This past Monday was Holocaust Remembrance Day, so it's a good week to do a book talk about Alan Gratz's newest release, PRISONER B-3087.
Yanek Gruener was a ten year old boy living in Poland in the 1930's, surviving the hell of the Jewish ghetto by convincing his father to build a temporary shelter on the roof of their apartment building in order to avoid the sudden and seemingly random Nazi inspections that sent thousands away in train cars. Yanek is not home one day when the Nazi's raid the building, and he returns to find his parents and little sister are simply... gone.
Shortly after they are taken Yanek himself is rounded up in the street and tossed into a train car with hundreds of others, some of them suffocating where they stand. When the car stops at a camp, he is quick to notice that the weak, young, sick and unskilled are going in one direction, the healthy in another. Yanek takes the German slogan arbeit macht fre (Work will set you free) to heart, believing the Nazi's will not kill him as long as he proves himself useful.
And so Yanek labors constantly, and sometimes futilely - moving humongous boulders across a field only to be told to move them back again for the entertainment of the soldiers at one point. Yanek knows the Nazis assess who is weakening daily, and so whenever there are calls for volunteers for labor he steps forward to prove himself capable. Yanek's plan works - he survives ten of the concentration camps of Nazi Germany, names that simply pronouncing makes people shudder today.
Yanek's story is even more horrific because it is a true retelling. Written for 10-14 year olds, this book has sparse and simple writing, which makes the horror underneath all the more potent.