Title: Alexander Altmann A10567
Author: Suzy Zail
Genre: Historical Fiction
Publisher: Black Dog Books
Published: 1st May 2014
Synopsis: The story of a young Jewish boy who must learn to trust others to survive. Based on a true story.
Fourteen-year-old Alexander Altmann doesn’t need to look at the number tattooed on his arm. A10567: he knows it by heart. He also knows that to survive Auschwitz, he has to toughen up. When he is given the job of breaking in the commander’s new horse, their survival becomes intertwined. Alexander knows the animal is scared and damaged, but he must win its trust. If he fails, they will both be killed.
- Notable Book, Older Readers, Children’s Book Council of Australia Book of the Year Awards, 2015
- “A confronting but gripping novel … a powerful story of hope, adversity and redemption.” Junior Books+Publishing
- Suzy’s first book for young people, The Wrong Boy, was short-listed for the 2013 CBCA Book of the Year awards and the 2013 Adelaide Festival Award for Literature.
In the years towards the end of the war, more and more prisoners – Jews, homosexuals, the clergy and many other groups the Nazis wanted to imprison and get rid of were sent to the many concentration camps the Germans set up across Europe and the Third Reich throughout the war. In this story, though, a Jewish boy at Auschwitz-Birkenau has his story told.
Alexander Altmann has been at Auschwitz for several weeks towards the end of the war. During roll call one day, he volunteers to join the Horse Command, where he is recruited to train the commandant’s new horse, Midnight. But Midnight is a troubled horse, and Alexander knows it will take time to gain his trust – much more than the kapo and Commandant have given him. Yet he also knows that to survive, he must train Midnight to the standard the commandant wishes.
Alexander sees much brutality at the camp and survives it all with the help of his friend, Isidor, and training Midnight. But as the camp starts to disintegrate as the war pulls to a close, Alexander faces a new fight for survival.
Based on a true story Suzy heard at the Holocaust Centre in Melbourne, Alexander Altmann A10567 takes a topic that is dark, and depressing, and tells a story that younger readers can access, and understand though the eyes of a child. It takes the backdrop of war, and shows what people had to do to survive in those conditions, and how they were so conditioned into not knowing their names, that an act of kindness from someone in the group responsible for their fate meant the world to them. It also shows that small things like a horse, could bring some semblance of humanity back for them.
The Holocaust and World War Two is a touch subject and time in history to read about. Suzy Zail has managed to capture the horrors in a way that is both dark and realistic, and shows that is was truly traumatic, but at the same time, there is a sense of humanity in the characters and this ensures that the voices of the young are heard. There are true horrors in this book. Yet it is written in a way that these horrors are deftly communicated to younger readers to introduce them to the Holocaust, or complement learning about it and give it context and a human face to those who suffered. Kike Morris Gleitzman and Jackie French, she shows the realism of history through the eyes of a child, who still has hope and holds onto that hope through dark times.