The War with­in These Walls

Aline Sax; Caryl Strz­elec­ki, illus.; Lau­ra Watkin­son, trans.
  • Review
By – November 8, 2013

Misha, almost a teenag­er, lives with his close-knit fam­i­ly in War­saw and has tak­en for grant­ed the joys of swim­ming in a pub­lic pool, the free­dom of shop­ping in any store or the plea­sure of meet­ing up with his friends. In 1939, when the Ger­mans march into Poland and sys­tem­at­i­cal­ly change every­thing, life as Misha knows it fades away and is replaced by a liv­ing night­mare. A wall is erect­ed around the city and Misha learns what it means to be Jew­ish. He is forced to wear an arm­band, is plagued by dai­ly hunger, and must live in crowd­ed, dirty quar­ters where he is an eye­wit­ness to cru­el­ty and con­stant death. Misha, pos­i­tive by nature, stub­born­ly clings to a will to sur­vive and becomes part of an under­ground resis­tance move­ment. Led by the pas­sion­ate Morde­cai Anielewicz who will not let the Jews of the ghet­to be tak­en like sheep with no will of their own” to their death in a con­cen­tra­tion camp, an upris­ing unlike any oth­er is secret­ly planned. Misha real­izes how great the odds are against sur­vival but he is hon­ored to be part of a move­ment that will shake our peo­ple awake and the eyes of the world will be on us.” For sev­er­al days, this small band of hope­ful resis­tant fight­ers bond togeth­er, hid­ing out in for­ti­fied bunkers and rooftops, until the last safe place, the sew­ers, are sat­u­rat­ed with kerosene, and few are able to climb out alive. Like a cat with nine lives, Misha is one of the hand­ful of sur­vivors and is deter­mined to begin a new life of peace far away from the atroc­i­ties of the ghetto. 

This hard-hit­ting saga will remain in the reader’s mind long after the close of the last page. Told through the eyes of Misha, the lan­guage is sim­ple yet poignant as he describes the demise of the world around him and the suf­fer­ing of fam­i­ly and friends. Black and white styl­ized ink draw­ings on larg­er white back­grounds cap­ture the raw emo­tion­al tur­moil — a pair of hands grip­ping a barbed wire, a tired young man with bony arms pulling a heavy cart, a Rab­bi with his head bent down in sad­ness. A white page is often fol­lowed by a page with a black back­ground and the text, usu­al­ly lim­it­ed to a phrase or word, is high­light­ed in white print. This tech­nique is very pow­er­ful as it reg­u­lates the pac­ing of the sto­ry and makes a very dif­fi­cult sub­ject, the Holo­caust, more palat­able to grasp. 

Audi­ences who have been moved by The Boy in the Striped Paja­mas (Boyne, 2004) and Night (Wiesel, 1955) will grav­i­tate towards this title. High­ly rec­om­mend­ed for ages 14 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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