The Boy on the Wooden Box, by Leon Leyson; Atheneum
Books for Young Readers: New York, 2015; $8.99
Leon Leyson’s memoir of his experiences of Nazi Germany is a testament to the power of family and the amazing ability of kindness and good even in the darkest of times. Born Leib Lejzon, the author chronicles his family’s experience during World War II and the Holocaust. He and his siblings grew up in rural Poland and moved to Krakow to join their working father in 1938. But by the fall of next year, the German army invaded, and set in motion a cycle of misery, starvation, and death that would last Leib and his Jewish family six dark years.
Leyson’s writing is simple but touching and gives us a window into what it was like to live through the Holocaust. It’s insane to think about how it would feel to be beaten, starved, and hated just because of which God/gods you placed your faith in. And Leyson’s physical pain was just the beginning, as he had to go through the murders of several family members. What if one day you learned that the people you loved the most in the world were dead, and you would never see them again? How is it possible to go on living, when a part of who you are is crushed like that? But somehow, Leon and some of his family did survive.
It’s amazing how Leon and a lot of his close family endured the Holocaust. It was all through the help of Oskar Schindler, a German businessman who rescued Jews from certain death to work in his factory. His story was adapted into a critically acclaimed movie, Schindler’s List, by Steven Spielberg. Oskar Schindler was an amazing man. Disguised as a Nazi, he used bribes and extravagant parties to coerce high-ranking Nazis into letting him save Jews. Leon and his family were on Schindler’s List, and it saved their lives. Leyson describes Schindler as “the hero, disguised as a monster himself, who would save my life.”
I won’t tell you all of what happened, but I can tell you that the book can make you cry with matter-of-fact lines, and tells you that it’s possible to outlast even the worst experiences and build a new life for yourself. Leon went through the Krakow ghetto, two brutal concentration camps, and still somehow survived his ordeal. I have read history books about World War II and the Holocaust before, but hearing someone tell a real, human story is something much different, and is so much more enlightening than any history book could be.
This book spoke to me even though I don’t share the author’s faith. It really made me stop and think about how valuable my family is, and how lucky I am to have comforts like a warm bed, enough food, and a roof above my head. These are things that we should really stop and think about, and when someone like Leon Leyson shares his story with us, it puts it into perspective. It’s easy to take these comforts for granted, and walking a mile in Leon Leyson’s shoes is important. Even though the story is very sad and touching to read, it is ultimately uplifting and teaches us that even in the worst of times, we can still find goodness and bravery, even in unlikely places.