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Auschwitz survivor to speak at Forest Hills Y April 20

Thomas Buergenthal, an International Court judge in The Hague, Netherlands, who survived Auschwitz as a 10−year−old, is slated to discuss his recently released book detailing the early years of his life at the Central Queens YM & YWHA in Forest Hills April 20.

In “A Lucky Child,” Buergenthal, writes of his experiences in the Holocaust, including living in Auschwitz — where he was separated from his parents — the Kielce Ghetto in Poland and two labor camps.

“I had a gradual immersion into hell,” Buergenthal said. “I survived the ghetto, the liquidation of the ghetto, Auschwitz. By the time I was alone in Auschwitz, I was very much a child of the camp in the same way street children are children of the street in Latin America. You know how to survive.”

Buergenthal was born in what is now the country of Slovakia in 1934, and his family was already on the run from the Nazis by the time he was 5. On Sept. 1, 1939, Buergenthal and his family boarded a train heading for a boat that was supposed to take them from Poland to England, but the German army invaded Poland that day and their train was bombed.

Instead of arriving in England, Buergenthal and his family ended up walking to the Kielce Ghetto, where thousands of people died of typhoid, starved to death or were shot or hanged. Buergenthal ended up living in two labor camps after the ghetto and in 1944 was deported to Auschwitz with his parents.

“In January 1945, the Soviet army was advancing, and we were marched out of Auschwitz,” Buergenthal said. “It was the famous death march that I was on. We walked for three days in terrible weather conditions with very little to wear and ended up in a concentration camp near Berlin. After that, things began to look up. The camp was liberated.”

Buergenthal was one of only three children to survive the three−day march.

He was eventually reunited with his mother two years after Sachsenhausen, a camp, was liberated by Soviet troops. His father was executed shortly before the end of the war.

Buergenthal’s own horrific experiences inspired him to pursue international law. He received law degrees from New York University Law School and Harvard Law School. He is currently the only American judge at the International Court of Justice in The Hague in the Netherlands, where he now lives.

“I hope when people hear me talk, they can feel a commitment to stop these experiences from happening to other people in another part of the world,” Buergenthal said of his upcoming discussion in Forest Hills.

Buergenthal will be interviewed at the event by Flushing resident Masha Leon, a Holocaust survivor and journalist with the Jewish weekly The Forward.

Buergenthal will appear at the Central Queens YM & YWHA at 1:30 p.m. April 20. The event is open to the general public and a $4.50 donation is suggested.

For more information, call 718−268−5011, Ext. 151 or e−mail pkurtz@cqyjcc.org.

Reach reporter Anna Gustafson by e−mail at agustafson@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718−229−0300, Ext. 174.

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