Thomas Buergenthal is an extraordinary man, in part because he was an ordinary boy in very extraordinary times.
Born in 1934 in Czechoslovakia, Buergenthal was born the son of Jewish parents at a time when Adolf Hitler was truly beginning his rise to power. That rise meant, in hindsight, horrible things for the Jews of Europe and Buergenthal’s family was no exception. He titled his childhood memoirs, written in 2007, A Lucky Child because he believes that luck is one of the sole reasons that he survived when millions of others did not.
But he didn’t always seem so lucky.
Was it luck to receive a pass to flee Poland for England on the very day that Germany invaded Poland – September 1, 1939? Was it luck to be sent to Auschwitz as a child and, miraculously, avoid the selection process upon arrival that saw so many children go directly to the gas chambers? Was it luck to finally, after years together, be separated from his parents and marched to Sachsenhausen?
Maybe. Maybe not. Even Buergenthal doesn’t seem so sure.
In hindsight, perhaps all of those things were part of the luck that led to his survival. After all, he avoided the selection process in Auschwitz. He never saw his father again, but he survived Sachsenhausen – a place where he met a Norwegian man, Odd Nansen, who was essential to his surviving the infirmary in that camp until liberation. After that, a Polish Army group took him in and ensured that he returned to an orphanage in Poland, where he was eventually reunited with his mother.
Buergenthal came to America as a young man, still in high school, and went on to become one of the top human rights judges and international law experts in the world. (source)
Was it because of his experiences as an ordinary boy that he became an extraordinary man?
Either way, A Lucky Child is book like no other I’ve read that is a first person account of surviving the Holocaust. I’m lucky to have read and to own it. I recommend it anyone even remotely interested in the Holocaust, survival, human nature, and humanity.