It’s Monday and here’s what I’m reading: September 16th., 2013

It’s Monday! What Are You Reading? From Picture Books to YA! 
is hosted by Jen and Kellee at Teach Mentor Texts



     The Boy  On The Wooden Box: How The Impossible Became Possible is Leon Leyson’s memoir of surviving the horrors of the Holocaust.  As he writes in his prologue:

I am an unlikely survivor of the Holocaust. I had so much going against me and almost nothing going for me. I was just a boy; I had no connections; I had no skills.  But I had one factor in my favor that trumped everything else: Oskar Schindler thought my life had value. He thought I was worth saving, even when giving me  a chance to live put his own life in peril.

The story of Oskar Schindler  and his list of Jewish prisoners who he managed to keep safe somehow in the darkest days of the Nazi’s reign of terror, was made famous in Steven Spielberg’s movie some years ago. And although I have read some historical  accounts about Schindler, Leyson’s memoir is the only first person account I have read, and it is all the more powerful because it is told from the perspective of the young boy he was when the Nazis stormed into his Polish town and brought his idyllic childhood to an end.
     Leyson and his family are moved from their home in Krakow to the ghetto, and so begins their terrifying ordeal.  When their circumstances  are most desperate, Leyson’s father, by a stroke of luck, is offered a job by Oskar Schindler.  That job, and Schindler’s determination to save his Jewish factory workers, saved young Leon, his parents, one brother and his sister.  
     But even Oskar Schindler could not spare the family from their terrifying ordeal at Plazow, the concentration camp run by the sadistic SS officer, Amon Goeth.  There, Leon and his family, along with thousands of others, faced starvation, brutal punishment, and exhausting labor day after day.  But, each time there is the threat of separation, Schindler manages to keep them together, and so they survive until the end of the war.  After their liberation, Leyson emigrated to California with his parents. and began a new life.  He rarely spoke of his experiences, even to his own children, wanting to give them “a legacy of freedom, not a legacy of fear.”  The publication of Thomas Kennealy’s Schindler’s List, and the Spielberg movie that soon followed, caused him to rethink his silence and he began to speak about his experiences, and then to write his memoir.  Leon Leyson did not live to see his memoir published, in a remarkable twist of fate he died the day the manuscript was delivered to his publisher, Atheneum.  
     The Boy On The Wooden Box  was difficult to read, and even more difficult to write about.  Leyson witnessed and endured unspeakable acts of cruelty, over a period of many years.  He has written about these experiences with unflinching honesty, and through the perspective of a child trying to form some understanding of what was taking place, why it was happening, and what it meant for his family.  This may be an intense book for some of my sixth graders to read, but it is an important one.  

Here is Leyson giving a brief interview:

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9 thoughts on “It’s Monday and here’s what I’m reading: September 16th., 2013

  1. The books about the Holocaust are not only hard to read, but I continually find myself asking how can anyone be so cruel? I haven't heard of this one, Tara. It sounds like a treasure to read because we must, not only for enjoyment but to keep remembering. Thanks!

  2. Sometimes, all you need is one book! This sounds like such a powerful story and one that many middle school and high school teachers will really love to hear about. I shall be getting a copy to read and adding it to my book list for teachers. Thanks for sharing it!

  3. Hi there Tara. Wile the theme is heavy, I've always considered novels about the Holocaust truly important and unfailingly-moving. It is best to never forget. I haven't heard of this one yet, and it sounds like a real good read and a wonderful companion novel to the movie (which I don't think I've even seen yet). 🙂 Thanks for sharing this, Tara.

  4. Thanks to all of you for your posts. I was a friend of Leon's and worked with him on the book. My name is Marilyn Harran. It truly means a lot to me to know that you are finding Leon's story so meaningful. I can assure you that he was a truly extraordinary human being, unassuming, eloquent, kind, the very best one could imagine. Chapman University was honored to present him with a doctorate of humane letters in 2011. Leon was the mentor for our Rodgers Center for Holocaust Education and a judge in our annual Holocaust Art and Writing Contest for middle and high schools. If you are interested in learning more, please go to our website http://www.chapman.edu/holocausteducation. It's also listed in the back of the book.

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