Excerpt from the book: “The Survival Club: The Truth About Auschwitz Prison”

Excerpt from the book: "The Survival Club: The Truth About Auschwitz Prison"

In the New York Times-bestselling memoir “Survival Club: The True Story of a Very Young Prisoner in Auschwitz” (Farrar Strauss Giroux), Michael Bernstein (along with his co-author, Debbie Bernstein Holinstadt) writes about his horrific experiences as a child who, at the age of four, was in Nazi concentration camps with his grandmother when the Soviet army liberated. ১৯৪ in camp. The book shocked the Nazi massacre, the hopeless family and the families who were exhausted by their survival.

Read the two parts below to illustrate Bornstein’s arrival at Auschwitz and his mother’s departure. Don’t miss the Martha Technner report on the 75th anniversary of Auschwitz’s release on March 16, “Auschwitz’s release,” and an interview with the writers!


“Alley Rouse!” They shouted. Everyone’s out!

The bright sun hit our eyes and an awful odor invaded our nose. Just seconds ago, we focused on getting some fresh air and some cool water for Samuel for me. Suddenly, we can only think of that disgusting odor, far more offensive than anything we had endured on the train. I don’t know how to describe it. Joy and rebellion – it was the smell of burning flesh.

Farrar Strauss Giroux


Even before descending from a wooden boxcar, we could see scenes that none of us had witnessed in the past. Hundreds of violent skinheads, who have enough meat to cover their bones, seemed to be a major count beyond just fencing. They wanted straight forward to keep the program running – or perhaps they didn’t have the power.

Not far away, there was a wide chimney in the sky line that poured thick, rustic smoke into the air. Even further away, smoke was flowing from somewhere else – to bury the bodies of prisoners who had been murdered in the oven, as we will learn later.

In front of us, like skeletons, people were throwing ashes from the ground. Ashes and sats often fall on top of the camp like gray snow. The prisoners wore striped uniforms that hung like raw chicken skin. No garment can be narrow enough to properly fit a person’s decaying body, though their heart beats still.

Papa cleared a path for us by sliding his slim frame through tightly-packed bodies like getting off a train car. “Let’s all hold hands,” he said. “The guards will see that we are together and, let’s hope, drive us out as a family.”

The guards were all carrying a leather strap or a wooden club.

An elderly man who made a roaring noise, now fell into a pile of rubble on the edge of a boxcar. Bobeishi rarely carried me anymore, but he pulled me off my feet and rubbed my face on his shoulder, trying to protect me from what I later realized was a dead body. The man was not the only passenger who died on a long journey. Heat, hunger and wind crisis killed most people.

Auschwitz was a very complex of camps and sub-camps, and it was probably delivered to a section called Barkeno. That means we missed the infamous sign at the main gate that reads the RBT match for free (work makes you free). The SS guards – the elite group of German soldiers who controlled the Auschwitz – wanted us to believe that if we worked hard and obeyed the rules, everyone would be fine. By Rainey هههههههههههههههههههههههه …

An unexpected departure

The Nazis were nothing if not skilled. They used healthy Jewish prisoners whenever possible, often pulling their concentration camps around, especially for the best staff at work.

One day a sharp roll of uniformed officer in a roll call demanded that every woman in my mother’s unit claim to run a coil around an enclosed ring like a horse giving a horse to a show. The women were first exposed naked. The SS wanted to see how much fat the women had in their bodies. Women are so skinny that their bones come out in all directions. They wanted to pick healthy women – and the process had the added benefit of completely insulting the inmates.

My mother, like other undernourished women in the camp, was tired quickly but was determined not to express her fatigue. Every time he put one foot down he ignored the sharp pains under his toes. He had a dreadfully provocative blister yet did not dare to complain. You might even get a guaranteed death sentence labeled “ineligible for work”, such as blistering your foot.

Every time Mamishu passed by the officers, he breathed a deep sigh of relief. Bobeshi failed to make the same attempt. In a very short order, his sprinting turned into jogging and his jogging turned into a walk.

Women were allowed to dress. Then ten women were selected from the crowd; My mother was one of them. Then a select few were interrogated.

“What skills do you have? What experience?”

“Oh, I can pack ammunition efficiently,” Mamishu boasted. He told them about his work at Pionki.

Mamishu knew from his experience that packing ammunition required much less physical labor than most of Auschwitz’s work. He hoped that he might be hired again in similar work.

“Look at my tiny fingers,” she said, rubbing her hands on her belly. “Perfect for packing bullets!” He trained the broken German. “My mother-in-law – she’s right there – is also a real expert!”

Although the men were not keen on bobshi.

“What is your number?” They hated my mother.

Mamishu pulled her sleeve and showed her tattoo. An officer wrote his ID in the paper and in that moment my mother’s fate was sealed.

“You have fifteen minutes to clean yourself and report to the front gates. You will leave Auschwitz” “

Mamishu was being sent to a labor camp in Austria. For other women, this would have been welcome news. However, Mamishu thought he was just a trap. She thought about protesting, but what would she say? My son is here, hiding in the shadows. If I can’t save her here, she’ll die. I can’t leave No, there was nothing my mother could say or do.

Mamishu ran to where I was hiding. He was stuck in a mattress on the straw and was terrified when he saw that I was not there.

At this point, I jiggled from behind a wooden crate in the corner of the room. Occasionally, I would go from hiding to hiding place for a change of scenery, and I would be happy to see Mamishu at lunch.

She didn’t look happy at all.

“Michael, I have to go, my darling,” he told me as tears flowed in his mouth. “I promise, I’ll see you again someday, zeisele. We’ll be free and I’ll find you. But at this point I have no choice. I’ll leave you for a while. ”

He didn’t offer any specifics about when he would meet us again. He only promised that my grandmother would protect me and ensure that I had enough to eat.

“Tell Bobisi that I love her,” Mamishu said. “You two will take care of each other.”

I wanted to cry, but I was careful to keep my promise to Auschwitz. I didn’t say anything. I just kissed my Mamishu on the cheek and as he left, he crawled under my straw hole. I placed an extra fist straw on my toes and a fist on my face, then waited quietly for the grandmothers to return. Heartbreak began to feel normal to me like hunger and fear. I was injured and numb.

Michael-Janmanstein-age-4-and-grandmother-free-auschwitz-in-1945-620.jpg
In this photo taken by photographers with the Soviet Army, Michael Bornstein, age 5, sees his grandfather Dora (“Bobeysi”) carry it from Auschwitz to the camp on January 7th.

Courtesy of Farrar Strauss Giroux


From “Survival Club: True Story of a Well Young Prisoner of Auschwitz” by Michael Bornstein and Debbie Bornstein Holinstadt, published by Farrar Strauss Giroux. By Michael Bornstein & Debbie Bornstein Holinstadt. 2017. Reprinted with permission.


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