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Indeed: A Lucky Child
on 22 February 2009
This amazing and inspiring book is a fine example of choosing one's moment. Whereas some Holocaust survivors wrote their accounts shortly after their ordeal, Thomas Buergenthal waited more than 60 years after the passage of time had blunted his anger and the horrors he had witnessed and experienced. The result is a balanced and enthralling account of a child using all his means to surive the Holocaust.
Thomas, together with his parents, had been on the run from the Nazis since the age of four. He was interned in Auschwitz at the age of 10. During those years he experienced things that no human being should have to experience and especially not a child.
Through his intelligence and resourcefulness, Thomas' father Mundek kept the family together; he shrewdly anticipated when they should flee and how they could best survive. Later during his internment Thomas, was also intelligent and resourceful in his ongoing quest for survival.
In Auschwitz, Thomas' father learned from a friend that a job for Thomas could provide some protection for him. Thomas then became an errand boy, delivering messages and packages for those running the camp. In this way he often happened upon useful information and could go to many places around the camp where others could not.
Yet, Thomas was a lucky child. Many times he missed the dreaded selections either for the gas chamber or becoming one of Dr. Mengele's objects for experimentation. There were also acts of great kindness to him from others, especially from a Norwegian internee .
A particularly moving moment is when he recalls how he briefly saw his mother in the womens' camp and how he repeated their exchange and the picture of her over and over in his mind in the days to come. Even though she had lost her hair she was of course beautiful to him.
Thomas survived the death March from Auschwitz, enduring extreme cold and hunger and losing some toes to frostbite.
After the liberation and spending some time as a mascot for Polish soldiers, including his own tailor made uniform, Thomas was taken to a Jewish orphanage near Warsaw by one of the liberating Polish soldiers who was himself Jewish. Thomas spent a year there until his mother found him. During this time the children received a great deal of warmth, kindness and even education. It was a halfway house between what many had experienced during the Holocaust and to adjust them to a more normal existence.
After Thomas returned to Germany his mother employed a teacher to tutor him so that he could attend school. He had of course had virtually no formal education. This teacher was astonished that although Thomas had very little academic knowledge his level of maturity was way beyond his years. Hardly surprising.
This book is special in that it is an account of a child's experiences during the most terrible of times and yet even in that horrible place where Thomas was forced to live, there were still moments of childish pleasure and acts of great courage by him and others.
Much later Thomas turned to international law and human rights. He is now a judge at the International Court of Justice it would appear that he has created a most positive life.
Do read this book, one can't help but be left with a feeling that in spite of the ugliness to which people can be subjected, the goodness of the human spirit will prevail.