Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Survivors Club: The True Story of a Very Young Prisoner of Auschwitz by Michael Bornstein, with Debbie Bornstein Holinstat

Survivors Club: The True Story of a Very Young Prisoner of Auschwitz by Michael Bornstein, with Debbie Bornstein Holinstat
Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Rating: 5 stars

This book was simply incredible. How could any book on surviving something as horrific as Auschwitz not be?

Michael Borstein was born in Zarki, Poland, in 1940, a year after his country fell to Nazi control. His father, a bold and courageous man, cajoled and bribed the Nazis in Zarki in order to protect his family in remarkable ways. But, eventually, his efforts ran short. His family was sent to Auschwitz when Michael was just a toddler. Thanks to the protection of his mother and then, when she was sent to a work camp in Austria, his grandmother, Michael was one of the 52 children under the age of eight who survived Auschwitz. 
I think young readers who already know something about the Holocaust, Auschwitz, and concentration camps will be surprised that Michael is released halfway through the book. The rest of the story is just as riveting--surviving the concentration camps was only part of his survival story. Staying alive in the weeks afterward by not overeating, not contracting any serious diseases, dodging cruel anti-Semitism, reconnecting with his family, returning to the place of his birth, and getting out of Poland, into Germany of all places, and then to America… There's a lot to this man's story. I'm so glad he shared it with the world.

Yes, this is a middle grade book. It is a true story, but Michael and his daughter admit to creating images and conversations that are based on fact, or inspired by fact, so those parts must be officially called fiction. You won't care. This account is simply riveting. I feel strongly that the book is appropriate for fourth or fifth grade students and older, and even better if read with an adult or near an adult who can answer those big questions, including the one that makes this book and the story of concentration camps relevant for all generations: How did this happen? And, an even more important follow-up: How can we be sure that it never happens again?

Of course the book is heartbreaking, but books that grip our hearts are the best kind, the most unforgettable. Michael's biggest lesson to readers is remarkably uplifting and empowering. His personal motto--his family's motto is: "This, too, shall pass." What a wonderful reminder to us all that all hard times, difficult situations, or challenging individuals in our lives will all pass. And to hang on and be strong until it does.

Here are a few of the MANY other middle grade books about WWII, the concentration camps, Nazi Germany, etc. A trip to your local bookstore or library will help you find even more:
  • Number the Stars by Lois Lowry *
  • Ted & Me (Baseball Card Adventure) by Dan Gutman *
  • Hedy’s Journey: The True Story of a Hungarian Girl Fleeing the Holocaust by Michelle Bisson
  • I Have Lived a Thousand Years: Growing Up in the Holocaust by Livia Bitton-Jackson
  • The Diary of A Young Girl by Anne Frank *
  • A Night Divided by Jennifer A. Nielsen *
  • Milkweed by Jerry Spinelli
  • The Book Thief by Marcus Zusak *
* Books I've Read

P.S. The audiobook is fantastic. Highly recommend for time you'll be in the car with your young reader/s, though it is a sobering topic.

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