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Thursday, June 6, 2013

Book Review: Boy 30529: A Memoir

Book Type: Holocaust memoir

Stereotype Alert: Nope. 

Cover Art: Cute kids+ID+train tracks

Bed/Bride/Bludgeon: N/A

Character Score: N/A

What's the Story?:  Felix Weinberg survived not one, not two, but SIX concentration camps/death marches.

X-Factor: Talky talk.

What's the Story?: There are a lot of Holocaust memoirs out there.  This one is a little bit different.  Czech-English physicist Felix Weinberg does not like to refer to himself as a “camp survivor.”  He considers it a series of miracles that he lived and his family did not.  But I find it hard to call Weinberg anything but a survivor.  This book tells the story of a teenager who survived not only Terezín, but Auschwitz-Birkenau, Blechhammer, the Blechhammer death march, Gross-Rosen and Buchenwald.  Once the war was over, Weinberg vowed only to look toward the future.  But years of not talking about his experiences left him feeling that he owed it to both his living and deceased relatives to put his story on paper.

Much of this book is a monument to his family.  Weinberg’s memories begin when he was a young child living in Aussig (Ústí nad Labem), Czechoslovakia.  He speaks fondly of the beautiful family home. How he and his mother, father and brother went to visit his mother’s parents in Prague during the holidays.  He talks about his health obsessed father, Victor,  who always took the family on nature outings, fed them all vitamins and even went so far as to hire a gymnastics trainer for young Felix. 

In 1939, Weinberg’s father left Czechoslovakia for London where he was arranging to move the entire family.  Hitler invaded the country in March of that year.  Victor had secured three Red Cross transportation passes for the remaining Weinbergs but through some sort of red tape or missing documents, they were not allowed to leave the country.  Nelly, Felix’s mother, moved them all to the small town of Wildenschwert (Ústí nad Orlicí) to live with the family of Rudolph Pick, a family friend.  Things continued to deteriorate in Czechoslovakia.  Soon, Felix was refused access to the local school due to his status as a Jew.  Food shortages worsened.  The SS even had the nerve to confiscate all of the skis belonging to Jews living in that mountain town.  Rudolph and Nelly decided to send inexperienced Felix to live at a nearby farm where he would be well fed.  This arrangement lasted about a week.  The Germans requisitioned the Picks’ large home in 1942 and the Weinbergs were soon after deported to Terezín; beginning a five year journey of horror and chance survival.

Weinberg’s short memoir is striking in its straightforward tone but is not filled with ghastly details of Nazi atrocities.  Felix explains that he does not remember large portions of those five years; that his mind enabled him to “see without seeing” as a coping mechanism.  Weinberg defied so many odds by surviving the war and his everyday account of life in Nazi concentration camps makes for an enthralling read.  Boy 30529 is a thoughtful account of one man’s family and his experience during the holocaust.  

X-Factor: Talky talk. Weinberg's voice is very appealing.  He is warm, funny and very frank.  I found myself wanting to hug this guy.  Not because I felt sorry for him and all he went through, but because he just seemed like a really likable guy. 

 I feel about this book (and many others about about genocide) the same way I feel about books where the main character is a kid dying of cancer: I can't say that I love this book, but I can say that it is a good book.  It is a book that is so well written and moving that I would recommend it to others time and time again.


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