The Test of Courage: Michel Thomas

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The story of Michel Thomas reads like a thriller in which adventure and heartbreak combine to produce a unique form of wisdom. Until his death in 2005, he taught languages to ghetto kids, heads of industry and movie stars in a matter of days, succeeding even with people who considered themselves hopeless linguists. To those who have been taught by him, he seemed to be a miracle worker with a magical gift for unlocking the secret powers of the mind.

This unique understanding was gained under extreme circumstances. Stateless in Vichy France at the beginning of the Second World War, he was incarcerated and starved in a concentration camp at the foot of the Pyrenees. Forced into slave labour in a coal mine in Provence, he avoided being sent to Auschwitz by hiding within the confines of a deportation camp for six weeks.

He escaped death to join the Secret Army of the Resistance. He was arrested and interrogated by Klaus Barbie, Butcher of Lyon, whom he deceived into releasing him, and was later re-arrested by the French Gestapo and tortured. He held out by entering a psychological state in which he no longer registered pain and after six hours of torture, his tormentors threw him into a cell and he survived to re-join the Resistance. After the Allies invaded France he joined the American forces, fought his way into Germany and was with the troops who liberated Dachau. He personally interrogated the camp’s hangman and oversaw his handwritten confession.

At the end of the war he became a Nazi-hunter. Working for American Counter Intelligence he posed as a Nazi himself to infiltrate and expose underground networks of SS men dedicated to the return of a Fourth Reich.

In spite of the fact that his entire family had been murdered in Auschwitz, and many close friends killed in combat, at the very end of the war he staged an elaborate gala evening in Munich which he called a Reconciliation Concert. Using German musicians, and in defiance of strict Allied non-fraternisation laws, he brought friend and foe together in the belief that there had to be a different and better future.

Author Christopher Robbins has dug deep to explore and substantiate the details of the Michel Thomas story. He has authenticated every episode through camp records, Vichy documents, Resistance papers, US Army reports and hundreds of hours of interviews with this extraordinary man. The result is one of the most inspirational stories of the 20th century.



As a natural sceptic I would not have been inclined to believe the biography of Michel Thomas if I had not been told about him by someone whose own wartime experiences were beyond doubt. My friend spoke of a man who had endured hell in the early years of the war through internment in concentration and deportation camps in France, but who had refused to become a victim. He had escaped to fight with the Résistance, suffered further imprisonment and torture, and then fought with the US Army. Later, in the years directly after the war, he hunted Nazis and war criminals as a special agent with American Counter Intelligence, posing in one elaborate operation as a high-ranking Nazi intelligence officer. It was a life that seemed as fascinating as it was unlikely.



“The magnetic potency of Michel Thomas’s teaching is partly explained by this book, as much a thriller as a biography.” – Emma Thompson

“Chris Robbins has given us an irresitible phenomenon: obstinate, brilliant, morally incorruptible and one of the bravest men you will ever read about.” – John Le Carré



This has to be the one of the best examples that we are all put on this earth for a reason. What Michel Thomas has endured and the person he has become is inspirational! The insight into life in Nazi war camps and how luck and your own belief can affect the outcome was riveting. I could hardly put it down and only relented when I had to do some real work.

I held my breath at each of his lucky escapes and was moved by his reflections throughout his life. You had to keep reading because it just didn’t seem possible that the situations that he found himself in allowed escape but somehow he managed to. The desperation to live that seemed to keep him going is as powerful as the passion that he now has about his teaching of language.

It is now doing the rounds of my friends and will be well read by the end. I have now decided that I too can learn a language as his philosophy on learning is one that I can relate to and hope that in time educational institutions will too.

A truly inspirational read!!” 5★

The Test of Courage is simply one of the most remarkable books I have ever read. I first came across Michel Thomas through a British TV programme of the 1990s showing his method of language tuition and persuaded by his approach and results, have used his French tapes effectively myself. I am convinced that the events of Mr Thomas’s life are depicted completely truthfully by Christopher Robbins in this biography and salute Michel Thomas for his immense courage, resourcefulness and moral strength in that most harrowing period of modern history. I am incensed on his behalf by the attempt at character assassination by the LA Times and support his campaign to redress the wrong done to him. His refusal to give up in the face of this injustice, despite all that he has suffered and lost during his life, is entirely consistent with his life story. A self-evident truth that seems to have been missed by the LA Times is that a less remarkable man would have been swallowed up by the terrible ordeal the Nazis forced all European Jews to endure; it was Michel Thomas’s exceptional qualities that enabled him to survive. This is the story of an exceptional man.” 5★

Five stars is not enough for this gut wrenching biography. This book has offered a true and great insight to in-humane crimes during World War II, not only by the Germans, but France and USA in parts. The horror of having ones entire family wiped from the face of the earth can only be imagined, and the constant evasion of Michel Thomas’s percecutors who wanted to take away his last breath, make this an awe inspiring read, which really puts ones own meek trials and tribulations into perspective.

He goes on to become one of the most astonishing languague teachers the world has seen, and i look forward to going on one of his courses where he can teach a languague in 3 days(, finances permitting. Not bad for a man who still has an understandable bitter taste in his tounge.

The final chapter has a quote, “Often the test of courage is not to die, but to live.” This sums the book up.” 5★

This is the inspirational story of a man who never gave up. From childhood, through a desperate time during WW11 to a renown language master. A wonderful adventurous life and an amazing true story.” 5★

A true-life story of an individual who had experienced shocking situations yet pursued opportunities later in life. Worth reading to get a better understanding of the life of Michel Thomas and what drove him to succeed. You will be drawn into his world!” 5★

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