Monday, August 8, 2011

The Boy: A Holocaust Story by Dan Porat 2010

"[The Boy] is a gripping, harrowing Holocaust story," from a review entitled, 'The Ghetto, the Nazis, and One Small Boy,' by Joseph Berger on Lens, a New York Times blog 10/12/2010

Dan Porat, whose parents fled Germany before the war, is a professor at Hebrew University. Because his specialty is visual representations of the Holocaust, he became especially interested in the iconic photo of a young Jewish boy being rounded up by the Nazis in the Warsaw ghetto.This photo is on the cover of this book.

This book is not a memoir, but Porat read many memoirs as part of his research.  His original intention was to try to uncover the identity of the young boy, a task others have attempted as well, but he states in his introduction that after completing all the research, he has no definite answers to the boy’s identity. But he uses this picture to examine some of the history of the Warsaw ghetto through the lives of five people: three Nazi agents and two Jewish ghetto residents.

The most important of the three Nazi agents he focuses on is SS General Jergen Stroop who was sent by the Nazis to deal with the ghetto uprising. After leveling the ghetto, he wrote what came to be known as the Stroop Report for which Stroop provided the title: “The Warsaw Ghetto Is No More.” The report included many photos to document Stroop’s accomplishments, including the one of the little boy. The report was sent to Himmler, and Stroop was awarded the Iron Cross which he coveted.

Porat also tells the story of Austrian SS officer Franz Konrad who was in charge of the appropriation of Jewish property in the ghetto and instrumental in its liquidation. And he tells the story of the only one of the three who actually appears in the photo: SS soldier Josef Blosche can be seen in the background aiming his gun at the little boy who has his hands raised.

The two Jewish residents whose stories he tells are Rivkah Trapkovits Farber and Tsvi Nussbaum. Rivkah Trapkovits Farber’s connection to the photo is tenuous. She wrote a memoir which has been published in Israel that suggests to the author that she might have been a witness to the roundup documented in the photo. Rivkah Trapkovits Farber’s story is one version of many such lives lived in the ghetto and in hiding. Her story is remarkable, starting with her active membership in Kibbutz Lodz-Borochov. When Lodz was invaded, she and other members fled to a similar Kibbutz in the Warsaw ghetto, but before long those who congregated in the ghetto kibbutz were living a precarious life which included hiding from Nazis who were searching for resisters and violators of ghetto rules. Their hiding place eventually exposed, she and others were herded onto cattle cars destined for the Majdanek concentration camp. But Rivkah jumped off the train and lived by her wits, posing as a peasant woman until the war was over.

There has been much debate over the years about whether Tsvi Nussbaum, now living in New York City, is the boy in the photo. Porat tells the story of the Nussbaum family, how Tsvi came to be orphaned when his parents were sent to death camps, how he went with an aunt to the Hotel Polski on the Aryan side of Warsaw where they were promised exit visas, how the Nazis had tricked them, rounded them up and carted them away, how he managed to survive the rest of the war, how after the war he was one of 186 orphans who sailed to Palestine on the Mataroa.

In Porat’s slim, well documented, book he gives a textured account of the convergence of a number of disparate people in the Warsaw ghetto. The significance of the photo is that the unidentified Jewish boy represents all of the innocent victims of Hitler’s Final Solution.

This memoir includes A Glossary of Terms, A Prologue, and an essay called On Photographs, History, and Narrative Style, It also includes a lot of documentation which appear in endnotes which list many memoirs, especially in Hebrew that Porat consulted. There is also a very helpful Index.

To watch a discussion with Dan Porat about his book that took place in Skokie, Illinois, click here.
To read an interesting article that researches the various possibilities surrounding the identity of the boy, click here.

To view the photos of the Warsaw ghetto included in the Stroop report, click here.

Hannah Blumenthal Porat – author’s mother
Dan Porat – son of Hannah; author

Erna Hamlet
Felix Fechenbach – married to Irma
Shmuel Trapkovits – married Devorah; second wife Sheindal
Dina Trapkovits – daughter of Samuel and Devorah
Nissan Trapkovits – son of Samuel and Devorah
Baruch Trapkovits – son of Samuel and Devorah
Rivkah Trapkovits – daughter of Samuel and Devorah; married to Fischel Farber
Haim and Jacob Farber – sons of Rivkah and Fischel
Zelda and Ephraim Trapkovits – children of Samuel and Sheindal
Haim Farber
Fischel Farber – Haim’s son; husband of Rivkah Trapkovits (see above)
Itzhak Katzenelson
Peshka Harman
Shmuel Greenberg
Moshe Rubenchik
Tsvi Kutzer
Chaim Kaplan
Emmanuel Ringelblum
Antek (Itshak) Zuckerman
Lunka Kozibrodzka
Aron Schultz
Jozio Schultz – son of Aron
Jacob and Ziporah Nussbaum
Yosef Nussbaum – son of Jacob and Ziporah; married to Chana
Tsvi Nussbaum – son of Yosef and Chana
Ilan Nussbaum – son of Yosef and Chana
Chana Nussbaum – daughter of Jacob and Ziporah; married to Shulim (Ziporah’s brother)
Tsivyah Lubetkin
Antek Zucherman
Zacharia Artstein
Malka Hornstein
Bluma Wiszogrodski
Rukhele Lauschvits
Thaddeus Stabholz
Helik Birenbaum
Halina Birenbaurm – sister of Helik
Lolek Skosowski
Adam Zurawin
David Guzik
Jan Rolnik – married to Ella Sendowska
Artur Rolnik – son of Jan and Ella
Danusia Rolnik – daughter of Jan and Ella
Helena Goldberg
David and Sophie Goetzel-Leviathan
Heinz Schenk
Heinz Galinski
Mark Berkowitz
David Margolick
Lucjan Dobroszycki
Sue Fishkoff
Aron Glanz-Leyeles

Frankfurt, Germany
New York City, NY
Hamburg, Germany
Berlin, Germany
Hillersleben, Germany
Kibbutz Lodz-Borochov, Lodz, Poland
Lomza, Poland
Grochow, Poland
Sandomierz, Poland
Warsaw Ghetto, Poland
Hotel Polski, Warsaw, Poland

Walbrzych, Poland
Kibbutz Mishmar ha-Sharon, Israel


  1. I finished the book just today. As a German, these stories grip my heart. It seems so hard to believe that people can turn into prime evil. As a Christian I am appalled what is considered Christian under the same banner. Not living the life that we are commanded to live but take our "faith" as an excuse for the crimes committed. No wonder so many true Christians left the Old World for the New and hence American Christians became the staunchest supporters of Israel and the Jewish people.
    "The Boy" is a great read and it allows you to get into the minds of those who had no scruple to commit these crimes.

    1. It is a tragic story and a very interesting book. I can tell you were very moved by it.
      Toby Bird