Yanek was a young Jewish boy living in Krakow Poland in the 1930s. As the Nazis invade Poland Yanek's freedom is taken away. His family is forced into a ghetto, and as they struggle to survive, they are slowly separated. Yanek soon finds himself alone, and on a transport to a concentration camp. The first of ten different camps he will be sent to during World War II. He struggles not only to live, but to retain his humanity as he knows his family would want him to.
Prisoner B-3087 is based off of Yanek Gruener's real experiences during World War II. It is told as ficton simply to speed up the timing and events. Gratz and Gruener wanted a middle grade to young adult audience to be able to read a book about the war and understand the scope of what was happening, and give a young audience a fuller idea of events.
This book came to my attention because my nephew Alejandro was reading it with his Mom, and they recommend I read it too. I thought it was a great introductory book to the Holocaust. It gives a younger audience an idea of the horrors of the ghetto and concentration camps. It also provoked interesting discussions as we read the book.
Q&A with Alejandro
Yanek and his family were forced to live in a ghetto, what did you think about that and what happened to them there?
I thought it was not right that they had to go there. I did not like it. I remember when he had to sneak to help his Aunt and Uncle bake bread at night in the ghetto. They should not have to sneak to make bread to eat. Also Yanek's Bar Mitzvah in the basement in the ghetto. It was important for him to have that special event. Yanek found a pigeon coop and had the idea to hide in it. I would not want to live in a pigeon coop to try to hide from people trying to kill me.
At one part, the Nazis said people should turn themselves in to be sent away. When no one did they threatened to kill people. Yanek's family fights because some want to turn themselves in and some don't. Because of what Yanek says they agree to stay hidden and not turn themselves in. I think I would stay hidden, but it is a hard choice. I know where they sent people, they didn't always know it was a bad place they were going to. If they stayed they also had danger, but maybe no food. I would stay where I knew what was happening.
Yanek is sent on a transport to a concentration camp. What do you think about his time in the ten different camps?
I was surprised he found his Uncle in the first camp he went to. At first he is like yea! My family survived! His Uncle helped him learn about the camp and how to live. It was so sad when his Uncle died. He was the last of his family. It was very sad. And Yanek didn't know where his Uncle hid the money, so he was sad and hungry.
There was a police officer from the Judenrat in one of the camps and people got very angry at him. It was sad that he died. But also confusing because maybe he was afraid or wanting better treatment for his family and that's why he was a police officer. But people that had family hurt or taken away by the police were angry. It is hard to know what think about him and why he died.
There was a zoo in one of the camps, and the animals were treated better than the humans in the camps. That wasn't right. Humans and animals should both be treated well.
Yanek gets sick and tries to go to a hospital, but it is more dangerous to go to the hospital in the camps than it is to be sick. He doesn't stay at a hospital.
Yanek was sent on two death marches as a way of moving prisoners to different camps. What did you think about what happened on the marches?
They weren't given very much food for the march, and had to walk a long way. Yanek helps a boy named Fred who was falling down. He would have been killed if he couldn't walk. Yanek saved him. Yanek could have died for helping him, and lost his bread. When Fred woke up he wouldn't share his bread with Yanek. Maybe he didn't believe he helped him? Yanek felt good about helping Fred, but also very weak and scared of dying. He was very brave to ask the mean guard Moonface for bread.
Some Czechs were nice and left bread by the road for the prisoners to have food. That was brave. Some people didn't leave bread, and I thought they were mean, but maybe they were just scared of the Nazis.
There was a bomb that destroyed the documents and Yanek tries to pass as Polish. But someone tells on him and he has to go back to the Jewish prisoners. I don't know why that man told on him. He should have let Yanek join them. I don't know if he was scared or mean.
How did Yanek feel about making it to the end of the war?
When the Americans came and the prisoners were freed and got to have a real meal a guy started crying and laughing when he asked to pass the salt. They were so happy to be saved and have food and be nice again.
Yanek found a cousin that lived. He was happy to have someone from his family live. Yanek went to America and got married.
What did you think of the book?
I thought it was a good book. I like to learn about World War II, and I got to learn a lot about what happened to the Jews in this book.
Was this your first time reading a Holocaust memoir?
Yes. I would be interested in reading more of them.
Is there anything else you would like to say about the book?
Yanek was ten when the war started, and he had to stop going to school and saw the synagogue burn. It would have been scary. I would have wanted to fight. I wondered why more people didn't fight when the Nazis started hurting people? I think it would have been harder as a prisoner to fight because they weren't given very much food, and soon didn't have any muscle. Also I think people were very scared and didn't want people they loved to get hurt.
Thank you Alejandro for telling me about this book and for reviewing it with me. I am looking forward to the next book we read together.