[Review] Survivors Club: The True Story of a Very Young Prisoner of Auschwitz by Michael Bornstein and Debbie Bornstein Holinstat

Publisher and Publication Date: Farrar, Straus and Giroux/Square Fish. March 7, 2017.
Genre: Nonfiction. Biography. Memoir.
Pages: 352.
Format: Paperback.
Source: Self-purchase.
Audience: Young adult nonfiction.
Rating: Excellent!

Link @ Amazon.
Link @Audible.
Link @ Barnes and Noble.

There are several YouTube videos with Michael or his daughter Debbie who are co-authors of the book. These are two I’ve shared.

Summary:

On January 27, 1945, the Russians liberated Auschwitz. Of the 2,819 prisoners, 52 were children under the age of eight. Michael Bornstein was one of those children.
Michael, with the help of his daughter, Debbie, has documented this narrative style account. He felt his story needed to be shared about this traumatic event. He did not want to remain silent on what happened to him, his family, and the Jewish people during the Holocaust.

The story begins in October 1939 when the Germans invaded Zarki, Poland. Michael’s family lived in a home in Zarki. Michael’s older brother, Samuel, is age four. Michael will be born in May of 1940.

Michael’s parents are Israel and Sophie Bornstein. There are several family members who live in the Zarki area. For a while, they are able to continue living in their home, later, they will be resettled, and then, transported to Auschwitz.

In this story, the focus is on his family but shares the chronological history of what happened to the Jews in Zarki, and in great detail the hellish life in Auschwitz.

My Thoughts:

I have read a lengthy list of memoirs of the Holocaust. It is rare to read an account through the lens or perspective of a small child. This brings a unique nature to the story. I believe, Survivors Club, is in the top five books I’ve read of Holocaust memoirs because of the unique structure and feel to the story. Michael was born during the Holocaust. He was an innocent babe in peril at his first breath.

Other reasons why this is an excellent book.

1. A detailed chronological timeline of the events happening in Zarki, Poland, starting in October 1939. This is not a sterile type of account, but deeply personal.

2. Most Holocaust stories that share the experiences in Auschwitz do not share thoughts and daily life in great detail. What I mean is Michael shares perspectives and thoughts not usually shared. For example, on pages 126-127, “Men who reached for suitcases that weren’t there.” “Women reached for children who had been pulled from their grip.” My takeaway is the shock of what is happening has not registered yet in their brain that the item or beloved person is no longer there. This is startling, shocking, and a surreal moment. This illustration is one of many that caused me to pause and ponder.

3. Further events in the book: the processing of the prisoners, the work details, the bathhouse, Mengele’s selection of children, the infirmary, the “Death March” out of Auschwitz, liberation, and rebuilding a life afterwards. The story is a solid view Michael’s life and what he has experienced.

4. Thirty-six illustrations. Most are in black and white, a few are in color.

5. A glossary is included

6. Notes on their research is included.

7. In the preface, the authors explain what has been pieced together through research, interviews, and memories (factual), and what they have constructed (conversations and emotions.) I love it when the author lets me know what is factual and what has been pieced together in the story.

Themes: war, survival, grief, intolerance, hope, resistance, suffering, sacrifice, family honor, good and evil, fear, heroism, power of love, courage, and bravery.

Survivors Club is a powerful story. It is an important story. It is a story I will not forget.

And, considering the events happening in the Ukraine, this story is more than just a memory, both remind us that evil exists. We cannot ignore, we cannot take a nap thinking this will all be over when we wake up. This story makes me feel firm in my convictions that freedom is important; and a huge part of that freedom is the ability to have free speech, and to live in a humane, safe, and free society.

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