The acclaimed National Book Award finalist--"one of the United States' finest writers," according to Joshua Ferris, "full of wit, humanity, and fearless curiosity"--now gives us a novel that will join the short list of classics about children caught up in the Holocaust. Aron, the narrator, is an engaging if peculiar and unhappy young boy whose family is driven by the German onslaught from the Polish countryside into Warsaw and slowly battered by deprivation, disease, and persecution. He and a handful of boys and girls risk their lives by scuttling around the ghetto to smuggle and trade contraband through the quarantine walls in hopes of keeping their fathers, mothers, brothers, and sisters alive, hunted all the while by blackmailers and by Jewish, Polish, and German police, not to mention the Gestapo. When his family is finally stripped away from him, Aron is rescued by Janusz Korczak, a doctor renowned throughout prewar Europe as an advocate of children's rights who, once the Nazis swept in, was put in charge of the Warsaw orphanage. Treblinka awaits them all, but does Aron manage to escape--as his mentor suspected he could--to spread word about the atrocities? Jim Shepard has masterfully made this child's-eye view of the darkest history mesmerizing, sometimes comic despite all odds, truly heartbreaking, and even inspiring. Anyone who hears Aron's voice will remember it forever.
But, as much as I enjoyed learning about Janusz Korczak, I thought that telling this story through the eyes of a young child trivialized some of the brutality of the ghetto and did not give me all the insight I wanted into this hero's thoughts.
Shepard’s introduction of Janusz Korczak’s, an actual hero of the ghetto who ran an orphanage and had a children’s radio program where he played “The Old Doctor”, to Aron’s world begins to humanize him. Aron accompanies the Old Doctor on his rounds and learns of the importance of caring in this bleak environment. By the novel’s end, Aron begins an evolution into a more caring and understanding person, but it was too late as the Germans were already well on the way to their “final solution.”
The hero, Aron, small for age 9, always had been picked on. He became a successful thief and smuggler who provided food for his diminishing family in a gang of three boys and two girls. One of the three boys, Boris, was part of an uncongenial family moved into the apartment of kitchen bedroom and hall.This family got the kitchen, Aron's parents the bedroom, and Aron and his brothers the hall. In the cold of the Polish winter, there was precious little coal, wood or oil for heating or cooking. The gang was sometimes caught smuggling, but often managed to escape. Aron was befriended by a German soldier who wanted him to steal and smuggle a bootjack for his precious new boots. This soldier was introduced to Aron by a member of the Jewish police. This 'friend' was able to discover the whereabouts of friends and family members who were taken away by the police for 'work details' which sometimes were work and other times were massacres or transports.
Shepard includes a famous real life hero, 'One of the Righteous', Janusz Korczak, who was a child advocate, a doctor, and the director of an orphanage. He took in the boy after his parents were killed. Korczak appeared in the film [Schindler's List] leading his orphans, singing, into the transport (to the concentration camp).
I had never read any books by Shepard before, and did not even know his name. I now put this book alongside the work of [Primo Levi], and [Elie Weisel] which are eyewitness accounts and not fiction. To have created a very believable young hero, learning how to survive better than his parents or older brothers, is profoundly moving. This was not a good kid, or a brilliant kid, or a natural leader, or handsome, or known as a fighter.
This was a mama's boy who hugged her, and occasionally crawled into her bed and discovered in the morning that he had wet her bed. This same boy left the ghetto with his gang on a daily basis to barter, buy food or steal and returned with goods to sell or eat. He turned out to be the survivor of his family and its mainstay until the Nazis finally took them all, the orphans and Korszak to their deaths.
Following Aron through his daily adventures makes the horror seem normal - just everyday life. It makes a horrible unimaginable tragedy fun to read. I don't know if that is ethically a good thing, but I can't recommend this book highly enough. If there were 6 stars I would give it all 6.
For the first part of his life he lived in Panezys near the Lithuanian border but all that changed when his father got a job in a factory in warsaw.
