“I was six years old when I was sent to the concentration camp of Terezin in the dying days of World War II. Sixteen thousand children went through Terezin, but only one hundred and twenty-three survived. I am one of those survivors.”
So begins this true story of a six-year-old boy taken from his privileged life in a Hungarian castle, and thrust suddenly into concentration camps. Forced to live in what seems like another world, far away from the life of a spoilt child with staff waiting on him hand and foot, this is his account of miraculous survival.
Fleischmann’s mother, nicknamed Lolli, was a strong woman who faced the possible wrath of camp guards and other prisoners to provide the best possible conditions for her son. Being of a higher class, they were ‘fortunate’ to be placed in a ‘model camp’, kept in a way that was suitable to be shown to the Red Cross inspectors as an example of camps across Europe.
But the standards kept at such a camp were testimony to how atrocious conditions must have been at harsher sites. Here, Fleischmann and his mother endured starvation, dirty and unhygienic rooms and corruption; they were transported like cattle and treated like vermin – and worse.
Lolli, however, is a figure of strength and inspiration. Insisting that guards provide better conditions for them, and fighting to keep her son as healthy as possible, this is a woman whose acts of selflessness know no bounds. This is someone who, when she came across money and used it to obtain goods, did so for her son and other women and children above her own needs. This is a woman who, unbeknownst to her son, was pregnant through the first months of their imprisonment, and must keep a new baby healthy – and alive – within these walls of confinement.
Fleischmann tells his story with barely a hint of emotion, yet the facts themselves are enough to astound readers and reduce them to tears at various points. He tells of his memories, those that are a little sketchy and those that are still crystal clear – like the time his mother, having just given birth to her younger son and given as nutrition the first piece of fruit since being taken away, gave a young Tomas half the apple. He talks of the disappearance of his father and the physical and mental scars he still, to this day, must live with.
He describes the moments of his childhood: the mischief, the ways in which he was forced to grow up faster than usual, his reflections of how different life would have been had he remained living in the castle, and his close calls with death.
The remaining members of the family moved to Australia when Communism threatened to once again throw their lives into the unknown, and settled in with relatives in Sydney. Fleischmann describes his new life in Australia, giving us a brief explanation of the years from school through to marrying and becoming a father.
Perhaps the most emotional part of the book is the ending, when Fleischmann returns to Europe and visits Terezin once again.
This is a story of hardship, torture and unimaginable difficulties. Most of all, though, it is an uplifting story of survival. It is an amazing account to read, and one of the stories of that time that is so important to know of and always remember.
Title: Lolli’s Apple
Author: Tomas Fleischmann
Publisher: A.K.A. Publishing
Publication Date: March 2010