Eight year old Srulik is searching the garbage for food when his mom goes missing, leaving him unable to find his way home. Srulik joins a gang of homeless kids, but when a roundup occurs in the Jewish ghetto he flees to Poland. A group of orphaned Jewish kids who live in the forest teach Srulik how to steal, hunt, cook, and survive on his own. After he is separated from the group Srulik uses the name Jurek Staniak and makes his way from village to village looking for work. Jurek moves on when he is mistreated or when it is discovered that he is Jewish. He manages to survive despite the loss of an arm and many other challenges. In the end he has a difficult time letting go of his fake identity, but he eventually remembers his past and decides to stay in a Jewish children's home and go to school.
The power of this story is in the reader's knowledge that it is based on true events. In the epilogue Orlev states that Jurek "told the story of his years in wartime Poland to many people, all of whom thought he was exaggerating." It may indeed seem unbelievable that a young boy would be able to survive such conditions, especially after losing an arm, but knowing that it really did occur helps to draw the reader into the story.
Other aspects of the story also help to make it seem realistic. Jurek's hair is dyed blond by the sun, he wears a religious medal around his neck, and knows Catholic prayers but he cannot hide the fact that he is circumcised, and this gives him away on more than one occasion. Jurek is able to speak Hebrew, Polish (without a Jewish accent), some German, and learns Russian, and this helps him get to know others throughout the story. The book was originally written in Hebrew and all that remains untranslated are the names of individuals and the use of Pan and Pani with names.
Jurek is always hungry and a lot of attention is given to what he eats. There are berries and mushrooms that can be found in the forest. Many different individuals had bread and sugar cubes. Some families gave him potatoes mashed with lard and fried onions. When a bird was caught it was beheaded, gutted, coated with mud, and cooked. When Jurek was really hungry he even ate raw meat. Jurek was able to catch animals with rocks, a sling shot, and traps made of hair. He learned how to make fires for cooking with matches and with a magnifying glass.
Attention was also given to Jurek's physical state. Shoes wore out quickly so Jurek walked barefoot when it was warm and wore any shoes available during the winter. He was always covered with lice and the people he stayed with would make him bath while they burned his old clothes. His hair was shaved on more than one occasion. At one point Jurek had chiggers and needed a salve. Another incident left him with a splinter that infected his heel and required him to seek help from a priest. When Jurek hurt his arm a doctor refused to treat him and the gangrene arm had to be amputated. Jurek had to learn how to function on his own with only one arm. This made life difficult, but he never gave up.Review Excerpts
"Although the novel has the pace of a picaresque adventure tale, the life-and-death stakes are always foregrounded in unmistakably straightforward terms: from his immediate family of seven, only Srulik and his older sister, who escaped to Russia before the war, survive. This is one of the better examples of Holocaust fiction in depicting the vagaries of human nature as villainous and heroic acts emerge unexpectedly, even causally, from a shifting wartime population threatened with catastrophe."
Hearne, B. 2003. Run, Boy, Run. Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books 57 (4): 162-63. Wilson Web (accessed June 11, 2007).Connections
Read Run, Boy, Run with other fiction and nonfiction books that take place in and around Poland during World War II. Use a map to try to locate the places mentioned in the books.
Fiction Young Adult Titles:
Along the Tracks by Tamar Bergman
The Boy in the Striped Pajamas: a Fable by John Boyne
The Devil's Arithmetic by Jane Yolen
Malka by Mirjam Pressler
Torn Thread by Anne Isaacs
All but My Life by Gerda Weissmann Klein
The Cage by Ruth Minsky Sender
In My Hands: Memories of a Holocaust Rescuer by Irene Gut Opdyke
Surviving Hitler: A Boy in the Nazi Death Camps by Andrea Warren