[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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(Review) The Violinist of Auschwitz by Ellie Midwood

Publisher and Publication Date: Bookouture. November 18, 2020.
Genre: Historical fiction. World War II. Holocaust.
Pages: 356.
Format: Kindle edition e-book.
Source: NetGalley. I received a complimentary e-book copy, but was not required to write a positive review.
Audience: Readers of Holocaust stories.
Rating: Excellent.

Amazon link
At this time the e-book is $3.99

Ellie Midwood’s Goodreads page.

To read more information about Alma Rosé:
Music and the Holocaust
World History

Summary:
The prologue starts the story creating a fear of what might happen.

The year is 1943.
Alma Rosé is a well-known virtuoso violinist. She’s played in Holland, Austria, Germany, and other countries on the continent of Europe. She has family members who are well-known musicians and composers. They are Jewish.

Alma and her father make it safely to England, but she returns to Holland to continue performing. She is arrested and sent to Drancy, France. From there she is sent to Auschwitz.

After arriving at Auschwitz she is sent to the experimental block. She plays the violin in a concert. She is recognized as the famous violinist Alma Rosé. She is moved to the female orchestra block. Alma becomes the conductor of the female orchestra. Her position makes is possible to save other females in the camp if they are able to play a musical instrument.

Alma meets Miklos a pianist and composer. It is an instant connection and attraction.

My Thoughts:
It’s interesting the story starts with a foreshadowing of the ending. Since I had not read the true story of Alma Rosé, I read the story fresh and without knowing the events in her life.

The Violinist of Auschwitz is an emotional story. The name and setting of the story is immediate at causing an anguish in my spirit.

The story is a reminder of the harsh and stressful daily survival for the prisoners. But, the story is a reminder of the bond and unity of the prisoners. Their quiet defiance against the Nazis and their devotion to help one another.

The writing style and tone expresses the serious and somber story. Yet, there is beauty in certain scenes. For example, a stolen and tender moment between a couple. There is also sarcasm. Alma is a person who has a strong personality. It is difficult for her to remain quiet and stoic. Her feelings are often expressed as sarcasm. However, she has moments that are emotionally overwhelming and she is stunned.

The Violinist of Auschwitz has external conflicts, but there is internal conflicts with the prisoners who are confronted with gut-wrenching type decisions.

Themes in the story: courage, death, bravery, loyalty, love, passion, kindness, compassion, and perseverance.

I’m thankful Ellie Midwood wrote this important story. It is a strong testament of Alma Rosé.