Pris­on­er B‑3087

  • Review
By – May 13, 2013

Yanek Gruen­er is a ten-year-old boy liv­ing in Krakow, Poland in 1939. He adores being with his extend­ed group of cousins, aunts and uncles and day­dreams about mov­ing to Amer­i­ca and becom­ing a movie star. When the Ger­mans invade Poland and take com­mand, Yanek mourn­ful­ly lis­tens to the church bells of the Wawel Cathe­dral ring out in alarm and knows his life will nev­er be the same. His father encour­ages Yanek to be strong, but new laws are put into effect that make life dif­fi­cult for the Jew­ish pop­u­la­tion such as the rationing of food, a night­ly cur­few of 9 PM, and the clos­ing of Jew­ish schools. Even Yanek’s wise father is speech­less when the syn­a­gogue is set on fire burn­ing the holi­est of books and a wall is slow­ly erect­ed around the city to cre­ate a ghet­to. The Gruen­er fam­i­ly does their best to sur­vive in their new cramped quar­ters and finds com­fort in just being togeth­er, even man­ag­ing to pro­vide Yanek with a secret bar mitz­vah when he turns thir­teen. Final­ly, after many local depor­ta­tions, Yanek’s par­ents’ luck runs out; they are tak­en away and, on the brink of ado­les­cence, Yanek is left to sur­vive on his own. 

For a short while, Yanek man­ages to avoid the round-ups by the Nazis and he finds work as an assis­tant tai­lor but in 1942, he is loaded onto a truck and becomes a pris­on­er at Plas­zow Con­cen­tra­tion Camp. Dur­ing the next three years, Yanek is trans­ferred to ten dif­fer­ent camps, tat­tooed with the num­ber B‑3087 at Birke­nau, and expe­ri­ences dai­ly humil­i­a­tion and a night­mar­ish exis­tence as he fights for his sur­vival. Told in first per­son, this har­row­ing tale seems almost sur­re­al, yet it is based on the life of Jack Gruen­er, an Auschwitz camp sur­vivor, who shares his expe­ri­ences with chil­dren today so the gen­er­a­tions that fol­low will nev­er for­get. The lan­guage, sparse yet provoca­tive, draws the read­er in and, like Night by Elie Wiesel, poignant­ly shows the dark­ness of the Holo­caust with always the pos­si­bil­i­ty of hope and sur­vival. Rec­om­mend­ed for ages 12 and up.

Debra Gold has been a children’s librar­i­an for over 20 years in the Cuya­hoga Coun­ty Pub­lic Library Sys­tem. An active mem­ber of the ALA, she has served on many com­mit­tees includ­ing the Calde­cott, New­bery and Batchelder committees.

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