Thursday, November 14, 2013

The War Within These Walls by Aline Sax/Illustrated by Caryl Strzelecki

Written by Flemish author, Aline Sax, this short illustrated novel tells about the Warsaw ghetto uprising during the Second World War. All of Aline Sax's novels are historical fiction which is not surprising since she has a doctorate in history and works at the University of Ghent's Institute for Public History.You can find the author's website here.

This beautifully crafted short novel with its stark Chinese ink and conte pencil drawings by illustrator Caryl Strzelecki tells the ugly story of the massacre of Jewish men, women and children, who decided to resist the German soldiers sent to "liquidate" the ghetto - a Nazi euphemism for mass murder.

The story is told in the voice of Misha, opens with the invasion of Poland in 1939 by the Nazis who quickly begin harassing and humiliating the Jewish population. Eventually the area where the Jewish population of Warsaw lived was sealed off, dividing the city into two sectors, the Jewish ghetto and the Aryan section. Jews from Warsaw and the surrounding countryside are forced into the ghetto.

Misha, his younger sister Janina, and their parents are forced to live in cramped rooms, filled with strangers. The Germans do not allow food to be brought into the ghetto and it isn't long before everyone is starving. Misha watches as his mother slowly starves, and his sister becomes listless and quiet. Inside him, anger grows but he knows he must find a way to get for his mother and sister. When tragedy strikes Misha's family, he becomes despondent.

But then he is recruited by Mordecai Anielewicz, the leader of the Jewish Combat Organization (Zydowska Organizacja Bojowa), a resistance group formed to fight the Germans in self-defense.

The prose in The War Within These Walls is sparse but effective. Accompanied by the stark ink drawings, Sax captures the entire range of emotions from horror and terror, to fear, despair and hopelessness that accompanied the annihilation of tens of thousands of Jewish men, women and children. 

Misha is an realistic voice for all those who suffered and died in this terrible tragedy, remembering for young generations today. He is a fictional character, but Mordecai Anielewicz was a real person, a very courageous man who believed that the Jewish people should resist the Germans, fight honorably in what inevitably would be to the death,  and let the outside world know what was going on. He was only twenty-three years old when he organized the ZOB.

You can view photographs from the Warsaw Ghetto at

The Holocaust Encyclopedia is also a good resource that provides detailed information about the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising.

Book Details:
The War Within These Walls by Aline Sax; illustrations by Caryl Strzelecki; translated from the Dutch by Laura Watkinson.
Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans Books for Young Readers        2013
173 pp.

No comments: