My rating: 5 of 5 stars
This book is short but packs a punch. The story of 10-year-old Srulik’s running away in plain sight and evading the Nazis that killed the rest of his family would be almost unbelievable were it not for the evidence of his survival embodied in the author and in her book. Written as a granddaughter’s retelling of her grandfather’s memories, it gives modern readers a way in to another time and place.
The story reads like a fairy tale, and the excellent illustrations add to the overall mood. The time described before the Nazis come feels cyclical, archetypal. But it is not Eden. When the brothers are very young, around 7 years old, Srulik’s twin dies of an infection that he accidentally acquired while playing in the very forest that would later shelter and hide–and save–Srulik. This experience stands in chilling counterpoint to the future deaths that Srulik witnesses at the hands of the Nazis. The Nazis break into the story, an evil out of time, until they too become part of the forbidding landscape: footprints, giant Orwellian boots crushing human dignity.
While this book may bring the reader to tears, it is not something that I would forbid a child of any age from reading if he or she showed an interest. Srulik makes little attempt to understand the origins or the banality of the evil he encounters; in this way he remains innocent. The story of his survival is inspirational in part because anyone might have been able to do what he did. He was special in the way that all children are special, and from his granddaughter’s telling, he remained that way throughout life. He also meets many helpers along the way: good people who give him food, clothing, and shelter at great personal risk.
Holocaust survivors and their stories are passing quickly out of our time. Books are still the best and really the only way we have to keep their stories alive.