Alexander Altmann stood in the dusty grey square, sweating. He looked up at the sun and guessed it was midday. His stomach growled. If he was home, his mother would be calling him to come in for lunch.
He felt his eyes start to well. “Stop it,” he said under his breath. “Stop feeling sorry for yourself.” He wiped his nose on his sleeve and waited for his number to be called. He didn’t need to look down at his arm at the number tattooed onto his skin. He knew it by heart. A10567.
The last time he’d heard his name was five weeks ago, maybe six. He hadn’t recognised his mother when she’d called out to him. Her head had been shaved and she wore mismatched shoes and a tattered dress that gaped at the neck and, for the first time since he’d stepped off the train, Alexander realised what he must look like.
Alexander Altmann is a fourteen-year-old boy and he’s in Buchenwald concentration camp. Every certainty, every connection he ever relied on has been stripped away. Even his name has been replaced by the number tattooed on his forearm. All that remains is memories and the need to survive. He cannot – will not – rely on anyone. He has to toughen up and forget his parents, his little sister Lili, his farm, his life, his beloved horses. To trust no one but himself. Not even Isidor who seems determined to be his friend, despite Alexander’s rejections. A job in the stables gives him a chance to work with horses, but it’s still a very dangerous place where a wrong word or action can mean beatings or death. The stakes intensify when Alexander is charged with breaking in the Commander’s wild new horse. Failure will mean death for them both.
Alexander Altmann’s life was comfortable and happy until Hitler began stripping Jews of all their rights and possessions. Their farm is given to others, his horses seized by the Nazis, his father taken away. All his notions of fairness, equity and justice are stripped away as he and fellow prisoners are dehumanised, starved and executed. Survival is an individual experience, even in a crowded prison camp. Alexander Altmann A10567 explores themes of loss, trust, survival, friendship and more. Alexander’s work with the scared horse he calls Midnight, reveals as much about Alexander and those around him as it does about horses. Alexander Altmann A10567 is a moving story about survival and integrity in the most brutal of circumstances. Recommended for upper-primary readers.
Alexander Altmann A10567, Suzy Zail Black Dog Books 2014 ISBN: 9781922179999
review by Claire Saxby, Children’s author and bookseller