Monday, September 16, 2013

The Boy on the Wooden Box by Leon Leyson

This book is a memoir of a young boy's journey during the Holocaust and how Oskar Schindler helped save his life.
Leon grew up with his family in Poland and had a typical life filled with everyday struggles. Although he was Jewish, he got along with non-Jews and went about his business not causing any problems. When the Germans started to take over Europe, they figured everything would quickly come to a close, just like the last time Germany came to town. This time, however, was different. Pretty soon families were forced to board trains and leave town. Leon and his family escaped this fate initially because they had work permits. Then the entire town was forced to move into a ghetto, made to share cramped living quarters and struggle to find food to survive. Before long, Leon's family started to separate - first one brother was sent on a train, then another brother, his father and sister had to leave for a labor camp while Leon and his mother went to another ghetto. The next stop became a labor camp where Leon found himself alone and struggling to survive, until he finds a way to contact his father who is working for the infamous Oskar Schindler. Although Schindler finds a way to reunite Leon's family, the fear they live in doesn't cease until the end of the war when they can finally start over, although knowing that life will never be the same again.
While this story is captivating and enjoyable (or as enjoyable as a Holocaust memoir can be), this book feels focused on its target audience of young readers. It has a great voice where you can hear the young Leon telling his story. As an adult reading this book, however, it felt as if something is missing. In no way am I trying to lessen what Leon went through because the reader definitely sees his struggle and sympathizes with his plight for survival, but his story is only 206 pages (small pages, a lot of spacing). At times I felt as if he was telling rather than showing. Maybe this comes from the fact that this memoir is based on the speeches he gives about his experiences, where he has a limited time and can't give every detail. Even though I personally wanted more, it was a gripping memoir that peeked my interest in Oskar Schindler and other tales of survival.

No Holocaust story is going to be easy to tell - especially when it is one you personally lived through. With so many books out there telling all of the horrific details, you almost expect that when you pick up a Holocaust book, which threatens to desensitize you to the emotional pain one experiences. Leon's story isn't as heavy on the details as you might expect, but that fits with the audience and doesn't do much to lessen the horrors he experienced. This book gives a great view of the Holocaust from the eyes of a boy who was barely even ten when the world around him began to change and nineteen when he had a chance to start anew. For young readers wanting to know about someone's experience in the Holocaust, this is a worth the read.

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