Speakers: Once a young Auschwitz prisoner, now to visit Milwaukee, Baraboo | Wisconsin Jewish Chronicle

Speakers: Once a young Auschwitz prisoner, now to visit Milwaukee, Baraboo


For all the truth out there, said Debbie Bornstein Holinstat, there are also plenty of lies.

That, she said, is why she and her father, Mike Bornstein, had to write their book.

At age 4, Bornstein was imprisoned with his family at Auschwitz concentration camp in Poland.

The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum estimates that among the 2,819 inmates liberated from Auschwitz by Soviet troops in 1945, 180 were children, and 52 were younger than 8 years old.

Bornstein was one of them.

With one of his four children, who works as a television news producer, he decided to document his story. Bornstein and his daughter are the co-authors of New York Times best-seller “Survivors Club: The True Story of a Very Young Prisoner of Auschwitz,” published in 2017.

As the title indicates, the book describes how Bornstein weathered six months of imprisonment in the concentration camp. The authors will soon share that story with Wisconsin.

Bornstein and Bornstein Holinstat will talk about the book at a program scheduled for 2 p.m. Feb. 17. The event, sponsored by the Nathan and Esther Pelz Holocaust Education Resource Center of Milwaukee Jewish Federation, Marquette University, Catholic Financial Life and Congregation Emanu-el B’ne Jeshurun, is free and open to the public.

They will speak at a second, private event the following day for more than 400 students.

Bornstein said he aims to share a story of optimism.

“There’s something in Hebrew, it says, ‘gam zeh yaavor,’ (which means) ‘this too shall pass,’” he said. “We try to convey that to children and adults, as well.”

Bornstein Holinstat said she wants to remind listeners that history can repeat itself if people forget the past, such as what happens when discrimination is ignored.

“The Holocaust did not start with fire and brimstone and six million killed,” she said. “It started with graffiti on walls and jokes about Jews. That’s how it begins, and when people ignore it, that’s how it grows.”

Kari Altman, the coordinator of outreach and public relations for HERC, said she has similar goals for the program. Altman said she wants guests to be inspired to be more accepting of others.

“If we can educate kids and community members – anybody of any age – the hope is for a more tolerant and accepting world,” she said.

The Bornsteins’ trip to the Milwaukee area comes just months after a photo of Baraboo High School students appearing to pose in a Nazi salute surfaced and drew international attention. The authors, who said they were devastated when they saw the image, added a trip to Baraboo to speak to a class at the school district.

Bornstein said he expects to tailor their presentation to the student audience. His daughter said their message remains the same no matter who fills the crowd, though this presentation will be especially significant.

“We’re not going to stand there and wag our fingers and demand some kind of justice,” Bornstein Holinstat said. “We just want the kids to remember this story and see why fighting discrimination is so important.”

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What: Presentation by Mike Bornstein and Debbie Bornstein Holinstat, authors of “Survivors Club: The True Story of a Very Young Prisoner of Auschwitz”

When: Sunday, Feb. 17, 2 p.m.

Where: Congregation Emanu-El B’ne Jeshurun, 2020 W. Brown Deer Road, River Hills. 414-228-7545.

Cost: Free and open to the public.

RSVP: Kari Altman at 414-963-2716 or KariA@MilwaukeeJewish.org or visit Ceebj.org/Event/Survivors-Club.html