Paperback | November 25, 2014

byJona OberskiAfterword byJim ShepardTranslated byRalph Manheim

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A rediscovered masterpiece: an unblinking view of the Holocaust through a child’s eyes

Told from the perspective of a child slowly awakening to the atrocities surrounding him, Childhood is a searing story of the Holocaust that no reader will soon forget. As five-year-old Jona waits with his mother and father to emigrate from Nazi-occupied Amsterdam to Palestine, they are awakened at night, put on a train, and eventually interred in the camps at Bergen-Belsen. There, what at first seems to be a merely dreary existence soon reveals itself to be one of the worst horrors humanity has ever created. A triumph of heartrending clarity and dispassionate amazement, Childhood stands tall alongside such monuments of Holocaust literature as The Diary of Anne Frank, Elie Wiesel’s Night, and Primo Levi’s Survival in Auschwitz.

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From the Publisher

A rediscovered masterpiece: an unblinking view of the Holocaust through a child’s eyes Told from the perspective of a child slowly awakening to the atrocities surrounding him, Childhood is a searing story of the Holocaust that no reader will soon forget. As five-year-old Jona waits with his mother and father to emigrate from Nazi-occup...

Jona Oberski is a Dutch nuclear and particle physicist. He was born in 1938 and lives in Amsterdam.Jim Shepard is the author of The Book of Aron, a novel narrated by a child in a Warsaw Ghetto orphanage, as well as several other novels and collections of short stories, including Like You’d Understand, Anyway, which won The Story Prize ...

other books by Jona Oberski


Kobo ebook|Jun 9 2010


Format:PaperbackDimensions:112 pages, 7.76 × 5.09 × 0.29 inPublished:November 25, 2014Publisher:Penguin Publishing GroupLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:0143107410

