Saturday, January 4, 2014

The Boy on the Wooden Box

The Boy on the Wooden Box:  a Memoir
by Leon Leyson
Atheneum, 2013.  231 pgs.  Biography

      Born Leib Lejzon, the boy who would become Leon Leyson was ten years old when the Germans invaded his home in Krakow, Poland at the beginning of World War II. When the Lezjon family began to hear rumors of attacks on Jews, they sent their son Hershel back to live with his grandparents in the country, and went about their lives as usual, trying not to attract attention to themselves. But the Jews of Krakow would soon find themselves in a ghetto, just like the one in Warsaw. Leon's father was arrested by the Gestapo; when he was finally released he was a different, nearly broken person. But his skills as a machinist made a critical difference to his family--he got work with Oskar Schindler, and arranged for most of the rest of his family to get on Schindler's list as well.  Tragically, Leon's older brother Tsalig might have saved himself when he was loaded on a train with his girlfriend, but he refused to leave her and they both went to their deaths. The Boy on the Wooden Box is made more powerful by Leyson's matter-of-fact tone in telling the story of  his experiences:  hard labor on one meal a day of watery soup; scouring the garbage cans for a potato peel or a bit of bread; hiding with his mother in a crawl space while Nazi troops first searched for them below and then tried to trick whoever might be there into coming out by whispering that it was "safe" to come out. Leyson's story is intense and filled with sorrow, best-suited to sixth grade and up, but it is also full of light, as Leon and his family come to America, filled with gratitude for the blessing of life.  A powerful, beautiful narrative.

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