Monday, October 27, 2014

The Boy on the Wooden Box

Leyson, Leon. 2013. THE BOY ON THE WOODEN BOX. New York: Atheneum.
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Mr. Leyson recalls his childhood, the beginning of World War II and the Holocaust in his memoir The Boy on the Wooden Box. After his family moved from their small village in Poland to the big city of Krakow, they enjoyed city life for a while before the Germans invaded Poland on September 1, 1939. By September 6, German soldiers were in Krakow and the Leyson family's lives would never be the same.

Soon, the persecution of Jews begin. Some Jews are ordered to leave the city. Eventually, the rest of the Jews are forced to move into the Nazi imposed ghetto surrounded by 12 foot high walls. Leon's family is still optimistic at every step of the Nazi persecution, saying "If this is the worst that happens..." Very soon things become very dangerous for the family, when the ghetto is liquidated and the remaining Jews are sent to a work camp in Krakow. Already Leon's older brother Herschel tried to flee the city, and his brother Tsalig was taken away by the Gestapo when his work permit was found to be unsatisfactory.

Luckily for the family, a man named Oskar Schindler hired Leon's father to work in his enamelware factory. This is the same Oskar Schindler whose actions during World War II were chronicled in the 1993 movie Schindler's List. Even though Schindler was a member of the Nazi party, he chose to do what he could to help as many Jews as possible. Schindler bribes Nazi officials into turning their heads when he does things that go against the Nazi orders. Eventually Leon's father, brother, sister and mother are all employed by Schindler.  

The title of Leyson's memoir The Boy on the Wooden Box comes from his real life experience. Leon wasn't tall enough to reach the controls on the machine Schindler assigned him to work on, so he had to stand on a wooden box. He recalls being nervous every time Schindler visited the workers, but says that Schindler had a kind demeanor and was interested in his Jews workers as human beings. 

Schindler built his own work camp next to his factory so that his workers can leave the horrible Nazi work camp. Later, as the Soviet army approaches and begins sending all of the Jewish detainees to Auschwitz, Schindler relocates his then munitions factory to Czechoslovakia. The men arrive safely, but soon learn that the women's train was diverted to Auschwitz. Schindler himself hurries away to rectify the situation and bring the women safely to the rest of the group.

Leyson's writing is simple and engaging. He is a trustworthy and honest narrator. I was glad that he went on to explain what happened after the war. His older siblings went to live in Israel just as it was being formed as a nation, but Leon spent time in a displaced persons camp in Germany before immigrating to the United States with his parents. While conditions were considerably better than they had been in the ghetto or the work camp, his struggles were not over with the end of the war.

Oskar Schindler is a man that much has been written about. While he definitely had his faults, his actions to save over 1,200 Jews during the Holocaust are astounding, considering the great danger Schindler put himself in to do so. As Leyson writes, "I am not a philosopher, but I believe that Oskar Schindler defines heroism. He proves that one person can stand up to evil and make a difference. I am living proof of that." (Leyson, 204)

While other books about the Holocaust may be too complex or graphic, this book is written for young people. Although Mr. Leyson describes the horror he went through, he does not let it shake his faith in the goodness of people. His message of tolerance and love is one that the world always needs to hear.

Just keep reading,
Mrs. Cox

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