Boy From Buchenwald
with Susan McClelland
Bloomsbury Children’s Books
Published May 11, 2021
About Boy from Buchenwald
It was 1945 and Romek Wajsman had just been liberated from Buchenwald, a brutal concentration camp where more than 60,000 people were killed. He was starving, tortured, and had no idea where his family was-let alone if they were alive. Along with 472 other boys, including Elie Wiesel, these teens were dubbed “The Buchenwald Boys.” They were angry at the world for their abuse, and turned to violence: stealing, fighting, and struggling for power. Everything changed for Romek and the other boys when Albert Einstein and Rabbi Herschel Schacter brought them to a home for rehabilitation.
Romek Wajsman, now Robbie Waisman, humanitarian and Canadian governor general award recipient, shares his remarkable story of transforming pain into resiliency and overcoming incredible loss to find incredible joy.
I feel like I’ve been sitting at my keyboard awhile struggling for the right words to review this book. It’s definitely one that left me speechless, in a good way. I’ve read NIGHT by Elie Wiesel, and a couple other accounts of surviving Nazi concentration camps, but it never gets easier to read about it. The horror and shock of it strikes me fresh every time, and it should.
I feel like this book does a really great job balancing the reality of what happened with an understanding of its audience as young readers. The authors give a frank account but seem to know when to zoom in or zoom out on the scene being described. There’s a gentleness to the way the story is told. Like it’s not only being told my someone who’s survived, but someone who understands and connects with other kids. I’m not doing a great job explaining this. I guess maybe what I’m trying to say is that it doesn’t surprise me at all that Waisman speaks to schools. It seems like he has a gift for it.
A lot of the story focuses on Romek’s recovery from imprisonment in Buchenwald. At first he has very few memories of his life before with his family, or of happiness. At the beginning of each (or most) chapters, he flashes back to a memory, sometimes difficult ones. As he has time to grieve and to heal, those flashbacks show his memories gradually returning. And the progression of them shows its own journey through trauma and anger and loss and until finally he’s able to remember happy moments from his childhood.
BOY FROM BUCHENWALD is an inspiring story about grief and healing. It’s about the way that we need each other. It’s about the worst ways in which we hurt one another and the best ways we help one another heal. I loved it, and I think it’d make a great addition to a classroom library or Holocaust study.
Recommended for Ages 12 up.
Most major characters are Jewish and Holocaust survivors.
Profanity/Crude Language Content
Two instances of mild profanity. One is a reference to a name for a ship carrying Jewish refugees that was turned away from other countries. Another refers to time spent in a concentration camp as being in hell.
Reference to children being hidden by the women in the concentration camp brothels.
Some scenes describe Jewish services and celebrations. After being liberated from Buchenwald, some of the boys take refuge in faith while others can’t reconnect with faith at all.
Some brief descriptions of torture, starvation, and cruelty toward prisoners of the camps and Jews under Nazi occupation. The boys develop a reputation as angry and destructive.
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