few. A 10-year-old inmate in August 1944 at Birkenau, Buergenthal was one of the death camp's youngest prisoners. He miraculously survived, thanks, among others, to a friendly kapo who made him an errand boy. Buergenthal's authentic, moving tale reveals that his lifelong commitment to human rights sprang from the ashes of Auschwitz. 16 b&w photos, 1 map. (Apr. 20)

Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Library Journal

As a boy at Auschwitz, Buergenthal apparently avoided its killing process because of administrative chaos but was separated from his parents. His story is especially interesting for its detail of his postwar experiences, reconnecting with prisoners who'd helped him, and living in an orphanage in Eastern Europe until his mother found him. Buergenthal regards the Holocaust as a moral compass for his life's path as a judge on the International Criminal Court in The Hague. [See Prepub Alert, LJ1/09.]
—Frederic Krome

School Library Journal

Adult/High School

Buergenthal was elected American judge at the International Court of Justice, The Hague, in 2000. He is a survivor of Auschwitz, one in a succession of several labor, prison, and death camps where he spent his 10th and 11th years. An excellent and evocative storyteller, he finds that the distance of time allows him to ask questions about how his experiences in a Polish ghetto, the fact that he was able to stay with his father during his early concentration camp months, and his reunion with his mother after liberation and before his 13th birthday shaped him, and also helped him to survive in the worst Holocaust scenarios. Illustrating the vivid word images he creates with snapshots of his prewar and postwar life (the former saved by a neighbor in spite of her fears that the Nazis would discover her Jewish sympathy), this is a well-constructed, warm, insightful visit with the man. He knows that he was both lucky and well served by the plasticity of a youth that really had no "ordinary" contrast against which he might have turned and lost hope, will, and the strength to keep alive emotionally and physically. In addition to being an excellent curriculum-support text, the fine writing and insights here make this book a powerful choice for teens looking for a mentor through emotional and political challenges of their own.-Francisca Goldsmith, Halifax Public Libraries, Nova Scotia

Kirkus Reviews
A powerful Holocaust memoir from an International Court Judge in The Hague..First published in Germany in 2007, the book revisits Buergenthal's youth in the late 1930s when he and his parents were forced by the Nazis to leave their home in Lubochna, Czechoslovakia, where they owned a hotel. After a short period in the Polish ghetto in Kielce, they were transported to Auschwitz in August 1944. The author was five when he was first uprooted in 1939, and he attributes the family's early survival to his parents' cunning and sheer luck in the face of the "Nazi killing machine." Though his mother was stripped of her German citizenship because of her Jewish heritage, her ability to speak fluent German allowed her to pass through borders relatively obstacle-free. His father's knowledge of Polish, work in the ghetto Werkstatt (a workshop or small factory) and fair hair were also important factors in their avoidance of the SS. During the journey to Auschwitz, Buergenthal lost sight of his mother. At the camp, the boy witnessed horrendous violence, sickness and death, and survived by running errands for the Kapo who supervised the showers. Separated from his father—whom he never saw again—taken to the hospital camp and marked, he believed, for death, Buergenthal was befriended by a young Polish doctor who saved him. He endured the Auschwitz Death Transport to Sachsenhausen, where the Russians eventually liberated the survivors. Only 11 years old, he briefly joined a Polish scout company before being delivered to an orphanage in Otwock, Poland. A year and a half later his mother finally located him. The author's story is astonishing and moving, and his capacity for forgiveness is remarkablyheartening..An important new voice joins the chorus of survivors..Agent: Eva Koralnik/Liepman Agency.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780316043397
  • Publisher: Little, Brown and Company
  • Publication date: 9/16/2010
  • Pages: 230
  • Sales rank: 83,070
  • Product dimensions: 5.40 (w) x 8.10 (h) x 0.80 (d)

Meet the Author

Thomas Buergenthal served for more than ten years as the American judge on the International Court of Justice in The Hague before returning to the United States in September 2010. He is a former President of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights and former member of the UN Human Rights Committee. Recipient of the Gruber Foundation International Justice Prize and member of the Ethics Commission of the International Olympic Committee, Buergenthal has been re-appointed professor of international law and human rights at the George Washington University Law School, where he had taught before his election to the ICJ.

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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
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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

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 87 )
Rating Distribution

5 Star

(48)

4 Star

(25)

3 Star

(9)

2 Star

(1)

1 Star

(4)

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 87 Customer Reviews
  • Posted September 21, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    Fascinating memoir of survival

    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.

