Monday, October 18, 2021

Boy From Buchenwald: The True Story of a Holocaust Survivor by Robbie Waisman with Susan McClelland

Boy From Buchenwald: The True Story of a Holocaust Survivor
by Robbie Waisman with Susan McClelland
Bloomsbury, 2021, 288 pages

In 1942, 11-year-old Romek Waisman was marching to work at a munitions factory in Poland when a SS officer pulled him out of line and ordered him to get in a truck headed for a death camp. Like all the other men already in the truck, Romek had been ill. But fate stepped in and Romek was given another chance to live. 

In April, 1945, American troops liberated the Buchenwald Concentration Camp, where Romek had eventually been sent. He was one of a 1,000 children who had survived the Holocaust and placed under the protective services of the Oeuvre de Secours aux Enfants or OSE. In June 1945, Romek, along with 426 other boys, including Elie Wiesel, was sent by train to Écouis, France, where they could be rehabilitated. Ironically, the boys were dressed in Hitler Youth uniforms that had been found in a storage room in Buchenwald so that they could discard their striped lice infested camp pajamas. On the trip to Écouis, many of the French people who saw them, mistook who they were and began throwing rocks at them.

At Écouis, there was plenty of food, clean sheets and bathrooms, but after years of starvation and mistreatment, the boy were somewhat feral. That, combined with anger, caused them to behave violently at times, to steal, and to hoard. 

In between learning how to adjust to life after living under Nazi oppression for so long, Romek slowly regains memories of his loving family and his happy childhood before the Nazis invaded Poland and his experiences working in the munitions factory and later in Buchenwald. Throughout his ordeal, Romek held on to the idea that after the war and liberation, he would return to his home in Poland, where his family would all be there waiting for him. Much of his journey, then, is about coming to terms with the reality of what happened.

At one point, Romek's older sister is found and he journeys back to Germany to see her, but when she tells him she will be married soon and moving to Palestine, he returns to Écouis. There, he also meets a wealthy French couple Jean and Jane Brandt, who want him to meet their children. Jane begins taking Romek on cultural excursions, but when they offer to adopt him, he declines. 

After finally accepting the fact that only he and his sister survived, in 1948, at age 17, Romek emigrated to Canada, to begin a new chapter in his life and where he changed his name to Robert (Robbie) Waisman. Robbie married and had children, but it was many years before he could speak about his experiences under the Nazis. 

Boy From Buchenwald is a riveting read, and certainly one that is needed now as more and more survivors of Nazi atrocities are dying off. Robbie tells his story in an almost stream-of-consciousness manner, which might be confusing to some readers since it isn't always linear. And many of the incidents that Robbie writes about may also be difficult for them, but, despite that, this is a book that should be read and discussed. Robbie and his friends were so traumatized by what they experienced, yet they were still able to go on and lead productive lives. Ultimately, then, this book is quite inspiring and shows just how strong the human instinct to survive can be. 

Pair this book with Survivors Club: The True Story of a Very Young Prisoner of Auschwitz by Michael Bornstein for another important survivor story.

This book is recommended for readers age 10+
This book was an eARC gratefully received from NetGalley


  1. This is a new one to me, Alex. Thank you. Yes, stories like this are needed, though always hard to read how terrible the treatment, also that some today are calling that time a hoax. Thanks!

  2. This sounds like an extraordinary book. Our young people really need to be exposed to these stories. Thanks for telling me about it.