On Holocaust Remembrance Day – A Review of David Tabatsky’s “The Boy Behind the Door”

The Central Train Station of Amsterdam, where Salomon Kool departed the city on more than one occasion with resistance fighters to flee the Nazi occupation
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By Guy Genin

Although there is more to tell about David Tabatsky’s, “The Boy Behind the Door”, it is a book to be aware of on this day that remembers the Holocaust, Friday, January 27th, 2023.

Author, David Tabatsky

Juvenile historical fiction about the Holocaust? Yes, it sounds sketchy, and we were skeptical too. But kids have to learn about the Holocaust sometime and somehow. Where do you start?

There is plenty of advice on where NOT to start. The Montreal Holocaust museum wisely cautions against starting with “Einsatzgruppen or any other topic that could traumatize” [1].  The US Holocaust Museum tactfully steers us away from heartwarming Holocaust escape novels to “avoid romanticizing history” [2]. They also cautions against those black and white stories that many of us grew up with,  admonishes us to “avoid simple answers to complex questions” [2].

The Portuguese Synagogue of Amsterdam, which was violently closed during the Nazi occupation

Advice on good starting points is harder to find. When teaching our kids, the US Holocaust Museum advises us to “contextualize the history”, and the Montreal Holocaust Museum advises us to “use personal stories to humanize history, develop empathy among students, [and] understand the complexity and diversity of experiences related to the Holocaust” [1]. In this light, we concluded that a juvenile historical Holocaust novel might be worth a read, and with a tinge of trepidation, we opened David Tabatsky’s new novel, “The Boy Behind the Door.”

The Boy Behind the Door

We couldn’t put it down. And neither could our kids.

Tabatsky based his story on in-depth interviews with Salomon Kool, who as a Jewish boy living in Amsterdam in the 1930s and 40s was the only member of his family to (narrowly) escape the Nazis. This riveting story is expertly told as Tabatsky places us right in with Kool’s family as they experience the creeping dread of Amsterdam at the start of World War II. Eventually Kool must set out alone, and Tabatsky immerses readers young and old in the the murky and terrifying diversity of people and vicissitudes of luck that kids like Kool struggled to navigate, often with no path out.  Readers across generations will relate to Salomon Kool and his pre-war world. Beginning this book you are likely to be immersed and not want to put it down.

The original Jewish Theatre of Amsterdam, shut down by the Nazis and used as a deportation center to send the city’s Jews to concentration camps, and now being restored and scheduled to re-open next year

“The Boy Behind the Door” can be purchased from Amsterdam Publishers (Oegstgeest: Amsterdam Publishers, 2022).at https://amsterdampublishers.com/books/the-boy-behind-the-door/


[1] https://museeholocauste.ca/en/resources-training/5-tips-teach-history-holocaust-elementary-school/ 
[2] https://www.ushmm.org/teach/fundamentals/guidelines-for-teaching-the-holocaust

Photos are courtesy of David Tabatsky

Check back soon for an added section including a Q&A with David Tabatsky


1 Comment

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