Survivors Club: The True Story of a Very Young Prisoner of Auschwitz by Michael Borstein. March 7, 2017. Farrar, Straus and Giroux (BYR), 352 p. ISBN: 9780374305710. Int Lvl: 5-8; Rdg Lvl: 6.5; Lexile: 890.
In 1945, in a now-famous piece of archival footage, four-year-old Michael Bornstein was filmed by Soviet soldiers as he was carried out of Auschwitz in his grandmother’s arms. Survivors Club tells the unforgettable story of how a father’s courageous wit, a mother’s fierce love, and one perfectly timed illness saved Michael’s life, and how others in his family from Zarki, Poland, dodged death at the hands of the Nazis time and again with incredible deftness. Working from his own recollections as well as extensive interviews with relatives and survivors who knew the family, Michael relates his inspirational story with the help of his daughter, Debbie Bornstein Holinstat.
Shocking, heartbreaking, and ultimately uplifting, this narrative nonfiction offers an indelible depiction of what happened to one Polish village in the wake of the German invasion in 1939.
Potentially Sensitive Areas: Genocide, Harsh realities of the Holocaust, Antisemitism, Desecration of corpses, Sexual assault
Booklist (February 1, 2017 (Vol. 113, No. 11))
Grades 5-8. In 1940, Michael Bornstein was born in Zarki, Poland—then a Nazi-occupied ghetto. In 1944, Michael and his family arrived at Auschwitz. Miraculously, in 1953, Michael celebrated his bar mitzvah in New York City. Here, with the help of his television news producer daughter, he recounts the spectacular story of his survival. The duo chronologically document the Germans’ ruthless occupation—and eventual liquidation—of Zarki; the Bornsteins’ compulsory stint at an ammunitions factory; their tragic trek to Auschwitz; and the aftermath of the war in a land ruptured by unconscionable brutality and bigotry. But this account is shaped less by events than it is people: Michael’s father, Israel, with his dangerous devotion to a crumbling community; Michael’s infinitely courageous Mamishu; his ever-resilient grandmother; and his stubbornly spirited slew of aunts, uncles, and cousins. Sprinkled with Yiddish and appended by an informative afterword, captioned photos, and brief glossary, the first-person narrative is a tenderly wrought tribute to family, to hope, and to the miracles both can bring. A powerful memoir for the middle-grade set.
Kirkus Reviews (January 1, 2017)
Michael was only 4 when he miraculously survived the liberation of Auschwitz in January 1945.Filmed by Soviets liberating the camp, he saw his image years later, but he was not ready to tell his story until he saw his picture on a Holocaust-denial website. He enlisted his daughter, a TV journalist, to help him uncover further information and to co-author this book. In the preface, Holinstat writes: “we tried to keep the book as honest as possible. While the underlying events are entirely factual, there is fiction here.” The father-daughter pair found documents, diaries, and survivors’ essays to supplement the limited memories of a very young child, and they write about this process in the preface. The first-person narrative begins with the events of September 1939, even though Michael was not born until May 1940, which feels artificial. Horrific as the experience was, the Auschwitz chapters are just part of Michael’s journey. Living in an open “ghetto” in his hometown, moving to a forced-labor camp, then to the extermination camp where his older brother and father die, returning home where Jews are not welcomed, and then living in Munich as a displaced person for six years until he can emigrate to the United States with his mother, the chronicle of Bornstein’s first 11 years parallels the experiences of many other surviving victims of the Final Solution. In today’s world, it remains more important than ever to remember these survivors. (afterword, photos, characters, glossary) (Memoir. 11-14)
About the Author
Michael Bornstein survived for seven months inside Auschwitz, where the average lifespan of a child was just two weeks. Six years after his liberation, he immigrated to the United States. Michael graduated from Fordham University, earned his Ph.D. from the University of Iowa, and worked in pharmaceutical research and development for more than forty years. Now retired, Michael lives with his wife in New York City and speaks frequently to schools and other groups about his experiences in the Holocaust.
His website is www.mbornstein.com.
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