Friday, August 16, 2013

Prisoner B-3087 by Alan Gratz

Prisoner B-3087
Alan Gratz
Scholastic Press, 2013

             “If I had known what the next six years of my life were going to be like, I would have eaten more.
            I wouldn’t have complained about brushing my teeth, or taking a bath, or going to bed at eight o’clock every night.  I would have played more.  Laughed more.  I would have hugged my parents and told them I loved them.
            But I was ten years old, and I had no idea of the nightmare that was to come.” (p. 2)

            Yanek Gruener is a Jewish boy living in Poland in 1939, and his world is about to come crashing down around him.  First the Germans invade, rights and privileges are denied, and then Yanek watches as a huge wall is built around his neighborhood and all the Jews are herded into this new ghetto.  Life in the ghetto is hard, but its inhabitants are terrified of becoming one of those who disappear each day, who are deported to what is rumored to be their death.  Yanek and his family hide out in an old pigeon coop on the roof of their apartment building until one day when Yanek comes home and his parents are gone – taken by the Nazis.  Yanek will never see them again.
            It’s not long before Yanek will also be taken, but not to die.  He is taken to a work camp, a place with a cruel commandant who loves to pick prisoners out just to kill them. This is only one of the ten camps that Yanek will eventually be held in.  Others include Birkenau, Auschwitz, and Dachau.  To survive one concentration camp is difficult, but to survive ten?  Almost impossible.
            I started Prisoner B-3087 last night, thinking I would read a few pages before I went to bed.  I ended up staying up late to finish it.  It is truly a harrowing account of life during the Holocaust, and an incredible survival story.  The book itself is fiction, but is based on the true story of Jack Gruener, who survived the Holocaust and eventually immigrated to the United States. 
            I loved the way Alan Gratz wrote Yanek’s story.  It is simple and spare, and because of this, the conditions in the ghetto and the camps seemed all the more horrifying.  If I had a quibble, it would be that I wanted to know more about Yanek’s assimilation back into a normal life after the war, more than the nine pages that were given.  So many Holocaust books detail what life during the war was like, but there aren’t many that take their characters through the life after the war.