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Book Review: Survivor by Sam Pivnik

Survivor by Sam Pivnik

Not a book for the faint-hearted, but Survivor is truly an astonishing story, told with a great deal of insight. Survivor is a memoir of the Second World War and tells the story of a young Jewish teenager mainly from the time the Germans occupied Poland in 1939, through years of unimaginable hell until liberation six years later. The strength of this book is Sam’s courageous and plucky spirit, his transparency and honesty in his account, and the way the story moves between his younger self and a man now in his 80s who has done his research and had time to reflect on what happened during this period, arguably the darkest time in the world’s history.

Sam was only thirteen years old when the Nazis invaded Poland. He describes his home town as being a Garden of Eden that was lost overnight with their unwelcome arrival. His life changed forever, his family forced to live in the Bedzin ghetto before they were transported to Auschwitz. Eight of his family – his mother, father and all of his siblings except for an older brother were sent to the gas chambers. Sam survived for six months in the notorious death camp by a combination of luck and sheer will power before being sent to a mining camp. At the end of the war he survived the infamous ‘Death March’ that claimed so many lives. Like a cat with more than nine lives, he was also one of only a handful that survived after the RAF sank the prison ship Cap Arcona, mistakenly believing it to be carrying members of the SS.

The horror of Sam’s experience is unrelenting, but there are bright moments and small kindnesses that allow him to keep the strength to carry on. The reader will have to read to the end to discover what happened to Sam’s older brother – but rest assured this is one of the most touching moments of the book. I’m amazed at the strength of character of Sam Pivnik, a man who is haunted by the Holocaust (who wouldn’t be?) but who also has an innate fairness in his recollections of those dark times. This is a powerful, thought-provoking book, one that you might not read in one sitting, but one that is certainly worthwhile.

#bookreviews #nonfiction

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