The germans arrived
Aron sees people around him die from illnesses and diseases that are rife in such a small area with large numbers of people. He even seees people disappear as the germand take them away and they are never seen again.
Told from a small boy's perspective this is a very poignant book - and although the story is from 1939-1942 it is important to point out that this was by no means the end of the ghettos or the destruction of the jewish communities.
The research that has gone into this book gives you a small snippet of what happened to the Jews and leaves you with pause for thought
The random raids by the Nazis, men taken for work crews, promises of food, and never seen again. Eventually the deportations start and Aron who has lost both parents comes under the care of Janusz Korczak, a man running an orphanage trying to save as many of the children as he can.
Janusz Korczak is a real person and what a man He was. I looked him up on wiki and if you read this you, should to. A difficult book to read at times but a book that shows the relationships and hardships of the Jews living in this time and place. I was very impressed with the writing and the story.
ARC from publisher.
This novel is written from the eye of a child, but this book is not for children. In a straightforward voice, almost simplistically, a Jewish child, 8 year old Aron Różycki, tells his story. When his father obtained
When, a short time later, Hitler invaded Poland, Warsaw came under siege. Suddenly, so did the Jews. Laws were enacted to limit their access to all things, employment, schools, shops, transportation, and more. Jews were herded into ghettos with terrible living conditions. Everywhere there was filth, lice, disease, and hunger. Aron and his friends were forced to become smugglers in order to feed their families, forced to become the breadwinners. Jewish children had to grow up fast and do things they never would have done before, because suddenly, they were everyone’s enemies. Some became as cruel and devious as their taskmasters. They became smugglers in order to survive, and smuggling was a crime that carried the penalty of death, but they had no other place to turn to for help but themselves.
Survival is a base instinct, and some Jews, and of course other Poles, put their own welfare before all others. People wanted to live and the techniques of the Nazis were brutal, instilling terror wherever the Nazis gained a foothold. When Jews were engaged to become part of the yellow police force to oversee the Jews, it was, at first, thought to be a good thing; surely, wouldn’t their own treat them with more kindness and respect? However, bad apples manage to rise up in all environments, and one yellow policeman called Lejkin, taunted Aron. He also brought a member of the SS around to meet him, and with veiled and overt threats, they coerced him into helping them. He was just a frightened boy. Sadly, while some yellow police did what they had to do, simply to guarantee their own survival, they could also be as cruel as their counterparts. There were yellow police made up of Jews, blue police made up of Poles and the Green or German police who were all part of the Nazi establishment. Their color names represented the colors of their uniforms and armbands.
Aron, like other children, was naïve. He did not realize that both he and his friend Lutek were in grave danger from all quarters. Lejkin, working with the SS, used Aron to unwittingly arrange his own arrest and the murder of a fellow smuggler and very close friend, Lutek. He was devastated and demoralized, horrified by what had happened, but he was helpless to do anything about it. When he was released without Lutek, who never returned, another child smuggler, Boris, with whom he shared a living space but did not get along, realized what had happened. He threw Aron out into the street.
Aron found his way to the Jewish orphanage where the children who were alone and ill were taken in and protected. It was run by Janusz Korczak, who carried the pen name of Henryk Goldszmit. He was a Pole, a Jew and a pediatrician who together with his assistant, Madame Stefa, had taken care of orphaned children for decades, way before Hitler’s rise to power. Both Korczak and Stefa did actually exist, and when the war began, they continued to operate an orphanage for Jewish children. When, in 1942, the Germans conducted one of their infamous roundups for resettlement, the orphanage was emptied. Aron tried to make a deal with the devil through Boris and his own nefarious and unwanted connections with Lejkin, for the release of Dr. Korczak and Madame Stefa, but the doctor refused to abandon “his” children.
