“For the dead and the living, we must bear witness.” Elie Wiesel

CANCELED – Yom HaShoah 2020 Guest Speakers Michael Bornstein and Debbie Holinstat

Due to the potential impact of COVID-19 on public health, the Thaler Holocaust Memorial Fund has cancelled our event with Michael Bornstein and Debbie Holinstat. We hope to reschedule their appearance at an appropriate time later this year or next year. 

The Thaler Holocaust Remembrance Fund welcomes back to Eastern Iowa Yom HaShoah Guest Speakers, Michael Bornstein and his daughter, Debbie Holinstat in March 2020, the authors of Survivors Club: The True Story of a Very Young Prisoner of Auschwitz.

The authors will be speaking at Coe College, Cornell College, Mount Mercy University and Kirkwood Community College between March 29 and April 1

See below for venues, dates and times.

For 70 years, Holocaust survivor Michael Bornstein chose to stay silent about his story. He spotted the photo of his four-year-old self on book covers, museum walls and even in news footage used on major news networks every year as they acknowledged Holocaust Remembrance Day. Yet he was nervous about stepping forward to identity himself as the boy in the footage from Auschwitz because there was so much he could not remember. Then a document was discovered at a museum in Israel that revealed a stunning detail about his survival. Michael knew he had to share what he’d learned.

Together with his daughter Debbie Bornstein Holinstat, a broadcast news producer who started her career in Iowa in the 1990s, they began to dig for more information and planned to write a book. But even they never guessed the family secrets they’d uncover as they researched for their book, Survivors Club, released March 7, 2017 (Farrar, Straus & Giroux/Macmillan)

Now, armed with new information about his survival, and against a backdrop of rising anti-Semitic crimes nationwide, Michael and Debbie are eager to share what they’ve learned. The father-daughter team have appeared on CBS Sunday Morning, MSNBC, NPR, Yahoo News, NBC affiliates in Chicago, New York and Washington, DC, Time Magazine for Kids and many other news outlets. They speak regularly at schools, charity events and legal functions – reminding listeners of what can happen when discrimination is ignored.  Silent for 70 years, Michael is committed to ensuring that future generations never forget the atrocities of the Holocaust, never discount the value of optimism and never underestimate the power of a parent’s love.

Michael Bornstein is one of the youngest survivors of the Auschwitz concentration camp, having withstood seven horrifying months as a four-year-old. This could be considered nothing short of a miracle, when many other children often survived only weeks. Bornstein was carried out of the camp by his grandmother in 1945, and spent much of his life trying to put the experience behind him. In a 2017 interview with Esquire magazine, Michael’s daughter and co-author, Debbie Holinstat, talked about her father’s long silence.

“There were years where we asked questions, my siblings and I, and asked and asked and we would always get the same answer. “Well, I don’t know what I remember and what I think I remember,” which my father still says, and that’s OK. But there was more to learn, and he really didn’t want us digging…. I respected that. But it was very frustrating to be shielded from something that I felt was important to know, and I’m really proud now to know that my father so readily speaks about it.”

Bornstein came to realize that only by sharing his story could he play a role in educating future generations and keeping the memory of what happened in the Nazi death camps alive. The Survivors Club, a memoir of his imprisonment and life after Auschwitz, was inspired in part by discovering an image of himself as a four-year-old prisoner on a Holocaust denial website. Michael told Publishers Weekly:

“When I saw that, I slammed my hand down. It’s ridiculous to make comments like that. Over one million people were killed in Auschwitz alone. But I guess they have an audience. The other reason is that my children and grandchildren implored me to talk about it more.”

Michael continued:

“My mother told a story of what happened at Auschwitz. The normal survival rate for children was about two weeks. But I managed to survive. One reason was my mother. In the children’s bunk, the older children were also starving. They took my bread away. My mother came into my bunk, giving me some of her bread and soup. But she was beaten over the head. She showed us the marks on her forehead. There were other instances. When the Nazis came into Żarki, they had a whole family dig a grave. Then they had them huddle together and shot them and put them in the grave. It’s startling to imagine, but it happened.”

Michael and Debbie will share Michael’s story with Iowans as part of their ongoing effort to educate people of all ages, and inspire them to take action to prevent history from repeating itself. When her dad gave her the go-ahead to share his history publicly, neither of them knew how many surprises remained to be learned about his survival. Debbie and her entire family take comfort in knowing that as first-hand Holocaust accounts from aging survivors fade away fast – this story will not.

About Michael and Debbie

Six years after his liberation, Michael Bornstein immigrated to the United States. Michael graduated from Fordham University, earned his Ph.D. from the University of Iowa, and worked in pharmaceutical research and development for more than forty years. Now retired, Michael lives with his wife in New York City and speaks frequently to schools and other groups about his experiences in the Holocaust.

Debbie Holinstat has spent her career writing for some of the biggest names in broadcast news, including Lester Holt of NBC Nightly News, CNN’s Ashleigh Banfield and the Today Show’s Natalie Morales. She is also a freelance corporate media coach. But her greatest professional reward has come from writing alongside her own father, Michael Bornstein, as they collaborated on Survivors Club.V

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