Memoir of a man who survived seven Nazi death camps reveals his long battle for survival in those vicious conditions.
Ernst Bornstein was 18 years old when the Nazis raided his home. Through a combination of luck, the kindness of strangers, including a German officer, and a forensic ability to determine the motives of others and the will to help his companions, Ernst survived to write an astonishing memoir.
His account was published in Germany in 1967. By then Ernst had found eminence, training as a dentist and then again as a doctor, and through his commitment to honouring those who had died by showing compassion to people in need regardless of their nationality.
But tragically, in 1978 at the age of 55, Ernst died of a heart condition acquired during his years of starvation and forced labour.
But eight years ago Alain’s sister Dr Noemie Bornstein, who like her father had trained as a GP and who is named after one of his lost sisters, decided to translate the book into English.
It took her three years and has been published to coincide with Holocaust Memorial Day, which takes place on January 27.
Ernst’s book may convey in gruesome detail the minutiae of the daily horror but it also captures remarkable relationships.
His family may have met a fate he describes as “inescapable” but while Ernst sat sobbing in a labour camp storeroom after receiving the letter because of the kindness of a German officer who treated him with humanity, Ernst writes of how: “I knew I had to sustain my parents’ legacy for the sake of the love and care that they had given to me.”
In his later medical career, these experiences led Ernst to treat everyone the same.
“He had a restlessness to help anyone and was indefatigable in that,” explains Alain of his father, who founded the Association of Ex-Concentration Camp Inmates in Munich.
In April 1945 the Nazis wanted to transfer the surviving prisoners, including Ernst, to the mountains of the Tyrol “in order to destroy us there”, he writes.
“They packed us into boxcars and transported us in the direction of Munich. While we were in transit the Americans mounted an offensive and captured the train tracks. We were free.”
Everyone fled from the train but the “SS murderers” drove the group back into the wagons and began killing indiscriminately.
True liberation came the following morning. But there was no celebration for Ernst.
He spent the day next to the mass grave filled with friends who had died just 24 hours before the actual liberation, defiant in his determination never to let the world forget.