(In honor of Yom Hashoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day, April 11th, 2018)
WARNING: Reading this article may give away things in the story ranging from unimportant to plot turners.
The Boy on the Wooden Box by Leon Leyson
Type: Holocaust, Memoir
Basic Plot: Leon Leyson tells what his childhood was like under Nazi reign and how Oskar Schindler saved his life.
Writing Style and Setup: 4/5 Memoirs about childhoods from adults are always best voiced as a child, and that was how Leon Leyson wrote it. Sweet, tender, and beautiful, the story tells of a childhood so close to our time yet so different in temperament that if it were not relatable in human spirit, it would be hard for the pampered American to understand. Though one feels his pain and fear, one can tell that Leon does not pity and degrade himself. It is a voice of determination, not defeat.
The pace moved well, explaining each part of his young life in perfect detail, and moving on from it in his brief summarizing of adulthood. One never gets bored as they read the mounting events of his tense, fearful life, yet the story does not move too fast as to be nothing but a blur.
Moral: 5/5 Excellent Application: The Boy on the Wooden Box is chock full of morals. Perseverance, hope, love, and kindness are all lessons one can gain from it. The author must learn to survive in his oppressive surroundings, to not fully give into despair no matter what happens. The hatred that abounds between religious groups is also a lesson to Christians to be kind to people regardless of religion. Muslims, Buddhist, Jews, Hindus, and atheist all aught to be treated well and loved by Christians. Many of the persecutors in the Holocaust were liberal “Christians” and Catholics, all of which were not following the Bible. We must teach love to our children, as the Bible does, not hatred. This book has greatly taught me what people can do when united by hate. Imagine what people could do if they were united by love, as Jesus teaches. (1 John
One may also be inspired by the lesser discussed character Oskar Schindler. Despite his worldly life and Nazi association, he willingly risked everything to save hundreds of people. It is proof that God can use anyone to save anybody He chooses.
I think this book finally can be used as a beautiful proof of God. Even in histories darkest time when God was disregarded and all that was right was stomped on, God found a way to save a thousand people using one man. Many times Leon is nearly killed but somehow just barely makes it. It is as if someone or something is specifically doing all He can to save Leon’s life. Leon’s childhood is a modern day miracle in many aspects.
Overall: 4½/5 Amazing: I highly recommend this book. It’s a peek into the life of the persecuted. As fairly content, prosperous Americans, we need to know what it was, is, and can be like in countries united by hatred, fear, and anger, ones that do not heed the truths of God. Nearly everyone from everywhere can benefit from reading this book. I believe that both boys and girls from preteen to adult will benefit from, comprehend, and enjoy this book.
Sexual and Inappropriate Content: 2/5 Brief Mentions of Nudity: It is mentioned that boys frequently went swimming naked. Men and boys of various ages are forced to stand outside in front of soldiers naked for several hours. A boy says that while they were like this they squished together in an attempt to keep warm. Characters are shaved of their body hair, and a boy is laughed when others find out he has not matured. It is mentioned that an unmarried couple held a hands. A young teenage boy says he does not like his brother’s girlfriends legs. It is mentioned that a man was called a womanizer.
Violence: 3/5 Non-descriptive Violence: It is mentioned that the Christian children threw stones at Jewish children around Christian holidays. Some soldiers repeatedly slap a child. It is mentioned that soldiers beat and shaved conservative Jewish men. Soldiers whip men and boys with leather and iron. There are frequent mentions of various Jewish people being beaten or shot for various reasons. Soldiers poke Jewish people to move “with their rifles,” and a man hits at a boy for getting out of line but misses. It is mentioned that a woman was hit “on the side of her head with a wooden plank.”
Swearing and Using the Lord’s Name in Vain: ½/5 Possible Misuse: It mentions once that “men curse” and once that people “shout slurs.” What is said is not specified. Life under the Nazis and the torturous work camps are described as and called “hell” at least five times and “hell on earth” at least twice. A boy is called “Mosiek” or “little Moses” as a slander for being Jewish.
