Friday, November 24, 2017

CYBILS SENIOR HIGH NONFICTION: Survivors Club by Michael Bornstein & Debbie Bornstein Holinstat


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.


This is a remarkable book.  Michael Bornstein and his daughter have clearly worked hard to tell the story of Michael's (and his extended family) experiences during the Holocaust.  While Michael himself was just a child when he ended up in Auschwitz and still a child when he was liberated, he's used the memories of numerous family members and friends as well as records and photographs from several Holocaust museums to round out the story.  And while as the author says, "the underlying events are entirely factual, there is some fiction here: conversations had to be imagined, thoughts and feelings projected, certain names changed and some minor details adjusted to put this into narrative form"; the underlying truth of the story is incredibly touching and powerful.

Reading about the courage of Michael's father, the horrible actions of the Nazi's, and the difficult circumstances that Michael's family and neighbors faced truly left me both horrified and in awe.  After the Germans invaded and the Jews were forced into unpaid labor and strict curfews, Michael's father, Isaac was made the head of the Judenrat--a group of Jewish men called to put the German's plans into effect.  And while Isaac hated this position, he used it to help his people as much as possible.  The way Isaac and his fellow Jews gathered money from those under their care and used it to bribe the Germans allowed numerous lives to be saved.  And even when Isaac had the chance to flee and save himself and his family, he stayed.  And when the camps could no longer be avoided, Michael and family, continued to hope that somehow they might survive it all.  And while not all of them did, a surprising number of Michael's family members did survive to carry on after the war.

This book beautifully demonstrates both the horrible things that people are capable of but also the resilience of the human soul.


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