The Boy on the Wood­en Box: How the Impos­si­ble Became Pos­si­ble on Schindler’s List

Leon Leyson
  • Review
By – February 17, 2014

The Schindler sto­ry has been told before, many times and in great detail, but nev­er quite like this, through the eyes of the youngest of the Schindler Juden, Leib Lej­zon. Leib, now Leon Leyson, recre­ates his world and his child­hood in pre-war Poland so vivid­ly that you can feel the eco­nom­ic hard­ship, the strong fam­i­ly ties and the joys and pit­falls that epit­o­mized many Jew­ish fam­i­lies of that era. Here, in this nar­ra­tive, it all tru­ly comes to life. 

Slow­ly, we see this life begin to unrav­el. What I found par­tic­u­lar­ly poignant was the tena­cious hope that the peo­ple clung to. At the very begin­ning of the war Leib’s father re­assured [the chil­dren] that the war would­n’t last long…by the end of this year it would all over. Just as the Ger­mans had left at the end of the Great War, so they would leave again…There were Jew­ish par­ents all across Krakow who deliv­ered sim­i­lar mes­sages to their chil­dren, not only to com­fort them but also to reas­sure them­selves.” This address­es the ques­tion of how and why so many Jews were able to delude them­selves. And the recur­rent refrain if this is the worst that hap­pens…” illus­trates how hard the Jews tried to believe, want­ed to believe that if they could wait it out, it would all go away. As the sit­u­a­tion steadi­ly went from bad to worse, Leon describes how arbi­trary actions and choic­es would decide one’s fate and how each per­son would react dif­fer­ent­ly to the out­come. Some would give in to despair while oth­ers, often ordi­nary peo­ple, would find the strength to become heroes. And that brings us to Oskar Schindler.

Leyson is able to relate the Schindler sto­ry in such per­son­al terms that it becomes much more imme­di­ate, much more real to the read­er. It’s inter­est­ing that although Leyson writes this mem­oir as an adult, he reverts to the sim­ple, direct voice of the youth he was, a voice that will res­onate with the young adults that are the tar­get audi­ence of this book. Yet this sto­ry, in its ren­der­ing of pre-war Poland, the ter­ror of the camps, and the strug­gle to accul­tur­ate and rebuild a new life after the war, speaks to us as adults as well. Leyson makes us all con­nect to that young boy on the wood­en box. Rec­om­mend­ed for ages 10 and up.

Bruchie Wein­stein has been head librar­i­an at Magen David Yeshiv­ah HS in Brook­lyn for over twen­ty years. Pri­or to that, she was cat­a­loging librar­i­an at the Cen­ter for Holo­caust Stud­ies where she con­tributed to the book and exhib­it We Were Chil­dren Just Like You. Bruchie has been a mem­ber of AJL for over thir­ty years, co-chairs the NYMA chap­ter Ref­er­ence Work­shop and has pre­sent­ed at var­i­ous con­fer­ences and workshops.

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