Author: Alan Gratz
Genre: Historical Fiction – Holcaust
Release Date: March 1st, 2013
Source: ARC from NetGalley
Summary (from Goodreads): Survive. At any cost.
10 concentration camps.
10 different places where you are starved, tortured, and worked mercilessly.
It’s something no one could imagine surviving.
But it is what Yanek Gruener has to face.
As a Jewish boy in 1930s Poland, Yanek is at the mercy of the Nazis who have taken over. Everything he has, and everyone he loves, have been snatched brutally from him. And then Yanek himself is taken prisoner — his arm tattooed with the words PRISONER B-3087.
He is forced from one nightmarish concentration camp to another, as World War II rages all around him. He encounters evil he could have never imagined, but also sees surprising glimpses of hope amid the horror. He just barely escapes death, only to confront it again seconds later.
Can Yanek make it through the terror without losing his hope, his will — and, most of all, his sense of who he really is inside?
Based on an astonishing true story.
I found this title from a blog I follow The Librarian Who Doesn’t Say Shhh when she reviewed it. I noted she received the book from NetGalley, so I immediately put in a request. It seemed like a book to add to my radar for the historical fiction research project. I was approved later that same day and started the book right away. I finished it in about 2 days.
Overall, I really liked this book. I was immediately pulled in with the idea that Yanek survived stays at 10 different concentration camps AND it is based on a true story. Prisoner B-3087 begins when Yanek is just ten-years-old living in Poland with his parents and among his aunts and uncles in 1939. Germany takes over Poland and Yanek watches as his neighborhood, Krakow, is walled in and turned into a Jewish ghetto. He and his family live in the harsh conditions of the Krakow ghetto, even hiding in a pigeon coop to escape the violent treatment of Nazi soldiers, for three years. Yanek eventually watches his parents and family members marched out of the ghetto, never to see them again. Yanek himself is deported to the Plaszow Concentration Camp in 1942 where he was put to hard labor, watched the camp commander kill Jews for sport, and struggled to survive on little food and in insanitary conditions. Over the next three years, Yanek is transferred to nine other concentration camps, including Auschwitz, and takes part in two death marches. Yanek does come close to death many times, but he vows to survive and hang on to some type of hope, no matter how small.
This book hit me hard in a number of ways. I know there is a lot of Historical Fiction about the Jewish Holocaust, but personally, this is on of the first I have read with complete focus on life inside all the difference camps. Books I have read are told from another point-of-view, an outsider looking in. (Not to say that there is not more like this; that is just what I have read.) Instead, Yanek walks the reader through his experiences at each camp and what he say happening to other human beings. In one camp, Yanek explains how circus animals are treated better than the prisoners. I felt anger and sadness as to how people could do this to other human beings for so long and actually feel they were in the right. The book made me thankful for the life I have been blessed with. The author note at the end was intriguing as well, as Gratz tells about Jack Gruener, whom the book is based on.
There is something lacking from the writing , however. While I still had strong reactions to what Yanek experienced, overall, emotion is missing from most of the writing. I was surprised at time at how I felt some experiences were glossed over. I did feel somewhat of a connection to Yanek, but not as strong as I would have expected. Despite this, the book is still one I will remember for a long time to come. I plan on buying a hard copy for my classroom and encouraging students to read it, both as part of the research project and for choice reading.
Overall rating: 4/5 stars