The Boy on the Wooden Box

085The Boy on the Wooden Box by Leon Leyson

Rumors rolled through the streets of Krakow. Germans soldiers were closing in. Polish Jews glanced at each other in mounting fear. What would happen to them if the town surrendered to the Nazis?

Young Leon Leyson spent his childhood in the rural village of Narewka, Poland. His father, Moshe, was often away, honing his skills at a glass factory in Krakow. The watchful father soon brought his family there, working hard to provide. As war loomed over Poland in 1939, hopes for a safe haven rapidly dissolved. When the Nazis took control of Krakow, all Jews were fired from the glass factory. Moshe remained. He spoke German.

His family was assured a precarious safety, until one night when the Gestapo pounded on the door. The German secret police beat Moshe, choked him, and dragged him out into the night. For months, no one knew where Moshe had been taken. The day Moshe was released from St. Michael’s prison, his children knew a vital part of him was gone. Moshe returned to his job with his confidence deeply shaken, aware that the only way to feed his family was to remain in the employ of the Nazis.

The Nazis took over all Jewish businesses in the city. All Polish Jews were rounded up and forced to the ghettos. Elderly Jews were transported to the gas chambers of Auschwitz. As the war progressed, Leon and his family were sent to a labor camp, where they spent their days hauling lumber and rocks to build Nazi barracks.

In the midst of this hellish world, one Nazi businessman saw opportunity. His factory produced pots and pans for the Nazi army—and munitions for the war effort. Impressed by Moshe’s determination and skills, Oskar Schindler offered the Polish Jew a job. Schindler built a camp by the factory, freeing his Jewish workers from the horrors of life in the labor camp. Surrounded by Nazis bent on torture and extermination, Schindler reached out with acts of kindness. He hired Moshe’s sons. He threw late night parties and paid heavy bribes to stop Nazi commanders from taking his Jewish workers to the gas chambers. Schindler was responsible for saving the lives of over a thousand Jews.

“Oskar Schindler thought my life had value,” Leon writes. “Only by standing on a wooden box could I reach the controls of the machine I was assigned to operate. That box gave me a chance to look useful, to stay alive.”

The Boy on the Wooden Box is a moving tribute to a man with incredible courage and resourcefulness. Powerfully written, with clarity and sensitivity, it is an excellent book for anyone who wants to understand life in Poland under the Nazi regime.

–Kate Calina


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