Subscribe now

The Long Night: A True Story

By Ernst Israel Bornstein
October 2018 | Review by Graham Hilton
  • Publisher: The Toby Press
  • ISBN: 978-1-59264-440-7
  • Pages: 260
  • Price: 10.99
Buy this book »

Book Review

This book is Bornstein’s account of his experience of the Holocaust. He was first incarcerated in September 1938 (aged 15) and was finally liberated by American soldiers in April 1945.

It is a harrowing account of suffering, opening with a family tree revealing just five survivors from over 60 original members. Bornstein shows the idyllic, loving closeness of a family life centred on regular family worship shattered when Germany invaded Poland.

From then on, life would never be the same. Like me, you may be unfamiliar with names like Grunheide, Markstadt, Funfteichen, Grossrosen, Flossenburg, Leonberg and Muhldorf. But, as you read the accounts of these places, you will see how each descends further into depravity and suffering, leaving an indelible mark of sadness. Despite this, there are moments of human kindness from both fellow sufferers and guards.

The labour camps were designed to ‘destroy the soul’ through relentless roll calls (involving standing for hours in freezing temperatures) and forced labour. Work was done building autobahns and munitions factories. Always fed below starvation levels, interns were gradually ground down to the point of losing the will to live.

Still a teenager, Bornstein recalls that: ‘My belief in God and faith in people and their moral code had long ago been broken. If ever I could breathe in freedom again I believed I could no longer respect any law, nor recognise any God or religion. From the moment my parents had started on the road to Auschwitz, love, compassion, goodness and justice were words that no longer held any meaning or significance for me’ (p.69).

Many Jewish interns tried to maintain their rituals and festivals. During one Passover, Bornstein was invited to make up the quorum, during which we read a moving description of how he and others drew strength in their weakness as they remembered Israelite suffering under Pharaoh.

The context is always immense personal suffering. In Grossrosen, his close friends were murdered — companions who had encouraged one another to ‘keep going’. He writes, ‘Those were my last hours in Grossrosen. I lost my best friends. Images of unforgettable horrors were etched forever into my soul. Broken, filled with painful, insane, tortured thoughts, I slowly marched out of the camp gate. Without thinking, I took my place in the column as we marched five abreast’ (p.147).

The penultimate camp, Flossenburg, is the hardest to read. The train journey in coal wagons took four days with no food or water. Hundreds died, Bornstein losing his beloved Uncle Leon and his most treasured possessions — his spectacles and shoes.

A few years ago I visited Auschwitz and thought how important it was to have done so; we must not forget the unspeakable wickedness of the Holocaust. So why read this book? My response is that it brings these horrors to a personal level. Ernst Bornstein writes almost ‘matter of factually’, without overstating his experiences in an emotional or extreme way. It carries a weight and authority from which we can learn much.

Read this book. It is not easy going, but it is thought provoking and a reminder that we serve a God who, through the sin-bearing sufferings of Jesus Christ, will one day put all wrongs to right and make all things new.

Graham Hilton

Pewsey, Wilts

Book Reviews

Read our latest book reviews

Star RatingStar RatingStar RatingStar RatingStar Rating
Why Should I Trust the Bible?

We should trust the Bible, says Timothy Paul Jones, because it is ‘grounded in the words of a man who died and rose again’ (p.111). Jones’s basic presupposition is this: ‘If we live in a world where it is possible…

See all book reviews
Star RatingStar RatingStar RatingStar RatingStar Rating
Who Am I? Human Identity and the Gospel in a Confusing World
Thomas Fretwell

In today’s secular society, religion is often regarded as without rational or scientific basis, and therefore irrelevant to life in the modern world and all areas of public engagement. If that is our social context, then it is no wonder…

Star RatingStar RatingStar RatingStar RatingStar Rating
The Pastor’s Life: Practical Wisdom from the Puritans
Matthew D Haste & Shane W Parker

This book highlights ‘some of the many lessons that today’s pastors can learn from the Puritans’ (p.151). As such it is aimed at pastors, but the lessons are really for anyone who is a Christian leader. The opening chapter provides…

Star RatingStar RatingStar RatingStar RatingStar Rating
5 Minutes in Church History: An Introduction to the Stories of God’s Faithfulness in the History of the Church
Stephen J Nichols

What a breath of fresh air this book is! Stephen Nichols has given us 40 vignettes from church history that are brief enough to be digested over a bowl of cereal. The book doesn’t aim to be a beginner’s guide…