ISBN - 13:9780143107415

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Read from the Book

MISTAKE“Don’t be afraid. Everything’s all right. I’m right here.”The hand on my cheek was my mother’s; her face was close to mine. I could hardly see her. She whispered and stroked my hair. It was dark. The walls were wood. There was a funny smell. It sounded like there were other people there. My mother lifted my head up and pushed her arm under it. She hugged me and kissed me on the cheek.I asked her where my father was.“There’s been a mistake, but everything will be all right. We’ve gone away for a few days with a lot of other people, but we’ll be going home soon and Daddy will be there too. They’ve made a mistake, so we’ll have to stay here for a few days, visiting the way we visited with Trude a while ago. Remember? Trude made cauliflower. But when it was on your plate you wouldn’t eat it, because you weren’t used to cauliflower. She tried to make you believe that babies come out of cauliflowers. But you know they come out of their mothers’ tummies. You came out of mine. Remember those pictures at home that show you coming out of my tummy and drinking milk from my breast, and having a bath. Remember?“Daddy had to go to the office yesterday morning. Then they came to get us, but you were very sleepy. Remember? We walked a long way. I left a note for Daddy, because they made a mistake, we really didn’t have to go. They’ll give Daddy the note and in a few days we’ll be going home again. There are lots of people here with children, so you won’t be bored. We haven’t got many toys because we had to leave in a hurry. I couldn’t even tell the woman next door. Later on, we were lucky enough to meet some people we knew. Remember? That nice Mr. L. joked with you. He promised to let Daddy know. He must have told him long ago. Maybe when it gets light tomorrow there’ll be a letter from Daddy.“There are other people here, that’s why we have to whisper. Otherwise, we’d wake them up, and all the people here are tired. You’re tired too. You slept the whole time in the train. Remember the train? No, angel, maybe not. You were too sleepy.“It’s too bad they made this mistake. But we’ll be home again in a few days.”Somebody shouted shhh. My mother whispered so close to my ear that it tickled. “Go to sleep now. I’m right here, I won’t go away. Tomorrow we’ll take a look at our camp, and in a few days we’ll go home to Daddy.”She gave me a kiss. The air in my nose was cold. It was cold under the blankets too. I cuddled up to my mother and her warm breath blew into my nose. • • • On the second day a letter came from my father, and on the fourth day there was a package. Every day I asked if we could go home. But she said no, it would be a few days. • • • A week later we went home. A few other people went, but most stayed. • • • My father was waiting for us.He kissed my mother and me and they cried.JUMPING JACK“You’re good at keeping your eyes shut,” my mother said. “Shut them good and tight. I’m going to carry you inside, and you can open them when I tell you. All right?”I shut my eyes. Through my closed eyelids I could see the light in my room. I heard my father. “Can we come in?” my mother called. She picked me up in her arms. I looked to see what was happening. “No, angel,” she said. “Shut them tight. You promised.” She carried me through the house. My eyes kept wanting to open, so I put my hand over them. I noticed we’d come to where my father was. “You can open them now.” In that same moment my father and mother began to sing “Happy Birthday to You.” My father and mother kissed me on the cheeks and I kissed them back. My father took me from my mother’s arms. My mother looked at me. I saw the lamp reflected in her dark eyes. I felt my father’s rough cheek and tickly hair on my cheek. His hair was black. My mother’s hair was red. We were wearing our dressing gowns. My father’s was light brown. My mother’s was light blue. There were all sorts of different-colored things on the table.“Aren’t you going to unwrap your presents?”I looked at my father. The colors of the things on the table were reflected in his eyes. I gave him a kiss on the nose. That made him laugh.“Don’t you want to see your presents?” He wanted to put me on the floor, but I was so comfortable just the way I was. I had one arm around his neck and I held him tight.“All this is for you.” My mother smiled at me and pointed at the table and kissed me. She picked up a red package, began to open it, and asked me to help her. While she held the package, I tried to get the paper off with one hand. It tore.“It doesn’t matter, it’s only the paper.” My father put me down on the floor and I pulled the paper off with both hands. Out came a flat wooden doll with strings. He was brown and red and yellow with a laughing face. My mother took hold of a string and held it up. “Here, pull this.” I held on to my father’s dressing gown with one hand and pulled the string with the other. My mother helped me. The jumping jack spread his arms and legs when I pulled and dropped them when I let go.“We’ll hang him up over your bed. Here, angel, hold him in both hands.” I took him. I had fun with my toy. My father had his arm around my mother’s shoulder, and all together we watched the jumping jack. I had to laugh every time he spread his legs. They laughed too.“There are lots of other presents. Look.” I looked at the jumping jack in my hand.“It’s too much at once,” my father said. “Let’s give him the rest later.” He grabbed me around the waist with his two big hands. He lifted me up and I flew through the air. He set me down on his shoulders, bent low to get through the doors, and plopped me down on my parents’ big bed. I crawled under the light-blue blankets. My father and mother drank tea in bed. We laughed at my jumping jack.They gave me the rest of the presents later.SHOPKEEPERThe door of the shop was behind my back. It was open and my mother was inside. I could hear her talking with the shopkeeper. The rain was coming down on my hood. My hands under my cape kept dry. I put one hand through the slit. I saw the raindrops coming down on my hand. The drops kept giving me little cold taps, each time in a different place.There was sand all around me. I took a light-yellow brick and put it down on end in the dark-yellow sand. I let go. It fell over. I smoothed the sand a little with the brick. Then it stayed up.My mother came and stood near me. “Isn’t it nice in the rain? Do you want your pail and shovel? I’ll get them for you.” I looked around. There was no one in sight. All I could see was the shop: a wet window and a dark hole. My mother called out to the shopkeeper. She said I was playing outside the door. The shopkeeper called back, “All right.” I looked after her. The shopkeeper came and stood in the doorway. “Nice rain, eh?” I pointed at my mother. “She’ll be right back,” he said. My mother tapped hard on the windowpane and waved to me. I laughed and waved back. I took another brick and stood it on end. It fell over every time I let go. Suddenly my mother was standing beside me. She shoveled sand into the pail. “You see?” she said. “This is how it’s done.” I knew that already. I started shoveling. “I’m going back up again,” she said, and kissed me on my wet forehead. I gave her a kiss on her wet chin.With my shovel I beat the sand flat. The bricks stayed up. My mother had brought a mold too. I put sand in the mold and made a row of sand pies. • • • The bricks fell over. I saw two feet. I stood up. A boy was looking at me. He lifted one foot and brought it down on a sand pie. I looked at the sand pies. Bam. The biggest one was squashed. He stamped on every one of them. The mold disappeared in the sand. “Ha ha ha,” he went and ran away. I had to laugh too. I took my shovel and dug the mold out of the sand. I made new pies on a flat stretch of sand. I filled the pail, I thought I’d make a big sand pie. I smoothed out a place with my hand. The feet almost stepped on my hands. I moved them away quickly and looked up at the boy. He stamped on all my pies. He shouted “Ha ha” and “Great” and “This is fun.” I looked at our window. My mother wasn’t there. The shop door was closed. My hood got pulled off my head. “Ha ha, what a crazy Jewish coat.” A lot of sand came down on my head. I began to cry. The pail fell on the ground beside me. I stood up. I ran to our house. I ran up the stairs. I banged on the door. My mother opened it. She picked me up. “Angel,” she said. “What is it?” She hugged me tight. She wiped the sand off my face with a washcloth. She kissed me and brushed the sand out of my hair. I stopped crying. “Oh, what a deep sigh,” she said. She took me over to the window. “Haven’t you brought your pail and shovel back?”She went and got them. I didn’t want to go with her. I looked out of the window. She came back. I ran to the door to meet her and asked if she had the mold too. She went back, but she couldn’t find the mold.

Editorial Reviews

“A book which will shock every reader with a heart.” —Isaac Bashevis Singer, winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature"Simple... terse... shattering." —Harold Pinter, winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature"A dark fairy tale … of the fears and anguish of a child, based on experiences that could not be grasped by reason, irrational yet truly real." —Heinrich Böll, winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature“An astonishing book—memorable, piercing.  It reaches to the very soul.” —Chaim Potok“Deserves to be widely read.” —The New York Times Book Review“A haunting jewel of a memoir that takes the holocaust a step beyond the tragic.” —Christian Science Monitor"A haunting Holocaust autobiography."—Atlanta Jewish Times“A child sees the barbarities of an event such as the Holocaust not in terms of race and politics, but in the way a Martian would see them, as amazing and stupefying instances of the cruelty of man.  Jona Oberski conveys this amazement in an unembroidered and memorable way.” —Thomas Keneally, author of Schindler’s List“This is a book that matters.  There is a purity in it which leaves you speechless, a humanity which gives you no rest.” —Die Zeit“This is not the book of the year, but the book of this damned century.  Childhood is going to reach everyone and go on reaching people for generations to come.” —Allan Sillitoe, author of Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner“It will shock, move you to tears. . . . Admirably understated . . . haunting.” —Daily Mail“Singular and powerful . . . There is no mawkish sentimentality here. . . . Childhood punches well above its weight, and everyone should read it.” —Historical Novel Society“A rare achievement and a delight . . . It approaches perfection.” —Asylum