The War Within These Walls

Reviews

THE WAR WITHIN THESE WALLS [STARRED REVIEW!]
Author: Aline Sax
Illustrator: Caryl Strzelecki
Translator: Laura Watkinson
Review Issue Date: September 1, 2013

The sights, sounds and smells of the Warsaw ghetto assail readers’ senses in a raw, brutal telling of the unimaginable horror of that time and that place.

When the Nazis took Warsaw in 1939, they immediately initiated their separate war against the Jews in an ever-worsening web of destruction. Jews were prevented from using public transportation, doing business or attending schools. Then thousands were moved to the overcrowded ghetto, where they died of epidemics and starvation. Finally, relocations to the concentration camps emptied the ghetto. Sax gives voice to the fear and anger, hopelessness and terror through Misha, a fictional young teen who represents those who really lived and died there. In short staccato sentences, he bears witness to the madness, telling it all, from the struggle to stay alive to the corpses in the streets to the beatings and executions. Misha takes part in the doomed Warsaw Uprising and survives to tell the world of this last act of defiance. Strzelecki’s pen, ink and black-and-white pencil illustrations graphically depict pain and despair as they accompany text printed on stark white or black backgrounds. With the events of the Holocaust growing ever more remote with the passage of time, Sax gives modern readers an unrelenting, heart-rending insight into the hell that the Nazis created.

Gripping, powerful, shattering. (Historical fiction. 14 & up)

Kirkus Book Reviews

♦♦♦

Starred Review – Publishers Weekly

This fictionalized account of Mordechai Anielewicz and the 1942 Warsaw ghetto uprising will appall and unnerve its readers. The nameless Jewish narrator, an older boy, meets Anielewicz at the very moment his fury has given way to fear. His mother lies dying and his sister has already disappeared. Most of Warsaw’s Jewish population has been sent to the camps, and Nazi soldiers have butchered a Jewish mother and infant before his eyes. Now a stranger appears. “We have weapons,” Anielewicz tells the boy urgently. “But we need more people.” The narrator joins the resistance fighters and tastes their single, fleeting victory, a momentary triumph prefigured in the narrator’s glimpse of a gaily colored parakeet one miserable day. Strzelecki’s monochrome drawings use rich blue-gray lines on cream pages to portray faces furrowed with pain, then builds to nightmarish conflagrations, battles, and corpses. Sometimes a single sentence appears on a blue-gray page, the better to emphasize it: “I had never felt so Jewish before,” the narrator says. Sax’s achievement is to have made every reader feel this with him.

Originally published in Belgium. Ages 14–up. (Oct.)

Publishers Weekly

♦♦♦

The War within These Walls.
Sax, Aline (Author) , Strzelecki, Caryl (Illustrator)
Oct 2013. 176 p. Eerdmans, hardcover

Teenage Misha narrates the story of what happened during WWII when German Nazi forces took over Poland and walled off a part of Warsaw in 1940 to hold all the Jews in that city. Misha rebels against the inhumane conditions of meager rations and the tremendous overcrowding in the Warsaw Ghetto by smuggling food until his younger sister disappears while on a smuggling run through the sewer system. Then, in 1943, when he learns that the Nazis plan to kill all the Jews by transporting them to concentration camps, he joins a rebel group determined to fight back no matter how hopeless their cause might be.

Everything about the format of the book—its tall and narrow shape, the somber blue-and-white illustrations that work together with the spare prose, the alternating white and black pages—makes the reader pause and take notice of what is happening. This very personal viewpoint of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising makes a powerful impact that will last long after reading.

Kat Kan, Booklist, October 2013

♦♦♦

School Library Journal (starred)

Gr 8 Up–Told from the point of view of a Jewish teen, this short, illustrated novel begins with the invasion of Poland in 1939 and goes on to describe the limits placed on the Jewish population and their eventual incarceration in the Warsaw Ghetto. The narrator describes the daily humiliations, depravations, despair, and deaths at the hands of the Nazis. When his family runs out of food, the narrator descends into the sewer system to cross to the Polish side of the Ghetto walls, where he is able to buy or steal food. When the Nazis employ flame throwers to kill those in the sewers, he loses his nerve. Unfortunately, he isn’t able to stop his younger sister from traveling the sewers, and one day she doesn’t return. When it becomes clear that everyone in the Ghetto is going to be resettled in the East, the narrator is ready, when approached by Mordechai Anielewicz, one of the actual leaders of the uprising, to join the resistance. The last portion of the book describes the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising from the narrator’s point of view. The pen, ink, and pencil artwork serves to extend and clarify the story. The combination of the illustrations and the author’s spare prose make this a good choice for reluctant readers and an outstanding example of Holocaust fiction.

