I’ve read several books about the Holocaust, but never one quite like this one narrated and told through the eyes of a young Jewish boy named Aron. While there are adult characters in this work of historical fiction by Jim Shepard, the book’s focus is on the children of the Holocaust.
Aron and his family are forced from the Polish countryside near the Lithuanian border to the ghettos of Warsaw after the Germans overrun their homeland. There are increasingly strict rules governing where and when Jews can move about the city, creating more deprivation and despair.
Aron is part of a group of young boys and girls who form a smuggling ring to provide for their families, while having to make grown-up decisions about who they can and cannot trust. Disease is rampant throughout the ghetto and adult men are regularly taken away to work for the Germans, often never to be seen again.
When Aron’s father and brothers are taken away he is left to care for his mother with whom he has an especially close relationship. When he loses her and some of his friends, he is taken in by Janusz Korczak, a actual real-life person whose orphanage sheltered children left alone in an uncertain world without family. Aron develops a close relationship with Dr. Korczak and is shielded by him when the police and Gestapo bear down on the smuggling rings operating throughout the city.
Korczak championed children’s rights and in the end refused his own freedom in order to protect his charges. Some elements of the story are based one factual events or characters, while others are purely fictional. I imagine it isn’t easy for an adult to write a story told through the eyes of a child, but Shepard’s use of Korczak’s Ghetto Diary and other historical works make for a captivating novel. It’s a haunting tale and I can’t say it has a happy ending, but still a worthy read.
Have a GREAT day . . . someday it will be HISTORY!
© Sharon Hall (Digging History), 2015.