At first blush, this brief tale seemed like such a simple story, related by a young boy, but as the story developed it was quite apparent that the message was profound. The reader is drawn into the scene in Europe, witnessing the coldness and brutality the Germans spawned everywhere they went. The tale explicitly illustrates the effects of the war on young children who were barely old enough to take care of themselves, but who were forced to take care of their elders who grew more and more helpless to take care of them. They were forced to face their unknown fears, their losses and their shame without comprehending why this was happening to them. The atmosphere of horror, terror and dread was palpable, and yet, sometimes for the children, it seemed like a game of truth or dare. They didn’t believe that they would get caught, and when they were, the sudden awareness and end result was shocking.
In summary, when Hitler first gained popularity and made his threats against the Jews, Aron’s father, like many Jews at that time, refused to leave when given the opportunity. They thought the world would come to its senses and the war would soon end with life returning to normal. Instead, the situation worsened, and soon Jews lost their freedom and civil rights. They were treated like animals and herded off to Concentration Camps where they were worked to death or murdered.
I don’t hold a grudge against Germans or Germany or even collaborators; no one wanted to suffer or die and everyone was terrified. Still, some welcomed the Nazis, and they must answer to their own consciences and a higher being, if one truly does exist. However, I can’t ever stop wondering how they, and all those who voted for Hitler and supported the Nazis, could ever claim that they didn’t know what they were supporting or what was happening around them. They may have turned their own blind eye, but they could not have been blind to the sights and sounds of brutality and death around them.
At the end, I thought that the final statement that Dr. Korczak whispered into Aron’s ear, about the Declaration of Children’s Rights, was the moral of the story. All children have the right to make mistakes, and perhaps, there is also the implication that everyone has that right. The doctor seemed to embody the idea of forgiveness, and perhaps he was forgiving Aron, as well as the sins of others. Perhaps that is a good idea.
Let me say one more thing, there were those that were righteous; there were Jewish and Gentile heroes alike. They were unwilling to allow such injustice and barbarism to continue without putting up some kind of a fight, but they were often imprisoned, beaten and tortured too, ultimately dying themselves in the end. It was an unjust reward for their struggles, and sadly, that part of the story, along with Dr. Korczak’s efforts, was true. Unfortunately, the obvious and real horror of the actual Holocaust will appear before the readers’ eyes, if their eyes are open. Some will choose to close them, rather than continue to face and deal with its revolting nature, but if they continue to turn a blind eye, the horror may be revisited upon the world. Some people may be dissatisfied with the ending of this story; it left them hanging. What happens next? Students of history all know what happened next. The book ends somewhere in 1942, but the war did not. These people may be turning their own blind
Aron is a child, and not a particularly well-behaved one. He does poorly at school and has fallen in with an equally unruly friend by the time his neighborhood is annexed into the new Jewish quarters. This stands him in good stead, as a head for petty crime is more useful in surviving than being polite or well-read. The Book of Aron is told from his point of view, one that takes the conditions he's living in at face value, never looking into the future. This saves the book from being unreadable. Aron doesn't give dates and he doesn't see what is coming, and so the reader can, until the final chapters, focus on the details of Aron's daily life; his friends, avoiding the authorities and helping out his mother, without being roped into domestic chores.
Shepard has done his research, but managed to create well-rounded characters, with faults and weaknesses and moments of grace. Aron is wracked with guilt over a decision he makes with imperfect facts, taking responsibility for an outcome he could not have predicted. What responsibility do we have when we have no power and no foresight? Another character points out that it's necessary that a few survive, even if they have to take more than their share of meager resources to do so. For a slender book, The Book of Aron manages to ask weighty questions as well as tell the story of one Ghetto inhabitant who refused to not do the right thing.
If all fiction set during the Holocaust did what The Book of Aron does, I'd be able to set my reservations aside once and for all.
One of the most poignant aspects of this book is showing how starvation was a planned war strategy by the Nazis.
This tale is no less harrowing though we know this is just beginning of the increasing atrocities to come.
