‘We lived on a bunk built for four but in times of overcrowding, it slept seven and at times even eight. There was so little space on the berth that when one of us wanted to ease his hip, we all had to turn in a tangle of legs and chests and hollow bellies as if we were one many-limbed creature, a Hindu god or a centipede. We grow intimate not only in body but also in mind because we knew that though we were not born of one womb, we would certainly die together.’
Alex Ehren is a poet, a prisoner and a teacher in block 31 in Auschwitz-Birkenau, the children’s block. He spends his days trying to survive while illegally giving lessons to his young charges while shielding them as best he can from the impossible horrors of the camp. But trying to teach the children is not the only illicit activity that Alex is involved in. Alex is keeping a diary…
Originally published as THE PAINTED WALL, Otto Kraus’s autobiographical novel, tells the true story of 500 Jewish children who lived in the Czech Family Camp in Auschwitz-Birkenau between September 1943 and June 1944.
The Children’s Block is a novel that came together from a survivor’s diary entries, although the author has incorporated his own experiences of his time in the camps, as well as used research and interviews so that he keeps it as true to what happened in them, as well as included some real life people, one in particular being the notorious Dr Mengele.
With books like this one, I always devour any introduction or afterword as I find these every bit as informative as the stories themselves. As well as there being an author’s note, there is also an introduction from Otto’s wife. I could feel the emotions stir inside me even before beginning the actual story.
The story focuses on the block where the children were kept within the camp. What the adults had to endure is something that no adult should have to endure but to read of the children being treat in the same manner, was heart breaking. I liked how the author incorporated some real life figures in the story as well as telling us about the dwarf’s that were also captured and held there. Dwarf’s are not mentioned in many non fiction books that I have read, although I have read one that was solely dedicated to the subject and it was a real eye opener.
The Children’s Block is both an informative and compelling read. It will certainly make you go through an array of emotions. The authors own experiences really brings the horrors of time in the camps to life. I have to admit I’m not a lover of how it ends as it’s rather abrupt but even so, it’s still a story I would urge everyone to read.
My thanks to Penguin Random House UK and Tracy Fenton (The Book Club) for my advanced readers copy of this book. All opinions are my own and not biased in anyway.
The Children’s Block is available to purchase from Amazon. (Please note that link used is an affiliate link).