I Have Lived a Thousand Years by Elli Friedmann

Elli was thirteen years old; clever, ambitious, funny, and terribly excited about her new bike. She had friends and a crush and a wonderful family—a pretty good life. Until the Nazis invaded her town. In one fell swoop, her life came out from under her. Her school was closed permanently, and all of her hard work and top-notch grades were forgotten, disregarded. Her shiny new bike was confiscated, and her bright teenage clothes were spoiled by ugly yellow stars that were fastened, one by one, to her lapels. All because she was a Jew. Yet in a few months time she would be wishing desperately for the days when she was simply discriminated against, when at least her family was united and her dignity remained.

I Have Lived a Thousand Years is haunting, stirring, terrifying, and most frighteningly of all, real. The book is survivor Livia Bitton-Jackson's autobiographical account of the Holocaust. Only thirteen when her family was carted off to different concentration camps, Elli endured a year of different camps and horrors, staying alive only by a series of lucky chances. She was first confined to a ghetto with her family, then sent to Auschwitz, Plaszow, Auschwitz again, Ausburg, Waldlager and was ultimately liberated in 1945. Elli saw and survived the very worst horrors of the Holocaust.

And she holds nothing back. With terrifying detail she tells us of the whispers about the smoke that rose over Auschwitz, the sickening and unbelievable reality that was the human bodies that made it. She tells us of her nerves the night before decimation, a process in which the entire camp is lined up and set to face a firing squad. Every tenth person is shot, yet one never knows where the count will begin or who will be the doomed tenth. She describes legs and limbs shot off live bodies, skeletal prisoners working torturous twelve hour days, and the constant, deep, gnawing presence of hunger. She describes the sun blisters that cracked and oozed upon her shaven head, the biting burns that pierced her skin, and the sharp lash of the whip as it made contact with her young flesh.

The book is sickening yet riveting. Like an accident you can’t look away from, I Have Lived a Thousand Years is impossible to read yet impossible to put down. It is an incredible, horrible, fascinating book. The author speaks about the surprising extent of human cruelty, the horrors of the pain and the torture and the death that were brought about by people, good people, people who got caught up in unity and superiority and were diminished to mindless, brainwashed, murderous monsters. And her faith in humanity was extinguished at just thirteen. At thirteen, should have been attending dances and doing homework and coming home each day to her mother and father. Instead, she was forced to live in a concentration camp, holding her breath with anxiety each day as she waited to be sent to the gas chambers.

I have read a lot of Holocaust books for young adults, and many of them were excellent. But nothing even approaches the rawness and the truth and the prose that this book is. 5 daggers.


1 comment:

Liz said...

Wow. That was a really good review, I now have to check this book out. Sounds really awesome! Thanks for the review :)