What You Need to Know:|
• A young boy, Yanek, spends years under Nazi rule, suffering unbearable conditions and unspeakable tragedies.
• Yanek, a Jewish boy, born in Poland, survives two death marches and 10 different concentration camps.
• The story covers the time period between 1939 and 1945.
• While this book is a work of fiction, it is based on the true story of Holocaust survivor, Jack Gruener.
• Yanek changed his name to Jack, and in 1948 he started a new life in America. He currently lives in Brooklyn, NY
with his wife, Ruth, also a survivor.
• As you might expect with a book about the Holocaust, there are many examples of murder, torture, and death,
but the details are not gratuitous.
• Although it was written for a middle grade audience, make sure your reader is comfortable with the subject matter.
"If I had known what the next six years of my life were going to be like, I would have eaten more."
The book, Prisoner B-3087, is a comprehensive account of life during the Holocaust. It's not sensationalized or dramatized. It simply tells the story in a straightforward manner, detailing the horror and loss in a way that might be acceptable for a younger audience. Relationships or even minor connections between characters are limited because, sadly, most people don't live long enough to play a larger role in the story. Of course, there are many books written about the Holocaust, but it's a period in our history that can be seen from many vantage points, and each telling is relevant as we continue to face evil in today's world.
This account is worthy of our time for several reasons. First of all, it's based on a story that's not only incredible, but also true. In addition, it's written from a young boy's first person perspective which allows readers to see the circumstances with a measure of innocence and accessibility. Because he encounters such a wide range of Nazi abuse, his story leaves readers with a greater understanding of what Jewish people experienced. Finally, it raises important questions about humanity, or rather why such a lack of humanity was seen among the Nazis and their victims.
When Prisoner B-3087 begins, it's 1939, and the main character, Yanek, is a 10-year-old Jewish boy living a pretty typical life in Poland. He goes to school, spends time with his family, has plenty to eat, and dreams of going to America to work in the movies. Things change very quickly, though, as the German army moves into his hometown of Krakow. Before long, there are new rules for Jews. Yanek can no longer go to school or the movies or the library. Rather than fight back, his father is convinced that this nightmare won't last. He says that they must rely on faith, claiming that they can take everything, but "…they cannot take who we are.". Yanek's father could not have been more wrong.
The Nazis burn their synagogue down, confine them in a ghetto and take their businesses and possessions. Not long after that, they take Yanek's parents too. That alone may seem like the worst thing a child could endure, but Yanek has years of suffering to come. From 1942 to 1945, he endures 10 different concentration camps where he is beaten, tortured, starved, and where he bears witness to countless atrocities. His only contact with another family member is a surprising encounter with his Uncle Moshe at the first camp. Their reunion is brief, however, because Moshe quickly becomes one of Hitler's victims. Moshe may be gone, but his advice to survive by being anonymous and by avoiding any kind of attention, stays with Yanek. He learns to keep his distance from the Nazis and even from the other prisoners. "That was how you survived the camps: You saved yourself. No one else was going to do it for you."
Is it this advice that helps Yanek to cheat death so many times? Is it luck? Is it the compassion he shows despite his uncle's warning? We will never know the answers to these questions, but regardless of how he managed it, Yanek (now Jack Gruener) is a survivor whose story can inspire a whole new generation of readers.
Although the book is easy to follow, I think that a map and perhaps even a glossary and a timeline would be nice additions to help readers understand the historical context within which the story is written. I would also like to have more detail about which parts of the book don't reflect Jack Gruener's experiences, as the Author's Note indicates that he took liberties with time and events. Lastly, I would change the cover design. It currently features a boy who looks more like a character from a 1970's made-for-TV movie. It does not do this story justice.
2013, 272 pages
Books for Boys, Determination, Good Book Club Selection, History, Illness/Death, Life Challenges, Religion, War
• In what ways does Yanek's story make you more appreciative of your own life?
• If all of your possessions and privileges were taken from you, what do you think you would miss the most?
• Could Yanek and his family have done anything differently in order to save themselves?
• Why did the Judenrat go along with the Nazis?
• Of everything that Yanek experienced, what do you think was the worst situation?
• Why do you think that Yanek survived when so many others did not?
• How do you think you would have handled yourself if you had been in Yanek's situation?
• Do you agree with Uncle Moshe's advice to to be anonymous and make no connections with those around him?
• Did Yanek do the right thing when he helped another boy during the death march? What would you have done?
• When Yanek tries to pretend that he's in the group with the Poles, why did the man give him away?
• Was the "every man for himself" philosophy an effective one? Could more people have survived if they had
worked together to fight the Nazis?
• Is there anything you would change about yourself in terms of how you have treated other people in the past?
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