Run, Boy, Run by Uri Orlev

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Orlev, Uri.  Translated by Hillel Halkin.  2003.  RUN, BOY, RUN.  Boston:  Houghton Mifflin Company.  ISBN: 0-618-16465-0.

Uri Orlev’s Run, Boy, Run, winner of the 2004 Batchelder Award, is based on the true story of a young Jewish boy from Poland who escaped from the Warsaw Ghetto and survived the Holocaust in the Polish countryside.  Eight-year-old Srulik Frydman’s father renames him Jurek Staniak and although he tells him to find someone who can teach him to act like a Christian so he will survive, he also tells the boy “even if you forget me and Mama, never forget that you’re a Jew.”  Jurek’s tale of survival includes hiding in the Polish forests and living off the land and relying on the help of kind strangers, including several Polish farmers, a Nazi soldier, and even a member of the Gestapo and his mistress.  During one of his misadventures, the boy’s arm is caught in a threshing machine and the doctor at the hospital refuses to operate on a Jew.  He loses his arm and has to learn to survive and take care of himself with the handicap of having only one arm.  Eventually, the Russian army arrives in Poland and they take Jurek stays with them until they have to leave for Berlin.  When the war is finally over, Jurek is taken to an orphanage for Jewish children, completed his education, including graduating from University, and eventually immigrates to Israel. 

Orlev creates a realistic picture of what it must have been like for a young Jewish boy to try to survive on his own in the Polish countryside during World War II.  There are many details in this book that deepen the reader’s understanding of the time and place.  The boys in the Warsaw Ghetto and in the country towns play soccer using a tin can wrapped in rags as a ball.  Jurek hunts birds with a slingshot and by using a loop made from a horsehair to catch them by the leg.  He then covers them with mud and cooks them in a fire and when the mud is peeled off the cooked bird, the feathers come off as well.  In the forest, the boy sleeps in a tree, and when he is working on one of the farms, tending animals and doing other chores, he sleeps in the hayloft.  The boy must keep his pants on and not let people see his penis, even while bathing, because at that time only Jews were circumcised.  Sometimes Jurek receives kindness from unlikely places, like from the Nazi soldier who finds him and takes him to a bunker and provides him with food and supplies.  The soldier explains why he does not turn Jurek over to the Gestapo:

War, he said, cursing it.  It’s just my luck to have caught a blond, one-armed Jewish boy.  What is a blond, one-armed Jewish boy?  He’s only a boy.  And what am I?  I’m only a soldier.

There are several descriptions of Jurek receiving clothing and shoes that are much too large for him and the way he tries to alter the clothes, cutting the legs and sleeves with a knife or piece of broken glass, and stuffing the shoes with paper to help keep them on.  Orlev also describes the unsanitary conditions.  Since he sleeps in the barn with farm animals and does not get the opportunity to bathe or wash his clothes regularly, Jurek often has lice, and when someone gives him new clothes, his old clothes are so bad they have to be burned.  One of the scenes describes Jurek’s first shower at the orphanage, “Along the other wall was a series of glass partitions.  Between every two partitions were pipes ending in what looked like the nozzle of a garden hose.” 

The bravery and resourcefulness of young Jurek is an inspiration to everyone in difficult circumstances.  His survival is remarkable and shows that sometimes a strong spirit can defy the odds.  The fact that this story is based on the true story of a man Orlev met in Israel makes it even more amazing and inspiring.  It is important for modern people to be exposed to stories of the Holocaust so that they never forget and never let their guard down and let another Hitler rise to power.  When Orlev was awarded the 1996 Hans Christian Andersen Prize, the jury said:  "Whether his stories are set in the Warsaw Ghetto or his new country Israel, he never loses the perspective of the child he was. [...] Uri Orlev shows how children can survive hard years of deprivation and despair without bitterness in harsh and terrible times."

Works cited:
Biography of Uri Orlev from the Internationales Literaturfestival Berlin 2004 Website at  Accessed March 5, 2006.

By Monica Wood