Survivors Club: The True Story of a Very Young Prisoner of Auschwitz

Book review by
Lucinda Dyer, Common Sense Media
Survivors Club: The True Story of a Very Young Prisoner of Auschwitz Book Poster Image
Unforgettable true story of boy sent to death camp at age 4.

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The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Survivors Club is not only about the Holocaust but also about what life was like for a Jewish family before and after World War II. Bornstein writes a warm and vivid account of the prewar Jewish community in the small town of Zarki, Poland: the food people ate at Sabbath dinners and on holidays, the village shops, the rhythms of everyday life. The account of his family's struggles in the aftermath of the war puts a personal face on the plight of people (then and now) who are displaced because of war and desperately seeking safety in a new country. The cover of the book features what has become an iconic photo of the Holocaust: young Michael Bornstein in front of a small group of children who have been liberated from Auschwitz.

Positive Messages

Even in the most unimaginable and terrifying circumstances, there can always be hope.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Michael's mother and grandmother risked their lives almost daily to keep him safe in Auschwitz. They shared (or let him have) the tiny amount of food they were given each day. After the arrival of the Nazis in their hometown, Michael's father assumed leadership of the Jewish community and was able to save the lives of hundreds of people.


Death and brutality are a constant in much of the book. Families are made to dig their own graves and then shot, townspeople and prisoners are beaten and executed for no reason, the children in Auschwitz talk about the gas chambers and ovens. A man attempts to molest Michael. Before and after the war, the family faces anti-Semitism that sometimes turns into physical violence.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Adults drink Sabbath wine, and there's a passing reference to someone smoking a cigarette. 

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Survivors Club: The True Story of a Very Young Prisoner of Auschwitz is written by Michael Bornstein, who was liberated from the Nazi concentration camp when he was only 4 years old. While most children lived for no more than two weeks after their arrival at Auschwitz, the extraordinary courage and ingenuity of his mother and grandmother kept him safe. The story told in Survivors Club moves from the Nazi occupation of Bornstein's small hometown in Poland to Auschwitz and finally to the years after the end of the war when members of his extended family became "displaced persons." While the violence can be shocking (children are beaten and executed) and the prospect of death is ever-present, this memoir from one of the few Holocaust survivors still living is above all a book about the bonds of family and the power of hope.

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What's the story?

Michael Bornstein never intended to tell the story of the SURVIVORS CLUB. It was only after seeing a photo of children (including Michael) liberated from Auschwitz posted on a Holocaust denial site that he knew he must speak out. The book begins in 1939 as Nazi soldiers take over Zarki, the small rural town in Poland where Michael lives with his parents, brother, and grandmother. Michael's father becomes head of Zarki's Jewish Council, and the bribes he gives to the head of the local Gestapo allow hundreds of townspeople people to escape and others to be saved from execution. But in 1942, all the town's Jews are ordered deported to labor and concentration camps. Michael's father and brother die at Auschwitz, but his mother eventually manages to smuggle him from the children's barracks into the women's barracks, where he hides until the camp is liberated. After the war, the surviving members of the extended Bornstein family are reunited. But because the life they knew in Poland is now gone, Michael and his mother become displaced persons, refugees waiting for visas to come to the United States.

Is it any good?

As so few children survived the Nazi death camps, Bornstein's haunting and heartbreaking memoir offers a unique perspective on the years before and after the Holocaust. Bornstein and his daughter and coauthor, Debbie Bornstein Holinstat, used research from the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial Museum in Israel, audio recordings and videotaped testimony, interviews with relatives, and a diary written by a survivor and family friend to weave together this remarkable story.

The preface notes that "conversations were imagined, thoughts and feelings projected, certain names changed and some minor details adjusted ... ." That said, the characters and their conversations, thoughts, and feelings never read as fiction but always have the ring of truth. A section of photos at the end of the book allows readers to put faces on Bornstein's parents, aunts, uncles, and cousins. One of the photos was taken just after the liberation of Auschwitz and shows Michael being held in his grandmother's arms. 

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the theme of hope that runs throughout Survivors Club. Why do you think some people can hold onto hope while others give up?

  • Do you think social media platforms should do more to crack down on hate speech such as anti-Semitism, or should people be free to post anything they want?

  • Michael Bornstein and his daughter and coauthor, Debbie Bornstein Holinstat, were only able to tell this story after doing extensive research on the Bornstein family. What do you know about your family members who were alive during World War II?

Book details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love history and stories of World War II

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