“Death by famine lacked drama, Korczak told her. It was slow and dispiriting. At least until the crows or the rats or the dogs come along.”
Despite the grim subject matter, many Holocaust memoirs and novels have an undercurrent of hope since the author/protagonist survived to tell their story. This one progresses relentlessly toward tragedy. At the time I listened to this book, I wasn't aware that Janusz Korczak was a real person and not just a character created for this novel. His attitude toward children (at least, the attitude portrayed in the novel) reminded me of Mr. Rogers. I would like to know more about this man who devoted himself to the care and comfort of Jewish orphans at such a dark time in history. I am on the lookout for a good biography.
But as the Nazis continue to put more and more of a squeeze on the ghetto, Aron's possibilities become narrowed too. He loses his friends; he loses his family. He is taken in to an orphaned by the kind doctor who runs the place. But as in all Holocaust stories, this one comes to its inevitable conclusion. Grimness upon grimness. Despair to see how under degradation human decency gets erased. Only a few maintain it.
I'm a fan of Jim Shepard's short stories, and have appreciated them because his perspective tends to carry an unusual twist to it. The Book of Aron is perhaps one of the most conventional things he's written in that it's missing that twist. After all, when you take on the Holocaust, there's only one direction you can go. Certainly no room for whimsy here! But the book--as is to be expected--is well-written and you can feel every moment as you meet that inevitable slide at the end.
But if there is one person Aron admires, it is Dr. Janusc Korczak, a real-life educator and children's advocate who became well know for his radio show, The Old Doc. Aron watches him from afar as he works to save as many children as possible, has a number of conversations with him in the street, and visits a performance by the children in his orphanage. Korczak becomes a major figure in the last half of the novel.
While not a happy read (what Holocaust novel is?), it kept my interest and made me aware of some of the harsher details of life for Poland's Jews outside of the prison camps. Despite the distance Aron maintains and some of the unpleasant things that he does, I was empathetic towards his struggle.
The children had it the worst i feel, witnessing horrors that we can only imagine, they found glimmers of life where they could. Along come a doctor who runs the ghetto orphanage and puts organization and care into their sad lives. I will not give away the ending, but i will say that you have been forewarned, have a kleenex handy.
Part of the problem is that I didn't care much about the main character. Even at the end, I didn't have a clear picture of who he was or what really motivated him. He didn't seem to care much about his friends or his family, but became desperately attached to someone later, which didn't ring quite true for me. For part of the book, I actually wondered if he was a bit mentally challenged and didn't understand what was happening, but nothing happened that was sufficient to confirm or to contradict that hypothesis. Anyway, it is hard to admit (even to myself) that I read a book about orphans and ghettos and families struggling to survive and shocking deaths and unimaginable choices, yet somehow remained largely unmoved; I think it's a reminder how important it is for authors to write characters that we care about.
Also, I hated the ending so much I gave this 2 stars at first. What a weird place to end it.
I have several issues with the story. First of all, I have to question the reason it was
So, you see, if you write a book about life for a Jew during the second world war, you'd better bring something new to the table. Shepard doesn't, in my opinion.
The story is told first-person from the point of view of Aron, not yet a teen when the Warsaw ghetto is sectioned off. Because of this, I assume, the narrative is very disjointed and fragmented. Ideas and descriptions are left hanging, and there are rather abrupt changes in flow and subject. In giving the author the benefit of the doubt, I would say that this is the way a boy in the ghetto would think. However, it would have been more effective if there had been a flow in the beginning, loosening and losing structure as Aron is affected by his circumstances.
There were many superfluous items in the story that were never fully developed. Why was his relationship with his father strained? Did his father treat all of the children that way, or just Aron? What became of Boris and his desire to kill Aron? What was the profound effect that must have existed because of Aron's forced friendship with Lejkin?
There are so many wonderful books which cover this tragic time in history. I cannot recommend this one.