The Book of Aron

Knopf  2015


In the Warsaw ghetto, childhood ceased to exist. Children became thieves, smugglers, and dealers in stolen goods in order to survive and support their families. Surrounded by filth, fear, disease, and danger, Aron—an unpromis­ing child—finds his vocation and his voice. In straightforward and unsparing words, he tells his story, drawing the reader into the war as an inexplicable event that sweeps Aron and his gang of fellow smugglers into a daring mix of childhood bravado, ingenuity, and courage.

Little by little, the world closes in on Aron and his family. Having moved to Warsaw for the promise of work, the family, never a very settled one, slowly unravels as it is faced with one restriction after another. Up goes the wall; typhus tears through the ghetto as more displaced families move in; layers of police and soldiers—Jewish, Polish, German—patrol the streets. In and out of this misery weaves Janusz Korczak, known throughout Europe as an educator and reformer. To Aron he is first a voice on the radio, host of a popular advice program. Aron then watches as Korczak leads a colorful parade of his orphans into the ghetto and even attends a children’s play produced at the orphanage. Again he glimpses Korczak when he rescues a beaten child. Ultimately Korczak is Aron’s savior. His father and older brothers having disappeared into labor camps, his mother dead from typhus, Aron is thrown out of his home by the family that shares his apartment; he wanders the alleys of the ghetto, starving and sick, until he is taken to the orphanage.

Based on extensive research and events recorded in Korczak’s Ghetto Diary, The Book of Aron documents the last months of Korczak and the ghetto orphanage through Aron’s eyes, the eyes of a child beyond his years and ability to shape his life. Jim Shepard tells a heartbreaking and horrific story; he was also inspired by Aron’s story, and the story of all children stripped of their lives by uncontrol­lable forces they cannot understand. Acknowl­edgments, bibliography.

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