SURVIVORS CLUB

The True Story of a Very Young Prisoner of Auschwitz

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. Here is the unforgettable story of how a father’s courageous wit, a mother’s fierce love, and one perfectly timed illness saved his life, and how others in his family from Zarki, Poland, dodged death time and again with incredible deftness. Working from his own recollections as well as extensive interviews with other family members and survivors who knew the family, Michael relates his inspirational story with the help of his daughter, Debbie Bornstein Holinstat.

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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. Here is the unforgettable story of how a father’s courageous wit, a mother’s fierce love, and one perfectly timed illness saved his life, and how others in his family from Zarki, Poland, dodged death time and again with incredible deftness. Working from his own recollections as well as extensive interviews with other family members 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.

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  • FSG (BYR)
  • Hardcover
  • March 2017
  • 256 Pages
  • 9780374305710

Buy the Book

$16.99

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About Michael Bornstein & Debbie Bornstein Holinstat

Michael Bornstein survived for seven months inside Auschwitz, where the average lifespan of a child was just two weeks. After the war, Michael reunited with his mother, who had been deported to an Austrian labor camp. Together, they immigrated to New York City in 1951. Michael earned his Ph.D. and worked in pharmaceutical research and development for more than forty years. Now retired, Michael lives with his wife in New York City and and speaks frequently to schools and other groups about his experiences in the Holocaust.

Debbie Bornstein Holinstat is Michael’s third of four children. A producer for NBC and MSNBC News, she lives in North Caldwell, New Jersey. She also visits schools with her father, and has been working with him for two years, helping him research and write this memoir, although she has grown up hearing many of these stories her entire life.

Discussion Questions

1. We saw in the book that choices were sometimes the difference between life and death, horror and escape, for Michael and his family. Other times, it was luck and good timing that made the difference. In Michael’s particular case, which do you think was more significant in accounting for his survival?

2. In the book, Ruth’s parents gave her away twice to neighbors who promised to take care of her, but she ended up at an orphanage. Evaluate the decisions the housekeeper and the shoemaker made: do you agree with their choices?

3. If you lived in Poland during the Holocaust, what might you have done? Do you think you would have made the choices that Michael’s parents made—such as staying in the open ghetto until the end—or would you have searched for a family willing to hide you in an attic like Ruth’s family did?

4. If you were a non-Jewish person living in Poland, do you think you would have risked your life and your family’s safety to harbor a Jew in your attic?

5. Why do you think Hitler rose to power and got away with ordering his Nazi military to commit such horrible crimes against Jews and other minority groups?

6. Today there is still evidence of anti-Semitism all over the world. Why do you think there are people who dislike Jews? Are there other minority groups who face similar persecution today?

7. Despite well-documented evidence of the Nazi crimes, there are some who still deny that the Holocaust happened. Why is it difficult for some people to confront and accept negative events in history? How can we respond to Holocaust deniers?

8. Jewish people often use the motto “Never forget” when talking about the Holocaust. Once the last of the survivors is gone, will future generations forget what happened to Jews and other persecuted minorities during World War II? What can each of us do to make sure future generations “Never forget”?

9. How do the crimes against humanity committed by Hitler and the Nazis demonstrate the need for a “zero tolerance” policy against bullying in our everyday lives?