Based on the true story of Jack Gruener, Alan Gratz has created a fictional account of Jack’s time spent in ten different concentration camps during the Holocaust. His depictions of the ghettos, train cars, camp barracks, death marches, torture, and death are very honest. He has described horrid conditions that no human should have to witness, let alone live through, without sensationalism.
Yanek Gruener is a Jewish boy growing up in Poland in the 1930’s when the Nazis take over. Under their rule his life changes dramatically as he undergoes one tragedy after another. Although he manages to survive ten concentration camps and two death marches, Yanek is not always optimistic. After a while, the death he sees is just commonplace. He is terrified of it, determined not let it take him, but accepts it because there is no other option. At times he wonders if it is better to dead.
I appreciated how Yanek was portrayed. Written in a first person narrative, it allows the reader to enter the story a little more, but you’re still kept at bay with the very clipped style of writing. At the end, after he and his fellow survivors have been rescued by American soldiers, Yanek notes that “They couldn’t understand our tears, couldn’t know how amazing such a simple meal was to us….We could describe it. Describe in every detail the horrors of the camps and the way we were treated. But no one who had not been there would ever truly understand (251).”