Linda Lee — My personal bridge blog

Bridging Two Worlds by Martin Hoffman – A Review

Bridging Two WorldsI loved this book, even the first half. The first half is about the struggles Martin faced as a child first in the ghetto and then after avoiding selection for the gas chambers, as a prisoner in Auschwitz, on the long march to Buchenwald, and then as a displaced person.

Having read this section I realized how much Martin’s personality, perseverance and superior intelligence allowed him to survive but there was certainly an element of luck, an angel watching over him. I think one reason that I liked this part of the book so much was his strength of character, how he figured out at every turn what he needed to do to make it to the next day, week and month. It wasn’t always a pleasant or easy read but as I did know the ending it helped me to get through the worst parts.

Even before the concentration camp, life became more and more difficult and more horrible too. Imagine coming home from picking berries to be told that your grandfather had been taken to prison and he was to be resettled. Martin prays to God, asking God to keep grandpa safe. ‘I promise I will be really good and try to do your will.’ And I could imagine so many Jews saying similar prayers.

He had already survived death just to reach this point. It seemed close to him always. Two weeks after he left the Ghetto of Ungar where he was living, it was liquidated and none of the boys his age survived.

The story continues on as he and his family are sent by truck and then trains to Auschwitz. And he thinks the kind of thoughts that many of us would understand: ‘If only I had been good …’

As he got off the cattle car at Auschwitz one man told him to say he was 18 even though he was 14 when questioned in the selection process. Martin says that probably saved his life.

He describes his experiences at Auschwitz and I expected much of what happened but I felt I was there with him through the horrible, the bad and even some good. But there was always his spirit, his intelligence and his will to live. How else could this child survive. And somehow I wanted to read on even knowing how awful it would be, perhaps made more palatable because I knew he survived.

So now you know why despite having read several books about Auschwitz that I found this part of the book special and I couldn’t put the book down.

Finally we come through the death march and eventually liberation. He had survived. I rejoiced with him.

Martin had such a winning way about him that everyone along the way helped him, including the American soldiers. He eventually was placed with a Jewish family in England. He had many emotions — joy in being liberated and sadness at losing his family and all the people he knew. It was interesting to read about him adapting, learning English, becoming interested in the opposite sex and generally growing up. Things were difficult in England after the war. But youth, brilliance and perseverance got him through all the challenges. And eventually he found gambling and bridge.

And so we arrive at the second major part of his life — the game of bridge and at this time rubber bridge and eventually duplicate. He was naturally a brilliant bridge player. There seemed an inevitability to his success at rubber, duplicate, tournaments and internationally. I liked reading about tournaments across Europe, players of the time, and international competition. But of course there were lots of ups and downs, and of course women! He seemed to have a lot of shall I call it ‘fun’ after the sessions.

He played with the top players of the time and enjoyed the perks of being one of the top bridge players in Europe. There is never a dull moment. He became a bridge professional on cruise ships and after that resumed his bridge career in England. Things always seemed to happen around him: bridge, women, adventures, money coming and going.

The later part of the book deals with marriage, his life as a bridge player and a gambler, and the ups and downs in both. He had much to overcome, and his life did reach some serious lows. The book comes to a much happier conclusion when he arrives in the United States still a bridge professional. And he says it took half a century to turn the terrors into triumphs.

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