The story begins in 1939 in Krakow. The Nazis are rolling over Poland when ten-year-old Yanek and his family hear the first bombs explode. Jews are penned in a small area by the army, and soon their neighborhood is sealed off behind a wall, the image of which is poignantly evoked by the book’s cover. Despite increasing danger, the Jews struggle to preserve their identity and family life. Friends and relations, at great personal risk, give Yanek his bar mitzvah in a secret nighttime ceremony. Soon after, though, the trucks arrive, taking family after family away to imprisonment and death. Yanek is separated from his parents and begins his hellish term as a starved, exhausted slave laborer. He will, against all odds, survive ten different concentration camps before the war is ended.
Through it all, Prisoner B-3087, the boy who was Yanek, struggles to stay alive and to somehow retain his humanity and his sense of right and wrong. This novel is based on the true story of Jack Gruener, who survived despite the best efforts of sadists and psychopaths to kill him. Although the subject is grim, the telling is handled in a way which should enlighten and engage (but not overwhelm) middle grade readers.