IMU Main Lounge — Wednesday, March 29 at 7 p.m.
Long reluctant to share his story of surviving the Holocaust as a young child, Michael Bornstein has broken an over-70-year silence and is returning to Iowa City, where he graduated from the university over half a century ago. He will give a lecture, respond to a Q&A and hold a book-signing at the Iowa Memorial Union’s Main Lounge on Wednesday, March 29 at 7 p.m. Seating is capped at 1,200 and free to the public.
Bornstein was four years old when he was one of 7,000 liberated from Auschwitz by the Soviet Army. He spent seven months in the concentration camp, where over one million Jews were killed at the hands of Hitler’s Third Reich. At a time when young children typically lived only two weeks in Auschwitz, Bornstein escaped the Nazi’s grasp, becoming one of the youngest survivors of the Holocaust.
Later in his childhood Bornstein emigrated to the United States in 1951, knowing next to no English. He would go on to receive his PhD in Pharmaceutics and Analytical Chemistry from the University of Iowa in 1966. Bornstein retired after 40 years in the pharmaceutical industry. His family kept nudging him to share his story. But he wouldn’t, attempting even to evade recognition as a subject from famous Soviet archival footage of World War II.
In the films Bornstein is carried out of Auschwitz in the arms of his grandmother, returning to Zarki, Poland, where he and his family had to outfox the Nazis even further. This is the narrative Bornstein used to go public with his backstory, in Survivor’s Club (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2017), which released March 7.
As Bornstein grew older, he became more and more perturbed by Holocaust deniers co-opting the film in which he appears; he spurned their propaganda, which purported that children in Nazi concentration camps lived healthily. Bornstein partnered with his daughter, Debbie Bornstein Holinstat, to gather his memories of Auschwitz and the Nazis as well as to interview fellow Jewish survivors for their accounts. The result is a memoir written for middle-grade core curriculums, yet which stands as an imperative tool for people of all ages to understand the viscera of the Third Reich.
Bornstein’s account surfaces during a political climate when rhetoric from within European countries and the United States are shifting towards closed-door policies. With Immigration and Customs Enforcement mounting widespread raids, critics are noting that with detention comes implicit racial-profiling. Most importantly, Survivor’s Club serves as a much-needed reminder that humans are center-stage of history.