The Boy: A Holocaust Story

Written by Dan Porat
Review by Patricia O’Sullivan

Of all the photos taken of the Holocaust, none was more haunting to historian Dan Porat than one taken by a Nazi photographer during the liquidation of the Warsaw ghetto. At the center of the photo is a young boy with his hands raised in surrender. Nazi officers stand behind the boy. On the other side of the boy is a group of people also with their hands in the air. Porat kept seeing the photo at Holocaust museums and heard from several curators how the young boy in the photo survived and settled in New York after the war. It is a good story, but Professor Porat wanted to know more.

In writing The Boy, Porat relied primarily on research and explains that he filled in gaps in the story by drawing on “a priori imagination” rather than speculation. It is an interesting approach to history, but it makes the book difficult to categorize. The Boy consists of the five overlapping stories of three Nazi officers and two Warsaw ghetto inhabitants. The individual stories are compelling and seek to explain how each person got to the moment in the photo and what happened after the photo was taken. However, Porat maintains the most important question is not what happened? but rather “how one set of men saw in that photograph heroic soldiers combating humanity’s dregs while the vast majority of mankind sees here the gross inhumanity of man.”