39 pages 1 hour read

Thomas Buergenthal

A Lucky Child

Nonfiction | Autobiography / Memoir | Adult | Published in 2007

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Summary and Study Guide


A Lucky Child: A Memoir of Surviving Auschwitz as a Young Boy, first published in Germany 2007, is author Thomas Buergenthal's account of his childhood during the Nazi Occupation. Buergenthal was 6 years old when forced to abandon his home and spend the rest of his childhood running from Nazis and struggling to survive the Holocaust. Buergenthal’s horrific journey took him through bombings, labor camps, concentration camps, and “death marches.” He lost most of his family and friends. Too many passages of Buergenthal’s memoir end with the phrase, “and that was the last time I ever saw” whichever person.

Raised in the camps, Buergenthal learned from his parents and others how to survive. He relied on his intelligence, strategy, human connection, and bravery to survive conditions unthinkable for an adult, let alone a small child. Through his struggles, Buergenthal retained his compassion, even for his enemies. He often contemplated the cause of the atrocities he suffered and the motivation of his tormenters. As he matured, Buergenthal learned to release his animosity and channel his energy into positive endeavors. He devoted his adult life to human rights and ensuring that such atrocities would never again occur, and when they did occur, addressing them with compassion, dignity, and justice.

Buergenthal saw the worst of the Holocaust. Neighbors turned on his family, and the Buergenthals were sent away from their home and forced to live as vagrants. After the Nazis bombed their train to England, they were forced to trek on foot to a Polish ghetto. During their journey, they were met with antisemitism by farmers who wanted only to take advantage of them. Life in the ghetto was worse—dirty, run-down, with no food—and the Nazis held such little value for Jewish life that they indiscriminately murdered Jews in the streets. With every new destination, Buergenthal’s hell worsened. In labor camps, captives were forced to watch their own kind hang other Jews under the direction of the guards. At Auschwitz, Buergenthal was separated from both parents—he never again saw his father. Upon leaving Auschwitz, Buergenthal expressed pride in beating Hitler by remaining alive, but what lay ahead was worse than anything he had experienced: the Auschwitz death transport; a brutal March through the frigid Polish winter; and an open-air rail journey to Germany undertaken as the Allied troops advanced on the Germans, which few survived.

Buergenthal was “ein Glückskind,” or a lucky child, but he was also smart, brave, and compassionate. He used his experiences, intelligence, and compassion to improve the human rights of people globally. Buergenthal’s story is an important one not simply because of the atrocities he describes, but because he also describes a path forward—a way to cultivate positivity from atrocity.