One of the books I’ve read in the past year that has stuck with me most is Boy from Buchenwald: The True Story of a Holocaust Survivor by Robbie Waisman with Susan McClelland. This first-person account from an eighty-nine-year-old (at the time of its writing) presented so compellingly for a young audience is truly a gift for the world. As Mr. Waisman recounts, this was a story he rarely spoke of until 1984 when he learned of an incident of Holocasut denial.
Today is the United-Nations-designated International Holocaust Remembrance Day—with a stated purpose of “rejecting any denial of the Holocaust as a historical event, either in full or in part, . . . by consensus condemning ‘without reserve’ all manifestations of religious intolerance, incitement, harassment or violence against persons or communities based on ethnic origin or religious belief, whenever they occur”—so a fitting day to share about this book.
While Boy from Buchenwald includes many flashbacks to Mr. Waisman’s experiences during the Holocaust, the main narrative focuses on what happened to him after the Holocaust. How does a boy of fourteen who has been through layers of extreme trauma and does not know where his family members are move forward in his life? This is a less-explored topic than survival of the Holocaust itself. In the introduction to the book, Mr. Waisman writes of his experience of the Holocaust: “So many times I was slated for death, and each time I narrowly missed the fate of so many others.”
Then called Romek, Mr. Waisman was one of a thousand boys who were discovered when Buchenwald Concentration Camp was liberated—the largest group of orphaned Jewish children found after the Holocaust. Among the others was Nobel-Prize-winning author Elie Wiesel. Caring adults, who were not sure it was possible to prepare these children for adulthood, made thoughtful efforts. We see a variety of ways that plays out. In Romek’s case, we get a personal view of a challenging journey that is ultimately the story of survival beyond the physical. The book is written in such a straightforward, emotionally true way that today’s teens can relate to the coming-of-age elements, while also learning about a history that is and will always be vitally relevant.
The only criticism I had of this excellent book is that the publisher called it a middle grade novel (for ages 8-12). Both the age of the protagonist and the questions he is asking himself are a better fit for a young adult audience (ages 13 and up). I was pleased that earlier this week the Association of Jewish Libraries recognized Boy from Buchenwald as a Sydney Taylor Award Notable Book in the young adult category. I am hopeful this well-deserved recognition will help bring the book to the attention of teen readers.