- The Boy, A Holocaust Story
The scene is one of chaos. Surrounded by terrified men, women and children, a small boy raises his arms, as if in the act of surrender. Behind him stand several SS guards with rifles at the ready. If you have studied the Holocaust even minimally, you know the iconic image I have described. I have read numerous historical accounts of this photograph, its origins as well as its place among the many surviving primary sources left behind after the death and destruction. I have encountered it hundreds of times over my twenty years of teaching in the public schools. In fact, the nature of this famous photograph makes it an invaluable classroom tool. Because it gives us so much detail, and yet so little information, it causes us to wonder and to question. My friend and a child survivor, Peter L. Fischl, found the photograph so compelling that he composed a poem entitled "To the Little Polish Boy Standing with His Arms Up" as a tribute to this child and indirectly, to all children who were caught up in the Holocaust. [End Page 184]
In The Boy, A Holocaust Story, historian and author Dan Porat weaves an engaging story that offers the reader a unique opportunity to "enter the photograph," so to speak. Described as historical-literary narrative, The Boy combines literary imagination with facts from letters, journals, official reports, to reconsider what this photograph can teach present day readers. Porat accomplishes this feat by identifying five people whose lives intersected in the photograph of the boy, making them the main characters of the book; we follow them as their lives and experiences lead them into the streets of Warsaw in 1942-43, where over 300,000 Jews were deported and murdered. While the boy is the central figure in the photograph, it is this supporting cast of five that tells us the story of that day, of how they came to be there, and what happened to them in the days and years that followed.
One of the main characters is Josef Stroop )later changed to Jurgen(. Having served his native Germany proudly in World War I, Stroop joined the Nazi Party in 1932 and won notice from Himmler and Hitler for his cruelty to Jews. By 1934, he was marching behind Himmler during the Nazi rallies in Nuremberg. He was promoted to SS Brigadeführer und Generalmajor der Polizei in 1943 and was personally sent by Himmler in the spring of that year to liquidate the Warsaw Ghetto. Stroop documented his work in a collection of facts and photographs entitled The Stroop Report. Stroop's personal photographer snapped the photograph with the little boy, and Stroop himself titled the photograph "Pulled from the bunker by force." He sent a copy of his report to Heinrich Himmler with this title emblazoned across the cover: "The Jewish Quarter of Warsaw Is No More!"
Another of Porat's characters, Josef Blosche, was raised on a farm in the Sudentenland before he joined a paramilitary arm of the Nazi Party. Blosche read and studied Der Stürmer and other tools of the propaganda machine, and was finally drafted into the SS. By 1940, he had been thoroughly trained and assigned to the border between Germany and the Soviet Union. Riding the wave of Operation Barbarossa, Blosche was posted to Einsatzgruppen B, one of the infamous mobile killing squads; he was personally responsible for the murder of hundreds and possibly thousands of Jews. By 1943, Blosche was patrolling the streets of Warsaw for the Gestapo, killing Jews at every opportunity. In the photograph, he stands behind the little boy, his gun raised.
Franz Konrad, born and raised in the Austrian Alps, was an apprentice tradesman who joined the SDAP in the 1920s and by 1932 was a member of the Nazi party. His ambition and bravery were rewarded, and he was [End Page 185] transferred to Warsaw in 1942, promoted to the head of the confiscation division. Here, Konrad and 4,000 forced laborers confiscated and stored all...