February 8, 2016
The War Within These Walls by Aline Sax, illustrated by Caryl Strzelecki
The War Within These Walls
by Aline Sax
illustrated by Caryl Strzelecki
Eerdmans Books for Young Readers
The Germans invaded Poland and a month later they settled in Warsaw. It seemed like they planned to be there for a very long time. The war seemed to be over but it wasn’t actually peaceful. People would be stopped in the streets. German soldiers yelled at them, beat them down and left them to freeze where they lay.
This was the beginning of the war on Poland’s Jews. Misha had non-Jewish friends but was no longer allowed to play soccer together or even sit on a bench and visit with them.
Then the wall went up. All Jews had to stay within the wall. Non-Jews had to leave. More Jews were moved inside; it was the birth of the Warsaw ghetto. Things were crowded but life went on more-or-less as usual. It couldn’t be entirely typical. Misha’s family lived in the kitchen of their apartment. Strangers crowded into the other rooms. Still people who had money or things to trade had food. They could buy bread in the bakery.
But eventually the food ran out. Germans wanted people to work in the ghetto factories but they didn’t provide enough food.
One day, Misha saw a colorful parakeet fly over the wall. He started to think — if the bird could get in and out, maybe he could too. For a time, he took to the sewers, moving into the city to find food. Sewers, holes in the wall and even the gates themselves allowed people who were quick and clever to exit and reenter the ghetto but there was always a risk. Misha saw the Nazi’s with flame throwers burn out the sewers, people were shot just outside the gate, some people simply never came home.
Then the Nazis decided to kill everyone left in the ghetto for Hitler’s birthday. The Jews had to fight back.
I know I’m not giving a lot of details about the plot but I want you to discover that for yourself. The uprising was doomed from the start but the ill-armed Jewish fighters managed to hold the Nazis off for four weeks. I’d read about the ghetto and I’ve written about World War II but I learned a lot from this book.
One of the things that I appreciated most was that Sax did not make the Jews out to be victims. Yes, horrible things were done to them. But among them there were wolves reading and willing to fight back.
This is definitely a young adult book but it isn’t dense and it is a very quick read. I’d recommend it for both the classroom and the library as well as any teen who is interested in World War II. Yes, it is a dark story but it still succeeds in being hopeful.