Monday, 8 October 2012

Book review. A Lucky Child.

I have just finished reading this book, and it was as I expected, it made me cry because of the horrific atrocities that the author was witness to. They happened to people he loved, his family, those who he regarded as his family, and his friends. In all the awfulness of his situation he did manage to find some compassionate people who helped him to survive.
Thomas was born in Lubochna Czechoslovakia, on the 11th of May 1934, his parents were Gerda and Mundeck Buergenthal. They were forced to leave their hotel which was also their home, by the Hlinka Guard, the fascist party which controlled Slovakia with the support of Nazi Germany. They claimed to have a court order declaring one of it's organisations as the owners of their hotel. This was the start of many years on the run, being shunted about from camp to camp, either on trains or walking many miles on the road. Thomas was five years old.

His father was Polish and his mother German so Tommy grew up able to speak both languages, which was very usefull to him when it came to listening in on conversations enabling him to keep one step ahead when the going got tough. He was a very bright little boy.

The family were moved to the Ghetto of Kielce which was surrounded by walls and fences. It was a terrible place and very dangerous. It was a regular occurance that the German guards conducted raids, and pulled people out at random and shot them.

Tommy was ten years old when he arrived at Auschwitz concentration camp. Although this camp is notorious for it's extermination atrocities, it is actually another place nearby called Berkenau where the killings were carried out. Years later Tommy realised that he was actually very lucky to be taken to Auschwitz as there were other places far worse to be sent to.

Some time later their camp was evacuated and so began, one cold January morning, the Auschwitz Death march. This was the worst time of his life. Tommy had two of his toes amputated because of frostbite, at one point he was scared that they would amputate his feet, as that would have meant certain death. The sick and elderly were easily dispensed with.

Tommy survived through mainly his quick wittedness and ability to grasp the situation he was in. He learnt the tricks of survival, but for most of the time it was his luck that helped him. He was a very lucky child.

He was seperated from his parents, his father he never saw again, but he was able to find his mother two years after they lost each other. Fast forward and after the liberation in 1945 Tommy went to live in America with his aunt and uncle. He has spent his life as a leading human rights lawyer.

This is the first book I have read about Nazi Germany and the concentration camps, I think I preferred not to know too much about it because of my German connections. My mum told me she was in a camp for a short time with her parents although they weren't Jewish, but she didn't go into great detail, and I didn't press her on the subject. She was always a very emotional person, always very protective of her children, so much so that I felt smothered at times. This book has given me food for thought, this terrible time in history should never be forgotten.

There are important lessons here, about resilience, finding strength to carry on when so many gave up, and eventually having the remarkable ability to quash all feelings of revenge. To forgive but not to forget.


  1. No matter how tough life gets, how hard done by we might feel, there is always someone worse off. I always try to remember this whenever I get to feeling sorry for myself.
    Good post Ilona.

  2. That is moving. Read Night by Elie Wiesel...short book. I suppose I will go find this in the library now that you have given me a review.

  3. Not a comfortable read, it is absolutely impossible to imagine ourselves in these situations. We have such easy lives really, how on earth would we survive if that had been us? My step-dad is Belgian and after the war started he and his parents had to flee their homes for a while. They went back after a short time, under German rule and had to learn new ways to survive. He saw some absolutely awful things that no child should ever see and I feel so in awe of what he went through, nothing anywhere as bad as in this book but still unimaginable to us today....

  4. Hi Ilona, Thanks for the book review. When you hear what the little boy went through in his childhood, living on his wits and sheer survival instinct day after day, with the fear of death hanging over him, how very very sad. Having said that though, you look at how his childhood shaped his character and made him so determined to do good and help others in his work as a lawyer due to what he went through himself. I'd read it although, like you, I don't think I could read it without crying. I have read a true story about Dave Pelzer, and the book entitled, "A child called, It.", I couldn't put it down and read it cover to cover in a few hours. A very sad story also and again, a person who, despite the horrific abuse he received at the hands of his biological mother, has gone on with his life to follow his dream of joining the Airforce. Again a very inspirational read which makes you want to grab life with both hands and be thankful for what you have as there is always someone, somewhere who is a lot worse off. I'll include this link about Dave Pelzer, it's a worthwhile read.

    Cheers for now, Christy.

  5. I'm half Jewish...and so very very lucky life is a breeze,but it's good to be reminded.
    Jane x

  6. Yes, very touching. I've read a couple of books by a lady whose mother left her two children to go off as a SS officer. One is called Bonfire in Berlin and I can't remember the other title, as I don't have the book any more.

    When you think of the easy life the majority of people have today, it makes you realise how lucky we are to be living now and not at that period.

    1. Hi, Christy here, I hope you don't mind. I had a look, would it be this one.

      Cheers. :-)

    2. Yes, it is Christy. Thank you. I do have the Bonfire in Berlin one somewhere.

  7. Both, my fathers and my mothers families went through some very trying times during that war.
    I have always been told about their stories, and have learnt not to forget what manyhad to go through, then. These extreme times shaped my
    family and ultimately me as well. You grow to be very resourceful and never take anything for granted anymore. The hard times my mothers family had for many years after the war, were they struggled to make ends meet as refugees, driven out from their homeland and made to work on meager rations on German farms would have made most people resentful towards their landlords. My family always managed to be kind and caring towards everyone they met. My grandmother was a hard worker and always had the spirit to carry on providing for her family, even when my grandfather was often ready to give up the struggle. She always pulled everybody through. Those hard times often either shape your future positively or they can destroy you, if you let it get to you.
    I for one shall never forget what this war did to thousends of inocent folk. It wasn`t always just the Jewish people that got hurt in those days either. Many unwittingly got displaced by having their homes bombed, or had their homes and lands taken from them, just like my mothers family. Wars should never happen to people. But they still go on to this day. Syria is a timely reminder just now, I think. And, once again the world looks on whilst Syria`s government forces distroy the country from within, and many inocent folk are murdered. Just watching the news or reading the newspaper makes me feel great sadness and dispear for these poor people, too!

  8. Thankyou for your comment Sarina, I gueseed you would have a little more to add to my post. When we look back over the times our parents and grandparents lived in it is hard to comprehend just what conditions they had to live in. So very sad that wars still go on today.

    Thank ou Christy for your comments, and thankyou everyone.


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