I Have Lived A Thousand Years Summary

Livia Bitton-Jackson

I Have Lived A Thousand Years

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I Have Lived A Thousand Years Summary

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I Have Lived A Thousand Years: Growing Up in the Holocaust is a 1997 memoir by Livia Bitton-Jackson about her time in the Nazi death camps as a teenager.

In 1944, Elli Friedman (as she was then known), is a thirteen year-old girl living in Hungary when it is invaded by the Nazis. Consequences of the invasion descend gradually upon Friedman’s family. First, all the prized possessions of the city’s Jewish population must be registered at city hall, an edict that Elli’s father evades by burying precious articles in the backyard. Next, the Jews are required to wear yellow stars and have them painted on their houses. The Jewish population is then relocated to overcrowded ghettos, where Elli, despite the poor conditions, feels a sense of pride in her Judaism for the first time. However, it is short-lived, as food begins to run out and all the men are sent off to labor camps. While she instructs her family to wake her before her father leaves, she is awoken only by the sound of the carriage departing, and is unable to express her love and gratitude as he leaves for the camps.

Finally, her family is liquidated and taken to Auschwitz. She and her mother Laura are initially spared from the gas chamber due to Elli’s blonde hair and tall stature. She is told that she is now 16 as children her age are being executed. Their hair is shaved and they are stripped and forced into shapeless gray dresses. They are offered only contaminated water, making them vomit.

After a few days in Auschwitz, Elli and her mother are moved to another camp. Initially hopeful, she soon learns that they are in fact at Plaszow, counted among the worst labor camps. Here, they are beaten and forced to perform brutal physical labor for twelve hours a day. They pass a few weeks there, narrowly avoiding slaughter due to a prisoner uprising. There are rumors that Hitler is dead and they are packed into trains. Unfortunately, when they reach their destination they discover that Hitler is not dead and they have been returned to Auschwitz. Elli’s mother is weak, but Elli convinces the guards that she can work. One night in their bunk beds, the bed above her mother breaks and they are trapped beneath the planks. While Elli escapes relatively unharmed, her mother is seriously injured and taken to the hospital, where the doctor says that he expects her to remain unconscious and paralyzed.

After three weeks in the hospital, Elli and another woman sneak her mother out of the hospital in order to avoid the gas chamber. Soon the women are lined up naked for selection to go work in German factories. While her mother passes, Elli does not, but she is able to sneak out of Auschwitz with her mother.

They arrive in Augsburg, where conditions are much nicer. They have more plentiful food and less harsh punishments. They are given proper clothes, but Elli soon notices that hers are stitched with another girl’s name, and wonders about their provenance, asking the former owner of the clothes to forgive her.

Several months later, they leave Augsburg for a new camp, Muhldorf. They soon find out that men from their hometown are in this camp, and that in fact Elli’s brother Bubi is in the neighboring camp of Waldlager, where they are soon transferred. Bubi is so thin that he is nearly unrecognizable, but starts to improve as they sneak him extra bread. A couple of weeks after their arrival, the camps are evacuated. They once again board trains for a treacherous ride. A few days into their journey the trains stop. Some prisoners break out of the train cars and everyone disembarks, beginning to devour the corn from the surrounding fields. Suddenly gunfire breaks out and many are killed or injured before the rest are shuffled back onto the train.

Once again, the train stops and the soldiers say that the Red Cross is giving out soup. The starved prisoners queue up, only to have gunfire break out again. It was a Nazi trap. Many are killed and injured, including Bubi, who takes a bullet to the head but survives.

The train once more continues and more prisoners die due to starvation. Finally, the train stops one final time and Americans identify themselves, explaining that the Germans have surrendered. They are at last free.

They return home to the knowledge that Elli, her mother and Bubi were the only survivors from their family. In fact, only thirty-six out of five hundred Jews from her community survived and her father died two weeks before the liberation. In the aftermath of the war, they are dedicated to staying together as a family and moving forward, and receive a letter from Elli’s uncle in America offering to help them there. The book concludes with Elli and her family on a ship entering New York’s harbor, seeing a glimpse of the Statue of Liberty as the passengers break out into song.