Prisoner B-3087 by Alan Gratz is not an easy read. Oh, the words themselves are not that difficult, and neither is the sentence structure or the plot. It is the content itself that makes this book a challenge as we don’t like to think about the cruelty that humans can inflict on those who are not just like us.
This is the story of Yanek Gruener, a ten-year-old Jewish boy, living in Krakow, Poland in 1939 when the Germans invaded. As the Germans increase their presence in Krakow, they herd the city’s Jewish population into a fenced area of the city that would become known as the Krakow Ghetto. Telling the families that the Jewish relocation was for their safety, the Germans at first allow the families to live in relative peace. That peace doesn’t last for long and as the Germans solidify their position in Poland, they begin taking Jewish men and women from the Ghettos and transporting them to camps to work for the German war effort. At least that is the propaganda that the German army spreads; the truth, however, was that Hitler had a plan to exterminate the Jewish population of Europe. Yanek’s parents are taken first, and Yanek survives in the Ghetto for awhile on his own.
Yanek was eventually caught and like the rest of his family is sent to the concentration camps in the east. He’s young, fairly strong, and smart enough to show that he had skills that would ensure his survival in the camps, at least for awhile. Witnessing the unbelievable cruelty of men at far too young of an age, Yanek manages to hold on to his humanity and the will to live.
Alan Gratz tells Yanek’s story against the background of the Holocaust. Based on a true story of courage and resourcefulness, this is the story of the triumph of humankind over evil. It is an amazing story of the both the best and the worst that humanity has to offer. As we reach the time where there are fewer Holocaust survivors left to tell their stories, it becomes even more important for those stories to be written and shared. This moving novel tells that story in a totally age appropriate way for middle grade readers.