Nancy Silverrod, San Francisco Public Library, School Library Journal

♦♦♦

LibraryThing Early Reviewers

Sparing words and sharp contrasts bring a new voice to this tragedy. And while I felt heartsick and emotionally wrung out by this book, it is a story that needs to be told over and over again, ringing in every ear until the very thought of vile acts and tragic experiences brings us collectively to a place where such things cannot happen again. The angular illustrations added an interesting dimension to this book, and I am truly grateful for the opportunity to read and review this text. (*****)

sstaheli | Sep 26, 2013 |

*
Wow. What a powerful little book. I’ve read several things on the Warsaw Uprisings, both fiction and non-fiction and this ranks right up there with the best. I love the way the words and pictures combine to create such pain and suffering and sadly, truth. The perfect blend of black and white and gray. The pages having only a few words conveyed so much. I commend these artists, to tell this important story with so few words, pictures and feelings is incredible. This book belongs in all our school libraries. (*****)
lorimarie
| Sep 13, 2013 |

 *

“Death. An everyday occurrence.” Stark words. Haunting words. In the Warsaw, Poland ghetto in World War II, this was the norm. The powerful, yet simplistic book tells the story of a Jewish teen, Misha, and life within the Jewish ghetto walls during the Warsaw uprising. This story captivates as well as saddens. Thought provoking and stark. Hopeful and hopeless.

This book would be a great addition to school libraries as well as classroom libraries. This story will appeal to reluctant readers as well as advanced readers. ( *****)

LiteracyRocks | Sep 3, 2013 |
*

The War Within These Walls is the the poetic first-person account of a Jewish boy imprisoned in the Warsaw ghetto during WWII.
The words are few, but those words are powerful. The illustrations are emotive; I could feel their sorrow and suffering. The overall effect is startling.
I’ve read many books about the Holocaust. This book has had the most profound effect.
I consider this a must-read for my son. I believe this is both a must-read for adults and young people. History will teach us nothing if we fail to pay attention. (*****)

LynnGW | Sep 3, 2013 |
*

Powerful language combined with stark yet beautiful drawings make this short novel arresting. Although marketed as a young adult novel in the US, I found nothing juvenile about the treatment or the language.

Misha and his family are Polish Jews imprisoned in the Warsaw Ghetto by the Germans during the Holocaust. As more and more people are forced into the ghetto, the threat of starvation rises. Misha begins crossing to the Aryan side of the wall via the sewers to find food for his family. The knowledge of the underground passages serves him well when he joins a group of Jewish fighters determined to make the Germans pay when they come to liquidate the ghetto.

Similar to a graphic novel, the drawings are integral to the storytelling. Particularly moving was the juxtaposition of black text on white pages with the occasional black page with white text. Although the story of the Warsaw Uprising is well-known, this telling is worth reading for its visual and emotional impact. (****)

labfs39 | Aug 28, 2013 |
*

The gripping prose and the stark illustrations depicting the lives of the Jews in the Warsaw ghetto during World War II are horrifying in its simplicity. As a young teen trapped in the ghetto, Misha struggles to survive. His fury against the evil of the Nazis leads him to the Jewish underground and to his courageous participation in the valiant uprising against their oppressors. Though this book is marketed for the young adult, it is compelling reading for all. The images invoked will forever stay with the reader. (*****)
alandee | Aug 28, 2013 |

 *

The War Within These Walls was a compelling read about the Holocaust of World War II. The narrator is a young (teenage) Jew living in Warsaw, Poland. The story starts when the first relocation of Jews in Poland began after the German occupation, and ends in the rebellion of Jews still remaining in the walled ghetto of Warsaw.
This book was very true to the nature of the cruelties that children lived through during this time.
For classroom use, however, this book will be on my personal bookshelf. It will only be shared with students who are ready (and whose parents agree are ready) to read the book with an understanding of the dark, stark factual representation of death that occurred. While the reading level is fairly simple, most of my students are not emotionally ready for the portrayal of death in this story.
A wonderful read for mature students and adults, however, this book is a reminder of the horrors of history that are often glazed over in history class. (*****)

jramoly | Aug 21, 2013 |

*
The War within These Walls is the story of one teen’s struggle to survive the Warsaw Jewish ghetto during the Nazi occupation. It is an at times horrific and uplifting tale told through black and blue drawings. The story starts in 1939 with the teenage boy (Misha) living with his doctor father, stay-at-home mother and young sister.

