The International School for Holocaust Studies
The Boys: Triumph Over Adversity
Reviewed by Yael Weinstock
Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 2001
Martin Gilbert craftily tells the story of 732 survivors, who called themselves 'The Boys,' though the group included about 80 girls.
While this book recounts the devastation and disintegration of the lives of these 732 young Jews, most of whom were around 9 or 10 years old when the war broke out, it also generates feelings of hope, of triumph over adversity, as included in the title. It was difficult for children to survive the Holocaust. Sent to ghettos and work camps, these boys struggled to survive, while their parents, grandparents, and siblings were murdered, sometimes in front of them. Gilbert writes detailed chapters enumerating their experiences in ghettos, deportations, labor camps, death camps, and on death marches.
Many of "the boys" had been friends before the war, shared wartime experiences, and had built life-long attachments by the time of liberation, as the Central British Fund brought them to Britain after World War II. Gilbert also includes pre-war Jewish life, liberation, and their journeys to Britain. Others met in Britain, when they joined the '45 Aid Society, their self-founded charitable organization. Their families destroyed, they created a family among themselves. In that, this is a story of survival.
Though this book is long, it can be useful in the classroom for grades 11 and 12. Each chapter can be taken by itself, independent of the rest of the book, as an episode in the experiences of prewar Europe, the Holocaust, and liberation. Not to be discounted, the detailed descriptions of the events that occurred in trying to bring these young adults to Britain as refugees is unparalleled to most accounts of the survivors' post-war existence. Students will be enthralled with Gilbert's writing, and will find this book more interesting as it tells the personal stories of real people.