Monday, May 22, 2017

Prisoner B-3087 - Alan Gratz

Summary: Survive. At any cost.

10 concentration camps.

10 different places where you are starved, tortured, and worked mercilessly.

It's something no one could imagine surviving.

But it is what Yanek Gruener has to face.

As a Jewish boy in 1930s Poland, Yanek is at the mercy of the Nazis who have taken over. Everything he has, and everyone he loves, have been snatched brutally from him. And then Yanek himself is taken prisoner -- his arm tattooed with the words PRISONER B-3087.

He is forced from one nightmarish concentration camp to another, as World War II rages all around him. He encounters evil he could have never imagined, but also sees surprising glimpses of hope amid the horror. He just barely escapes death, only to confront it again seconds later.

Can Yanek make it through the terror without losing his hope, his will -- and, most of all, his sense of who he really is inside?

Based on an astonishing true story. (Summary and image from

Review: Yanek feels safe and happy in his Polish town, until the Nazis appear. Suddenly, school isn't an option. Having food for dinner is a constant struggle. His Bar Mitzvah is conducted in secret, by cover of night. His family lives governed by fear first, by Nazis and the Judenrat second. His main goal in life becomes survival, at any cost.

Prisoner B-3087 is based on the true experiences of Yanek Gruener. As a child, he suffered through an unimaginable ten concentration camps, a death march, and the loss of his family. He survived. Miraculously, he survived. This is his story, told in a way that middle grade/young adults can grasp the desperation, the ingenuity, the terror, and the relief of his experience. Beautifully written, compellingly presented, and surprisingly hopeful, this is definitely a book that students studying World War II should read.

I was so impressed with the tact with which Gratz approached Gruener's story. I can't begin how difficult it must be for a survivor to relay what he went through, and then adding the further challenge of making his experiences age appropriate for the reader, it's nearly a Herculean task. Gratz doesn't stoop to the "shock and awe" factor to spice up Gruener's story, he relays the information in a tactful and appropriate manner. The simplicity itself is beautiful, especially for a reader just hearing about the horrors of the Holocaust for the first time.

Rating: Four stars

For the Sensitive Reader: This is a book about the Jewish Holocaust. While the atrocities are downplayed, they are very much there.

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