    6 out of 6 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 14, 2009

    A Lucky Child

    This was a great read. If you want to learn a little more about the holocaust from someone's personal experience read this -

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted April 28, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    A lucky child indeed

    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.

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted April 25, 2010

    Interesting from the beginning

    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.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 25, 2010

    Great read!

    Awesome,inspiring read!

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 17, 2013

    Recommended, special for 2nd world war buffs

    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.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 28, 2012

    The publishers are wrong

    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.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted July 30, 2012

    Very good book

    Very good book. Hard to believe a child and his mother survived those horrible death camps.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted April 7, 2009

    incredible story - a MUST read

    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.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 7, 2014

    Engaging, enlightening, and inspiring

    Beautifully-written and touching personal story of a Holocaust survivor with unique insights. Gripping as well;I read the entire book in one day. Not one word of self-pity or melodrama. Excellent in every facet!

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  • Posted April 9, 2014

    Great story that needed to be told. Excellent read. Highly recom

    Great story that needed to be told. Excellent read. Highly recommend.

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  • Posted September 13, 2013

    inspiring and filled with hope

    His story filled me such hope and awe at his over coming the hate he witnessed. I admire him very much and wish him many more days of health and healing and continued teaching of others.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 19, 2012

    Highly Recommended

    I picked up my grandson's school library book and was immediately fascinated by this true story. A great addition to WWII bigraphies, especially for boys.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 2, 2012

    Good Read

    The book was well written and did a great job allowing the reader to walk with him as a child as a survivor. Good book. God bless and i will never forget.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 22, 2012

    Lucky boy

    I feel for this man and his story but the book lacked the 'omph' I was hoping for.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted December 14, 2011

    more from this reviewer

    Truly a Miracle.

    The book A Lucky Child, by Thomas Buergenthal made me believe that miracles really can happen. Having been a child going through World War 2, being separated from his parents, Tommy had to watch his friends be killed, waiting until his day would come. It must have been a horrible experience. For example, at the first camp he visited, all children were to be killed, but when it was his time to be taken away, for some reason they let him stay. He never came to realize why that was. Also surviving through Aushwitz as an errand boy, a death march, being hospitalized with amputated toes, and those were just a few. What makes me believe the most is after the war; Tommy was able to reunite with his Mom who was the only one who had survived. He was truly a lucky child and he was a miracle.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted October 23, 2011

    Good

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  • Posted March 26, 2011

    good

    no i acutally hvent read it but my teacher at school has and she said its amazing

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 5, 2011

    Thank you Thank you Thank you

    My hat is off to Judge Buergenthal for first having the courage as a very young boy to survive the brutality of the Nazi regime and second to have the grace to share it with us in such first hand and honest way. I too shed tears as I went through his most difficult times with him. A wonderful and moving read.

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  • Posted December 15, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    Highly Recommended - You won't want to put it down!

    I recommend A Lucky Child by Thomas Buergenthal because it shows the persistence of a little boy who endured World War II with a little help from friends along the way. You won't want to put this book down! As a 6-year-old, Thomas and his family moved into the Ghetto of Kielce where they lived for about four years before being transported to Auschwitz in August of 1944. Thomas was indeed "a lucky child" for he, among all the children in Kielce gathered by the SS officers to be killed, lived by saying he could work. His luck carried with him throughout the war. After separation from his parents in Auschwitz he was saved from death yet again by becoming an errand boy for the SS. At 10, Thomas miraculously survived Auschwitz, the Death March, and Sachsenhausen. Another lucky moment was when his life was spared by a kind gentleman named Mr. Odd Nansen who visited Thomas frequently in the "hospital." Nansen bribed the doctor to let Thomas live after he had two toes amputated because of frost bite he acquired during the Auschwitz Death March. 11-year-old Thomas was liberated in April, 1945 and was soon recruited by the Polish Army. One friend he made took him to The Jewish Orphanage of Otwock who helped him reunite with his mother and new step-father, Dr. Leon Reitter. Unfortunately, Reitter died shortly after their reunion. Thomas's mother, Gerda, married Jacob Rosenholz, another survivor from Kielce, a few years after Dr. Reitter died. At age 17, Thomas moved to America to live in New York with his aunt and uncle. He became a Judge on the International Court of Justice at The Hague. He now holds the position as Lobingier Professor of Comparative Law and Jurisprudence at George Washington University Law School.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
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