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.
By Chance Alone is a Holocaust memoir written by survivor Max Eisen. (Julie Eisen/HarperCollins)

By Chance Alone by Max Eisen is on the Canada Reads 2019 longlist. Canada Reads 2019 is about finding one book to move you. The final five books and the panellists defending them will be revealed on Jan. 31, 2019.

The 2019 debates will take place March 25-28, 2019 and will be 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.

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

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. 7:20
Interview with Max Eisen, 15 years old when he and his family were sent by cattle-car from Hungary to Auschwitz 6:35
Author Max Eisen on his new book about his horrifying time in the Auschwitz concentration camp during the Second World War 12:13