Booktalking "Survivors Club" by Michael Bornstein
Michael Bornstein was merely a fetus in Sophie Jonisch Bornstein's uterus in Poland in 1939 when the SS soldiers from the Third Reich invaded Zarki. The Germans appealed to the Jewish leaders in the community, which included Israel Jonisch, Michael's father, to pass along lies about the restrictions in movement and "resettlement" efforts as being temporary. Israel became part of the Judenrat, and he, along with many others, resorted to bribery in order to save Jewish lives. One boy who was saved was about to be executed for missing a day of work. The Jonisch family was lucky in that Israel's position enabled them to stay in the ghetto for a couple of years. Eventually, however, they too were transported to Auschwitz.
A series of fortunate events in the hellacious circumstances of World War II led to this little boy's survival. First, he was lucky to be housed in a children's barrack. Most women and children were murdered upon arrival at the death camps since they were not considered to be fit for work. Secondly, his mother snuck him food every day even though she could be killed for doing so. The older kids were stealing his food, which most certainly would have caused his death otherwise. Then, his mother snuck him into the women's barrack. The Jewish police stationed at the barrack nodded to his mother as she brought him in. His mother then was transferred to a work camp in Austria. Michael's grandmother cared for him, and he fell ill in January 1945, at a time when the SS commenced a death march for all of the prisoners except for himself, his grandmother and others in the infirmary.
At the entrance of Auschwitz was a sign that proclaimed in German "Work will set you free." Upon arrival to the death camp, the stench of burning corpses from the gas chambers was putrid. Prisoners were tortured for sport. Anyone caught in the act of escaping was publicly hanged. If the escapee got away, a random prisoner would die in his or her place. People were beaten and whipped for working too slowly. They were murdered for being ill. Nazi scientists performed medical experiments on children. Jewish people and other prisoners were forced to stand for hours in the freezing cold and were fed practically nil.
Suffering became the norm for young Michael, the youngest in the children's barracks. He cried often, but he was at least partially able to mute out the ever-present hunger. Some brave prisoners tried to educate him while he was in captivity, even though doing so carried the penalty of death. Due to the lack of vitamins in the diet of potatoes, bread and buckwheat, Michael developed scurvy. It took a year after he achieved freedom before his hair grew in properly. In fact, when freedom was announced, the boy was unclear on the meaning of that word. He was born into a ghetto, and he was three years old when his family was sent to the death camp. Luckily, as one of the "best hiders" in Auschwitz, he survived. Now Michael has been married for nearly a half-century, he has four children and four grandchildren. He is a retired research scientist.
Unbearable cruelty could not snuff out the love that so many remarkable, admirable and terrific Jewish people had for each other. Some lovely Catholic people, such as the orphanage that took in his cousin, Ruth, helped save Jewish lives during the horrible time. One lady "forgot" to pack gunpowder into every third bullet that would be used by the SS to kill prisoners. A crying child could not find his mother when people were exiting the death camp, but a random woman stepped up to take guardianship of the boy until they could locate their relatives.
The Russian soldiers who liberated the people at Auschwitz brought cookies and candies for the kids. They warned everyone at mealtime to not eat too much too fast in order to avoid "refeeding syndrome." They treated everyone to delicious food and kind treatment, something that the former prisoners had not known for far too long.
Survivors Club: The True Story of a Very Young Prisoner of Auschwitz by Michael Bornstein, 2017
Michael Bornstein is an amazing individual. The story of his suffering and the pain and torment of millions of people is horrific, yet he shared the tale of his survival skills eloquently.