When we examine the path of our life, we may note that we became the person we are today through a judicious combination of education, the kindness of others, intelligence and hard work. It all adds up, and we are the sum total of all the choices and efforts we’ve made. But then there’s the life-changing power of sheer luck. Something happened to change the course of our life, some random happening that was nothing of our own doing. A meeting with someone that re-directed our life for the better. Call it the mysterious Hand of Fate, Providence, or just being in the right place at the right time.
When Max Eisen looked at his life he could only reflect on the miraculous series of chance encounters that saved his life several times over. As a boy of only 15 he was arrested in Hungary and taken to Auschwitz concentration camp where he was sent to work until the point of exhaustion. Starved and physically injured by an SS guard, he was saved by the kindness of a fellow prisoner, a doctor, who treated his injury and then engaged him as a cleaner inside the infamous camp hospital. In that living hell, he came to learn of the depths to which humans can stoop.
Separated from sixty relatives, all of whom perished, he was forced on a death march in January, 1945 to Ebbensee camp, some 600 kilometers away. He was finally rescued in the closing days of the war when an African-American army tank battalion, the 761st, liberated the camp.
When I met Max at a family wedding, two years ago, his book was still a work in progress. Although he’d been tirelessly travelling and speaking to groups and organisations about his experiences, he’d never completed a written version of his story. I am delighted to learn that his book By Chance Alone, published by Harper Collins, will be launched on 19th April.
It is a sad fact that anti-Semitism is on the rise. In the name of being anti-Israel or anti-Zionism, many are speaking words that have not been heard since the 1930s in Europe. Even some who are considered intelligent are denying the severity of the holocaust. The generation who survived the holocaust are all too few in number, and it is essential that we hear from them. Democracy is a very fragile thing, and it is all too easy for the same extremes of political thought to arise once again. We should understand where that leads.
At 87, Max Eisen is a living witness to one of the greatest atrocities in history. His book is a testimony of his courage and survival, and of how he coped with the painful aftermath of liberation, a time of physical and psychological healing.