Emotional, Intense, and Disturbing Content: 3½/5 A Dark Theme and Frequent Emotional, Intense, and Disturbing Content: The theme of the book is the intense persecution of the Jewish people and is about a boy’s true personal experience during this time. Though he spends barely any time in an actual Holocaust camp, he encounters many other terrors that are shocking and inhumane. Characters cry and scream from terror and sorrow and fear over bad things that do and almost do happen. Characters are frequently killed and tortured for the German soldier’s personal amusement, and certain characters personalities are ones of open enjoyment at torturing and hurting others. It is mentioned that soldiers randomly shot Jewish people for little or no reason or provocation. A man points a gun at a boy’s head and threatens to shoot him if he does not perform his duty well. A boy goes to a concentration camp so that his girlfriend is not alone. It is mentioned that groups of Jewish people were brought together and systematically shot or gassed. Almost all of a character’s family is killed this way. It is mentioned that many people have diseases or that they die frequently from various diseases and a lack of basic sanitation. There are mentions that before, after, and during the war there are random, violent attacks on Jewish people, buildings, and things. Nazi soldiers one day go through a boy’s apartment and randomly massacre Jewish people. The fear and terror of this event is described in detail as a boy, his mother, and friend hide together for hours with no food, water, or restroom. Gunshots and screams and begging for life are heard by the boy. It is mentioned that especially religious Jews are beaten and have their facial hair cut off. A boy witnesses family members being beaten and taken away to concentration camps, both which emotionally traumatize him. A boy sees his boss get shot in front of him. A boy spends time at a work camp, and his life is documented in detail. They are beaten, threatened, and all around abused. It is mentioned that a man in the camp once went to an infirmary and randomly murdered everyone. Soldiers keep count of how many Jewish people die per day. People are whipped and told to verbally keep count, and if they “missed a number the guards started over.” It is mentioned that a man is traumatized from being forced to take dead people out of graves for burning, and it is mentioned that he smells of the dead. Some boys are shot at because they are out past curfew, but they do not actually get shot or bleed. People throughout the book are starving. It is mentioned that people are kidnapped by the Nazis to work. It is mentioned that “torture and death” are the punishment for not wearing a Jewish identification armband. A boy feels guilty for hoping people are alive, as he thinks they would be better dead then tortured, and a woman hopes that her family died before the Nazis could have killed them. A boy wonders if his brother will be able to survive the gas chambers. When some people are brought to take a shower, they are briefly afraid it is a gas chamber; it isn’t. Men and boys are forced to run to see if they are strong enough to serve the Germans, with death being the consequence of failure. Some women are nearly gassed for being weak; they are saved. A boy is worried that he will die immediately before the end of the war. It mentions that the Germans put gravestones on an apartment complex that Jewish people were living in. It is mentioned that a Jewish woman killed a political diplomat. There are air raid warnings, though no bombs are dropped. A boy thinks how he or others could have been killed, and the boy is willing a few times to risk death or beatings to see family or have slightly better circumstances. Jewish people worry that the Germans will murder them all before deserting. It is mentioned that this is done in nearly every city. The Auschwitz is mentioned and rumors that people will be or were sent there. Soldiers have a skull and crossbones set on their uniform. People hear rumors that the Jewish people are being murdered rather than deported. It is mentioned that there are lice problems. It is mentioned that various people “died in the Holocaust,” though not always how they died. It is mentioned that some boys took a woman to an infirmary. It is mentioned that characters are covered in blood from being beaten. There is blood on the floor after a man is killed. People get sores and bad vision from malnutrition and overwork. A man has to work on his knees from pain. A woman’s ear drum is permanently shattered. A boy gets cuts on his leg and head from falling at different times. He is bandaged.
Some women are shaved bald. A woman claims she can hear her dead sons calling for her after she loses hearing in one ear. The Battle of Stanlingrad is mentioned and the fact that it was “bloody.” It is mentioned that Jewish people were called “Christ killers” by hateful Christians. There is mention of pogroms (random massacres of Jewish people). Jewish people are falsely accused of stealing blood, kidnapping, and attempted murder. Polish people throw into Jewish buildings and homes. Jewish people are beaten into hospitals and again on release. It is mentioned that some people falsely thought their family had been murdered. It is mentioned that a man died in America. It is mentioned that black people in America once had to sit in the back of buses, which disgust the author. It is mentioned that the author died of T cell lymphoma and that he this caused him lots of pain. It is mentioned that people got seasick. There are mentions of various wars, such as the Korean War and World War I. It is mentioned that a man knew judo. “Scars” and “suicide” are used for descriptive purposes. A boy says once that he and some others felt like “the walking dead.” “Hard slap” is used for descriptive purposes.
Religious Issues: ½/5 Brief Mention: The almost all of the main characters in the book are Jewish. There are mentions of Zionist and Orthodox Jews. There are mentions of Hanukkah, Jewish holy days, rabbis, Rosh Hashanah, synagogues, the Old Synagogue, Shabbot candles, the Talmud, the Torah, and Yom Kippur. It is mentioned that the Jewish people lit candles for Hanukkah. It is mentioned that characters would recite Jewish prayers, though it never says what they said. There is mention of Catholicism and that the Catholics said their prayers in school each day. There is mention of Eastern Orthodoxy. There is mention of “St Mary’s Basilica” (a church) and “St Michael’s prison.” A woman claims she can hear her dead sons calling for her after she loses hearing in one ear. A boy hopes that something is “a positive omen.” It is mentioned that a man knew judo. The author defends Jewish people as not being “unclean or demonic.” “Haunted,” “haunts,” and “limbo” used for descriptive purposes.
Magic: ½/5 Brief Mention: Fairy tales are briefly mentioned. “Wizard” and “magic” are used for descriptive purposes.
Others: A man is said to be called a “drunk.” A boy mentions that a man smelled like cigarettes. It is mentioned that a man gave his each of his employees all a bottle of vodka and that some of them drank it. A man has several pipes and always uses one, though he never has any tobacco to smoke it. It is mentioned that soldiers get or are probably drunk. There is mention of nightclubs and a cabaret, and a child goes to a cabaret’s entrance to give a man a note. There is little description of the place, and the boy wonders why people go to it. A man is given cigarettes though the man does not use them. It is mentioned that a man talked about bottling the first sip of beer. There is mention of Starbucks.
Overall: 3/5 Teenage Appropriate: This book is a good way to introduce older children and teenagers to the Holocaust. The most objectionable things would probably the overall oppressive and dark the theme of the memoir and the non-sexual events of nudity.