This book is our current book club pick. And I’m so glad it was. The book was written by Thomas Buergenthal, who was eight years old when the Nazis invaded Poland. At first, he and his family were relegated to a Jewish Ghetto. There, his father ran a factory. In order to survive, Thomas told the Nazi in charge that he could work. And he did, running errands for the man in charge.
As World War II wore on, the Ghetto was terminated by the Nazis. Thomas and his parents were sent to Auschwitz, where he was immediately separated from his mother. He managed to stay with his father. His father kept him from being chosen to be eliminated because he was a child. Then he was sent on the death walk. He had to friends with him. They walked and walked and during that time, Thomas got severe frost bite on his toes and had some of them amputated. While in the hospital ward, a Norwegian named Odd kept an eye on him and bribed the doctor to keep Thomas alive. When the camp was liberated, Thomas was sent to an orphanage. He had no idea what had become of his parents.
Thomas was reunited with his mother. She looked for him and eventually found him at the Orphanage through a tremendous stroke of fate. Her mother married a doctor friend and Thomas spent time with a tutor to catch up on the education he missed. He also decided to mail a letter to Norway to his friend Odd who helped keep him alive. Knowing only his name and not his address, the letter found its way to Odd. Thomas went to Norway to meet him.
Thomas eventually separated from his mother and moved to the United States to go to school. He lived with his aunt and uncle. Thomas went to college and law school and eventually became a lawyer. He became the Dean of the George Washington University Law School. He is a human rights lawyer and served as a judge at the International Criminal Court in the Hague.
Thomas explained that he waited so long to write this book because he had a career and a family. He also is explicit about the fact that he has forgotten some of the details of what happened to him to avoid drowning in survivor’s guilt and to deal with the huge traumas he saw.
Even lacking in some detail, this is an amazing book. The whole time I was reading it, I kept thinking about the fact that Patrick is the same age as Thomas was when he went to Auschwitz. And I think about how Patrick is just a child and hasn’t done anything to anyone. What if he were rounded up for having red hair? That’s about the equivalent of rounding up someone based on their ethnic background or religious affiliation. I don’t know what I would do if someone took him from me. I felt for Thomas’ mother, who must have been just sick with worry and thinking that she lost her husband and son.
This book made such an impression on me that I’m going to have Patrick read it. I think it’s important for people to know what horrors we inflict on others so we can try to keep them from happening again.
One of the things that I truly love about my book club is that I read books that I otherwise may never find or may overlook. I may never have found this book and I have to say that next to Anne Frank’s diary, it’s one of the best holocaust books I’ve come across. To think what the world would have missed out on if he had been killed.
I actually think that everyone should read this book to remember what irrational fear of people or groups can do.