Book Review: The Boy On The Wooden Box

The Boy On The Wooden Box:  How The Impossible Became Possible…On Shindler’s List:  A Memoir, by Leon Leyson with Marilyn J. Harran & Elisabeth B. Leyson

This book is an excellent example of a work that exists in the repercussions of others, and it is a memoir and not an autobiography.  The author realizes that he is not a famous person himself but that he lived in deeply interesting and dark times and writes with a great deal of gratitude for Oscar Schindler, whose repeated interventions on behalf of him and his family are responsible for the survival of any of them in the case of the horrors of the Holocaust.  This tale is not a happy story, but it is ultimately an optimistic one, a reminder of the way that saving a life helps create worlds, for this book would surely not exist if Schindler himself had not been an unlikely hero.  Sadly, the author himself died of cancer before the book could be published, but before he died he gave his story to the USC Shoah Foundation, which shepherded the text into publication and made this book a small but excellent memoir about a relatively obscure life that speaks about the positive repercussions of decency in evil times.

Most of this short volume of just over 200 pages focuses on the author’s youth, which is fitting as it was during his childhood and teenage years that the author was faced with the grim task of surviving as a Polish Jew in the midst of World War II.  The author blends his own memories as an observant person and later reflections together to make a compelling story that has plenty of melancholy reflections on the betrayal he and his people suffered by the Poles whose “mild” anti-Semitism was far exceeded by the brutal anti-Semitism brought by the Nazis in the wake of Poland’s defeat in World War II.  The author notes his experience living in the Krakow ghetto and trying to find enough work not to be sent to a death camp as a useless eater, and comments on Schindler’s favor for his father, brother, himself, mother, and sister, allowing them to survive alone among their larger family within Poland, who were either killed in death camps or by execution squads that sought to wipe out the presence of Jews in Krakow.  Even after the author recounts his own war experiences, though, he has plenty to say about the struggle to move on and raise a family and overcome the past, the psychic burdens that continued to dog him and especially his parents, and the unfriendliness of postwar Poles who didn’t want surviving Jews to return to their old homes and old ways but wanted them gone.

Ultimately, this is a tale of hope, but it is not one whose eyes are blind.  The author’s own personal experiences clearly shaped a compassionate view to other outsiders, such as when he uses his own experiences of segregation as fuel to oppose the segregation of blacks in postwar America.  This book is a poignant reminder that historical heroes like Oscar Schindler need to be remembered for their good deeds, for having behaved decently in the face of greed and the ease that one could have simply closed one’s eyes and pretended not to see what was going on.  The author also notes the way that he and others showed immense resourcefulness in order to survive, and how the horrors that they suffered never left them, even as they resolved themselves to make the best out of life and to do what they could to make sure that others did not have to suffer these horrors themselves.  It is a reminder that human beings have dignity because of who we are, and that courage in the face of evil times is both rare and absolutely essential for survival.

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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