Antheneum Books for Young Readers|August 27, 2013|Hardcover|ISBN: 978-1-4424-9781-8
Even in the darkest of times – especially in the darkest of times – there is room for strength and bravery. A remarkable memoir from Leon Leyson, one of the youngest children to survive the Holocaust on Oskar Schindler’s list.
Leon Leyson (born Leib Lezjon) was only ten-years-old when the Nazis invaded Poland and his family was forced to relocate to the Krakow ghetto. With incredible luck, perseverance, and grit, Leyson was able to survive the sadism of the Nazis, including that of the demonic Amon Goeth, commandant of Plaszow, the concentration camp outside Krakow. Ultimately, it was the generosity and cunning of one man, a man named Oskar Schindler who saved Leon Leyson’s life and the lives of his mother,his father, and two of his four siblings, by adding their names to his list of workers in his factory – a list that became world renowned: Schindler’s List.
This, the only memoir published by a former Schindler’s List child, perfectly captures the innocence of a small boy who goes through the unthinkable. Most notable is the lack of rancor, the lack of venom, and the abundance of dignity in Mr. Leyson’s telling. The Boy on the Wooden Box is a legacy of hope, a memoir unlike anything you’ve ever read.
Young Leon Leyson ran barefoot across the meadow toward the river. Grabbing a rope swing, he hoisted himself up, swung across the water and let go splashing down into the cool river below. He and his friends often came here for it was their favourite past time.
During the winter, with the help of his older brother, Tsalig he fashioned together a pair of ice skates and glided up and down the river. He was very inventive in crafting the skates. They used all kinds of unlikely material, metal remnants taken from their grandfather the blacksmith and bits of wood from the firewood pile. The skates were primitive and clumsy, but they worked and that was all that mattered. Life at this time seemed an endless and carefree journey.
Leon was born in Narewka, a rural village in northwestern Poland, near Bialystok, not far from the border with Belarus. His ancestors had lived there for more than two-hundred years.
His parents were hard-working people who never expected anything they did not earn themselves. His mother, Chanah, was the youngest of five children. She spent her days doing housework and caring for her children. Leon himself was also the youngest of five children.
His father, Moshe was a talented and well-known tool and die maker. He had always worked hard to provide a good life for his family. Shortly after marrying Chanah, he began working as an apprentice machinist in a small factory that produced hand blown glass bottles of all sizes. It was there that his boss chose him to attend an advanced course in tool design in the nearby town of Bialystok. The glass factory did so well that it expanded and moved to Krakow, a thriving city three-hundred and fifty miles southwest of Narewka. His father moved with the factory and saved money over several years before he was able to bring his family there with him.
Leon loved going to synagogue services with his maternal grandparents for he was especially close to them. The rabbi would begin the service in a strong, vibrant voice that soon blended with the congregation.
October 1938 began with disturbing news with stories about Germany and Adolf Hitler, Germany’s leader, or Fuhrer. Since coming to power in 1933, Hitler and the Nazis wasted no time on consolidating control, silencing their opponents and beginning the campaign to re-establish Germany as a dominant world power. A central part of Hitler’s plan was to marginalize Jews, to make them “the other.” He blamed Jews for Germany’s problems, past and present, from its defeat in the Great War to its economic depression.
Soon Leon’s family learned that as many as 17,000 Jews, had been expelled from Germany. The Nazi government told them they were no longer welcome, and were unworthy to live on their soil. The possibility of a war grew stronger.
During the summer of 1939, all of Krakow began to prepare for war. They boarded up windows, stocked up on food, and remodelled their cellars into bomb shelters.
On September 1, 1939, an air-raid siren jolted Leon out of his sleep. German tanks had crossed the border into Poland, the Luftwaffe, the German Air Force, had attacked a Polish border town and the invasion of Poland by the Germans had begun. The Polish army was no match for the Germans and were unable to stop the flow of German soldiers who had crossed into Poland and quickly moved east.
Five days after that first air raid, they heard a rumor that there were guards on the bridges of the Vistula River. Leon snuck out to take a look and sure enough they were German soldiers. It was September 6, 1939. Less than a week after crossing the border in Poland, the Germans were in Krakow. Although Leon and his family didn’t know it then, their years in hell had begun.
The Boy on the Wooden Box is absolutely riveting reading! The atrocities that occurred during the Holocaust were unbelievable and it’s terrible that other humans could do the things they did to their fellow man. I pray we never experience another period like this in any of our lifetimes again and that it will become unnecessary for people like Leon Leyson to write memoirs such as this.
The writing in this novel is literally flawless and the information presented in such a way that it made for easier reading and held my attention from beginning to end. I read it in one sitting, I just can’t say enough about this novel!!