Jakub Szabmacher at age five is a skinny, slightly sulky boy proud of his neat appearance and totally secure in the love of his poor but tightly knit family. His entire village is poor, and as the war draws nearer, their few remaining resources dry up entirely. Though outside help is sought, no help comes - there are simply no funds. Concentration camps open across Germany, one outside Lublin in Majdanek, another in Belzec. Sorbibor is opened; Flossenburg, where Jakub is sent, is the fourth camp to be opened in Germany. He watches truck loads of men leaving his village and comes home to find his father gone. He will lose the remainder of his family in a few short years.
Alicia Nitecki quilts Jakub's (Jack Terry) memories of the war together with private interviews of other Flossenburg concentration camp inmates, private letters, and historical data into an account that reminds us of horror almost beyond comprehension. I had never heard of Flossenburg concentration camp - now I ask myself why I had never heard of not only this camp but so many others. I asked other people I knew, some of them who have studied WWII extensively. Not one of them had heard of Flossenburg, which is a tragedy.
Twice as many people died in Flossenburg as at Dachau; both were death camps - in Flossenburg the method was extermination by work rather than gas. At fourteen, Jakub watches people murdered on a daily basis, men hanged, watches other boys his age go mad. He survives to see the liberation of the camp by Americans and is adopted into one of their families.
In an era in which the term "survivor" often brings to mind a television program touted as "a reality show," this book is tremendously important. It should be part of the required reading in high schools and colleges across this country. It has been said that if we forget history, we are doomed to repeat it; expanding on that, how we remember is as important as keeping the memory alive. This is a five star book.