Misha’s world is changed for ever when the Nazi’s invade Poland and forces the Jews into ghettos. Not only are they not allowed to leave the ghetto, not much food is allowed in and quickly people begin to starve to death. Misha at first begins to sneak out of the ghetto to gather food for his mother and sister, but stops after he sees others killed for this same action.
Later, the surviving Jews are rounded-up and sent to camps. They are told that they will have a better life there, but Misha quickly finds out the truth; they are death camps. Thanks to his father being a doctor, they are allowed to stay in the ghetto, but Misha can no longer do nothing but take the Nazis abuse. He decides that now is the time to fight back.

This book was written for high school aged students and is extremely short; I read it in less than an hour. The drawings are sobering, but not as gruesome as they could have been (probably a good thing.) This book reminded me so much of Maus by Art Spiegelman, but I have to say it is not the same caliber as Spiegelman’s.

I have read many young adult graphic novels and non-fiction and I have to say that I have never come across one that dealt with the Warsaw ghetto in this way. I think this book would make a great edition to a high school or public library non-fiction collection and a great read for teenagers wanting to learn more about the Holocaust.

Read more of my review at www.Bourgette.com( **** 1/2)

Bourgette | Aug 19, 2013 |
*

A young man tells the story of being a Jew in Nazi occupied Poland. From their home in the Warsaw Ghetto he watches his friends and neighbors give up and lose their will to Live. Soon he meets up with others who are determined to fight back and joins with them. They know they cannot win but they were determined to ‘fight for an honorable death.’

This short book tells of bravery and determination. A great read. (****)

wearylibrarian | Aug 18, 2013 |

*

This would be a great book for reluctant readers-sparse but gripping prose and pen illustrations tell the story of the brutal oppression suffered in Warsaw during World War Two while also highlighting the courage with which the Jewish community fought back. (*****)
kimpiddington | Aug 18, 2013 |
*

This book really grabs you from the start. The combination of poetic prose and detailed penned illustrations moves you through the gripping story. I had heard of the Warsaw ghetto, but I think this is the first story I read about it. I hope this book is well received by the audience it is intended. (**** 1/2)

eliorajoy | Aug 13, 2013 |
*
The narrator of this story, the War Within These Walls is a young man who is caught up in the horrors created by Hitler as he attempts to annihilate the Jews. Often told in a matter of fact, emotionless way, it is the story of a young man trying to make sense of a world turned upside down as the Jews are forced into the Warsaw Ghetto. You can feel the emotional numbness as he witnesses horrific cruelty, suffers great deprivations, and loses hope. Seeing a colorful parakeet flying into the bleak ghetto makes him think of the outside world, where some people are going about their normal lives, while he and his family are suffering so much deprivation, and is bewildered how this can possibly be happening. He alternates between hopelessness and finding the courage to fight….and ultimately , like the parakeet ‘flies out of the ghetto.’ I really wasn’t quite certain if the young man actually was able to escape, or if he was shot down, and thus ‘fled’ the ghetto…… I hope he was able to escape and bear witness to the atrocities suffered by the Jews.
This book was a really quick read…the story being told with no waste of words…straight to the point…without embellishment…it wallops you with the facts of everyday life in the ghetto. The pages with only a phrase, or a sentence or two….the black pages…..the sketches that add so much to the story…. all give you a feeling of the numb horror felt by the young man.
I have read a number of books set in this time period, and I cannot imagine being caught up in such horrific events. But I am wondering what age this book is aimed at, as it says it is for ‘young readers.’ While I think students should be told the truth about what happened in that time period, I think it could be overwhelming and frightening for ‘young’ readers. I would hope it would not be aimed at kids below the Jr Hi level. All in all, a somber read, but as the saying goes, if we don’t learn from history, we are destined to repeat it. Sadly, there are parts of the world where such attempts at genocide are still going on. (*****)
macnoid | Aug 9, 2013
*
I received my advance copy of “The War Within These Walls” today.
I started to thumb through it, and was caught!
I was unable to stop reading the text.
I was transfixed by the images.
I could not put down this story until it concluded!The tale is of the Warsaw Ghetto of World War II, told from the perspective of Misha, a Jewish teenager, and an eyewitness to the atrocities and horrors within the walls erected by the Nazis.Superb book, for early teens and up. (**** 1/2)fuzzi | Aug 8, 2013 |

