Wednesday, May 4, 2016

The Boy on the Wooden Box - Leon Leyson

Summary: Even in the darkest of times—especially in the darkest of times—there is room for strength and bravery. A remarkable memoir from Leon Leyson, one of the youngest children to survive the Holocaust on Oskar Schindler’s list. Leon Leyson (born Leib Lezjon) was only ten years old when the Nazis invaded Poland and his family was forced to relocate to the Krakow ghetto. With incredible luck, perseverance, and grit, Leyson was able to survive the sadism of the Nazis, including that of the demonic Amon Goeth, commandant of Plaszow, the concentration camp outside Krakow. Ultimately, it was the generosity and cunning of one man, a man named Oskar Schindler, who saved Leon Leyson’s life, and the lives of his mother, his father, and two of his four siblings, by adding their names to his list of workers in his factory—a list that became world renowned: Schindler’s List.

This, the only memoir published by a former Schindler’s List child, perfectly captures the innocence of a small boy who goes through the unthinkable. Most notable is the lack of rancor, the lack of venom, and the abundance of dignity in Mr. Leyson’s telling. The Boy on the Wooden Box is a legacy of hope, a memoir unlike anything you’ve ever read. (Summary and image from

Review: Today is Holocaust Remembrance Day, and I can’t think of a better book to discuss today than this.  I’m a firm believer that our children need to know the history of the world when they’re ready, but sometimes that history can be too heavy to easily address. The atrocities of the Holocaust are ones we can never forget, but all too often, the heroes that emerged during that time take a backseat to those horrors.  Oskar Schindler did so much, sacrificed so much, and now we read the story of a little boy whose life was spared because of Schindler’s kindness.

Leon Leyson recounts his time as a Polish Jew, the confusion of being expelled from school, the terror of witnessing his brother’s arrest, the difficulties and horrors of the ghetto and camp life in Plaszow and offers a firsthand experience into living under Schindler’s protective shadow.  Leyson was so small as a child that he was frequently sorted “to the left” with those too weak or too useless to survive, but through his tenacity and fearlessness, and through his father’s reputation as a good and honest worker, he found himself perched upon a wooden box working for Schindler.  He recalls fondly the small kindnesses Schindler would pay he and his brothers, father, and mother, from a “dropped” packet half-full of cigarettes, priceless on the black market, to a few extra slices of bread.  

I’ve read a lot of Holocaust-era books, and never has one left me with such a feeling of hope and peace.  Leyson was a child old enough to feel the terror of the Holocaust, but young enough to be blessed with that indomitable spirit that children have enabling them to survive anything.  His accounts of meeting Herr Schindler years after the war, and of Schindler’s recollection of him brought me to tears — and it’s in the beginning of the book!

I struggle with finding emotionally appropriate books for a young, advanced reader, and this is one I would hand to my son with no worries.  Leyson’s writing is forthright, appropriate, intelligent, and conversational - truly one of the memoirs in this genre that should be read time and again.

Rating: Five stars

For the Sensitive Reader:  This is a Holocaust book - retellings of men being shot, tragic arrests, the terror and pervading sense of fear that Leon felt are all present.  However, I believe that they are handled appropriately for the intended audience.

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