Books·Canada Reads 2019

By Chance Alone by Max Eisen

In this memoir, Max Eisen recounts how he narrowly escaped death in the Auschwitz gas chambers during the Holocaust.

Defended by Ziya Tong

Ziya Tong is defending Max Eisen's memoir By Chance Alone on Canada Reads 2019. (CBC)

By Chance Alone by Max Eisen won Canada Reads 2019, defended by Ziya Tong.

The debates took place March 25-28, 2019 and were hosted by Ali Hassan

About By Chance Alone

Tibor "Max" Eisen was born in Moldava, Czechoslovakia into an Orthodox Jewish family. But in the spring of 1944 — five and a half years after his region had been annexed to Hungary and the morning after the family's yearly Passover Seder — gendarmes forcibly removed Eisen and his family from their home. They were brought to a brickyard and eventually loaded onto crowded cattle cars bound for Auschwitz-Birkenau.

At 15 years of age, Eisen survived the selection process and was inducted into the camp as a slave labourer. One day, Eisen received a terrible blow from an SS guard. Severely injured, he was dumped at the hospital where a Polish political prisoner and physician, Tadeusz Orzeszko, operated on him. Despite his significant injury, Orzeszko saved Eisen from certain death in the gas chambers by giving him a job as a cleaner in the operating room. After his liberation and new trials in Communist Czechoslovakia, Eisen immigrated to Canada in 1949, where he has dedicated the last 22 years of his life to educating others about the Holocaust across Canada and around the world.

Eisen will be donating a portion of his royalties from this book to institutions promoting tolerance and understanding. (From HarperCollins Canada)

It reminds us how fragile the world we know is, and how terrifying its breakup can be.- 2017 RBC Taylor Prize jury

By Chance Alone was a finalist for the 2017 RBC Taylor Prize and for the 2017 Non-Fiction Vine Award for Canadian Jewish Literature.

Watch the book trailer

By Chance Alone trailer

4 years ago
Duration 0:44
Canada Reads trailer for By Chance Alone by Max Eisen.

Why Max Eisen shares his story

"I lived through a traumatic and cruel period of history. There are important lessons to be learned and personal accounts to be recorded.

I am inspired by the need to document my story so others may learn from the past.- Max Eisen

"I am inspired by the need to document my story so others may learn from the past. On a personal level, I have a highly developed sense of observation of the world around me, which constantly inspires and motivates me to take action." 

Read more in Max Eisen's interview with CBC Books.

From the book

When I was born in Moldava nad Bodvou, Czechoslovakia, in 1929, my parents could not have foreseen the danger and destruction that would befall our family only a decade later.

Our town had a population of approximately 5,000 people, most of whom were Roman Catholic and Reformist Christian. There were also about 90 Jewish families, totalling not quite 500 people. The town had a secure atmosphere and I had many friends, both Jewish and non-Jewish. At one end of the main town square there was the Roman Catholic church, and at the other end there was the Reformist church. Constructed during the Austro-Hungarian Empire, the baroque-style public elementary school and the post office were also near the main square. There was a high school located nearby. 

I lived with my immediate family — my father, mother, grandparents, uncle and aunt — in a large dwelling; each segment of the family had its own quarters. The businesses of the town were operated mainly by Jewish owners, including the confectionery store, a large general store, two bakeries, two pubs, several stores for yard good and materials, a glazier, and an herbalist. My father owned a pub called the Cellar, where people came to drink and socialize, and where he made and sold a variety of bottled liqueurs in mint, apricot and chocolate flavours. 

From By Chance Alone by Max Eisen ©2016. Published by HarperCollins Canada. 

Interviews with Max Eisen

Why Canada Reads author Max Eisen wrote a book about escaping death during the Holocaust

4 years ago
Duration 2:52
Max Eisen is a Hungarian Jew who was deported to Auschwitz in the spring of 1944. As an author, public speaker and Holocaust educator, Eisen travels throughout Canada giving talks about his experiences as a concentration camp survivor. In 2019, Eisen's memoir By Chance Alone is one of the five books featured on CBC’s annual "battle of the books" competition Canada Reads.
Max Eisen talks to Shelagh Rogers about his memoir By Chance Alone. (CANADA READS SELECTION)
The Holocaust survivor speaks with Adrienne Pan on the Edmonton, Alta. program Radio Active about writing a Canada Reads contender.
The author of By Chance Alone speaks with Chris Dela Torre on the London, Ont. program Afternoon Drive.
Author Max Eisen on his new book about living in the Auschwitz concentration camp during the Second World War....and the random acts of kindness that helped him survive and rebuild his life.
Author Max Eisen on his new book about his horrifying time in the Auschwitz concentration camp during the Second World War

Why Ziya Tong chose By Chance Alone for Canada Reads

"Before 2016 I don't remember seeing swastikas, but these days I see them often — in the news and on social media. But here's something even more shocking: one in five Canadian young people have not even heard of the Holocaust. They don't know what it is. 

It is a powerful reminder of what happens when we see the signs around us but choose to look away.- Ziya Tong

"There has never been a more important time to read Max Eisen's Holocaust memoir By Chance Alone. It is a powerful reminder of what happens when we see the signs around us but choose to look away. This book not only moved me, I believe it has the power to move the nation." 

Read more in Ziya Tong's interview with CBC.

Ziya Tong on By Chance Alone

Ziya Tong reflects on heeding words of wisdom from elders before they are gone

4 years ago
Duration 1:13
The science journalist and Canada Reads 2019 panellist outlines why a Holocaust memoir is timely and relevant for our times.

About Ziya Tong

Ziya Tong is best known as the longtime co-host of the Discovery Channel's Daily Planet, which she anchored for a decade from 2008-2018. Before Daily Planet, Tong hosted ZeD on CBC, earning a Gemini Award for viewer's choice for lifestyle host. In 2007, she hosted and produced Wired Science on PBS and The Leading Edge on The Knowledge Network. Her book, The Reality Bubble, comes out in May 2019.

The Canada Reads 2019 contenders