LibraryThing

♦♦♦

 The War Within These Walls

Misha, almost a teenager, lives with his close-knit family in Warsaw and has taken for granted the joys of swimming in a public pool, the freedom of shopping in any store or the pleasure of meeting up with his friends. In 1939, when the Germans march into Poland and systematically change everything, life as Misha knows it fades away and is replaced by a living nightmare. A wall is erected around the city and Misha learns what it means to be Jewish. He is forced to wear an armband, is plagued by daily hunger, and must live in crowded, dirty quarters where he is an eyewitness to cruelty and constant death. Misha, positive by nature, stubbornly clings to a will to survive and becomes part of an underground resistance movement. Led by the passionate Mordecai Anielewicz who will not let the Jews of the ghetto be taken “like sheep with no will of their own” to their death in a concentration camp, an uprising unlike any other is secretly planned. Misha realizes how great the odds are against survival but he is honored to be part of a movement “that will shake our people awake and the eyes of the world will be on us.” For several days, this small band of hopeful resistant fighters bond together, hiding out in fortified bunkers and rooftops, until the last safe place, the sewers, are saturated with kerosene, and few are able to climb out alive. Like a cat with nine lives, Misha is one of the handful of survivors and is determined to begin a new life of peace far away from the atrocities of the ghetto.

This hard-hitting saga will remain in the reader’s mind long after the close of the last page. Told through the eyes of Misha, the lan­guage is simple yet poignant as he describes the demise of the world around him and the suffering of family and friends. Black and white stylized ink drawings on larger white back­grounds capture the raw emotional turmoil—a pair of hands gripping a barbed wire, a tired young man with bony arms pulling a heavy cart, a Rabbi with his head bent down in sad­ness. A white page is often followed by a page with a black background and the text, usually limited to a phrase or word, is highlighted in white print. This technique is very powerful as it regulates the pacing of the story and makes a very difficult subject, the Holocaust, more palatable to grasp.

Audiences who have been moved by The Boy in the Striped Pajamas (Boyne, 2004) and Night (Wiesel, 1955) will gravitate towards this title. Highly recommended for ages 14 and up.

Debra Gold, Jewish Book Council

♦♦♦

In 1939, when the Germans march into Poland and systematically change everything, life as Misha knows it fades away and is replaced by a living nightmare.

Misha, almost a teenager, lives with his closeknit family in Warsaw and has taken for granted the joys of swimming in a public pool, the freedom of shopping in any store or the pleasure of meeting up with his friends. In 1939, when the Germans march into Poland and systematically change everything, life as Misha knows it fades away and is replaced by a living nightmare. A wall is erected around the city and Misha learns what it means to be Jewish. He is forced to wear an armband, is plagued by daily hunger, and must live in crowded, dirty quarters where he is an eyewitness to cruelty and constant death. Misha, positive by nature, stubbornly clings to a will to survive and becomes part of an underground resistance movement.

Led by the passionate Mordecai Anielewicz who will not let the Jews of the ghetto be taken “like sheep with no will of their own” to their death in a concentration camp, an uprising unlike any other is secretly planned. Misha realizes how great the odds are against survival but he is honored to be part of a movement “that will shake our people awake and the eyes of the world will be on us.” For several days, this small band of hopeful resistant fighters bond together, hiding out in fortified bunkers and rooftops, until the last safe place, the sewers, are saturated with kerosene, and few are able to climb out alive. Like a cat with nine lives, Misha is one of the handful of survivors and is determined to begin a new life of peace far away from the atrocities of the ghetto.

This hard-hitting saga will remain in the reader’s mind long after the close of the last page. Told through the eyes of Misha, the lan¬guage is simple yet poignant as he describes the demise of the world around him and the suffering of family and friends. Black and white stylized ink drawings on larger white back¬grounds capture the raw emotional turmoil—a pair of hands gripping a barbed wire, a tired young man with bony arms pulling a heavy cart, a Rabbi with his head bent down in sad¬ness. A white page is often followed by a page with a black background and the text, usually limited to a phrase or word, is highlighted in white print. This technique is very powerful as it regulates the pacing of the story and makes a very difficult subject, the Holocaust, more palatable to grasp.

Audiences who have been moved by The Boy in the Striped Pajamas (Boyne, 2004) and Night (Wiesel, 1955) will gravitate towards this title. Highly recommended for ages 14 and up.

Debra Gold, The Jewish Voice, January 10, 2014

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