Tuesday, January 14, 2014

The War Within These Walls by Aline Sax, illustrated by Caryl Strzelecki

A young boy and his family are forced into the Warsaw ghetto, along with all the Jews of Poland.  After years, the Nazis prepare to liquidate the ghetto, and some of the Jews prepare to fight back.

It's not a graphic novel, exactly.  Although I think I'd shelve it with graphic novels, because I think that's where someone would look for it.  It's more an illustrated novels.  It's a beautifully put together book.  The words and illustrations are kept separate.  I found this allowed me to focus deeply on both words and images without getting distracted by one or the others.  Sometimes words appeared on black pages, all alone.  Sometimes the text was very short, other times it would be a whole page.

The illustrations were powerful.  They were done in black and white and were made up of hundreds of individual line strokes.  The illustrations were so full of emotion.  You could feel the pain and despair, the hopelessness and darkness these people were feeling.

In the story we follow the young boy and his family, first as the Nazis move into Poland and restrictions are put on Jews, and then to the entire Jewish population being moved into the ghetto.  The ghetto was so crowded, and there was so little food coming in, everyone was slowing starving to death, or being wiped out by disease.  People actually volunteered to get on the Nazi trucks (which took them to concentration camps) in the hopes they were being taken somewhere better.

The boy uses the sewers to sneak out of the ghetto and bring food to his family, until the Nazis begin using flame throwers to kill the smugglers in the sewers.  Then he is afraid to do anything, until he meets Mordechai Anielewicz, who is organizing Jews to fight back.  They know they cannot win, but they decided they will not quietly submit to death any longer.

Very powerful and beautifully done.

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