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Jack Mandelbaum is a Holocaust survivor born in 1927 in the free state of Gdańsk (Danzig). His experiences as a boy during World War II were the subject of Andrea Warren's children's book Surviving Hitler: A Boy in the Nazi Death Camps.
Jack – Janek in Polish – grew up in a Jewish home in the Baltic Sea port city of Gdynia, Poland. His father, Majloch Mandelbaum, had been drafted to serve in the Baltic and stayed in the region to start a fish cannery. In August 1939, afraid Gdynia would be bombed, Majloch Mandelbaum sent the family inland to Dzialoszyce, Poland, where he had been raised in a Hasidic home. A month later, they received notice that his father was in a concentration camp. (Years later, Jack learned that his father had been arrested on Sept. 14, 1939, with 400 Polish intelligentsia – many of them non-Jews – and survived almost to the end of the war, dying in Stutthof in 1944.)
Jack was 12 when Hitler invaded Poland in 1939. Later, the 14-year old Jack helped support his family by substituting for people who paid him to take their place in forced labor. In June 1942, the Nazi soldiers deported the Jews from Jack's city, and he was separated from his mother and brother forever. A document verifying Jack's work as the mayor’s electrician saved him – but not his mother, sister, or brother – from the gas chambers.
The group he was in were taken to the forced labor camp at Blechhammer. After 6 months in Blechhammer, Jack was moved to a different camp. The worst camp Jack had been to was Gross-Rosen. He was 18 when the war ended. There was a bomb raid, and the Nazi guards abandoned the camp. Jack Mandelbaum was liberated from Dornhau in May 1945.
Food became a major issue and once word spread came that the Americans had food, many survivors gravitated to Frankfurt in the American zone, and went to the displaced persons' camp where they were checked over by a doctor. Jack was 5' 7" and weighed 80 lbs.
Jack Mandelbaum decided to start over and build a new life in America. He and his Uncle Sigmund Mandelbaum traveled together to American in June 1946, where he settled in Kansas City. With his close friend Isak Federman, Jack founded the Midwest Center for Holocaust Education in Overland Park, Kansas in 1993.
Critical reception of the book
Awards for Surviving Hitler: A Boy in the Nazi Death Camps included the 2004 William Allen White Children's Book Award for grades six to eight, the American Library Association's Robert F. Sibert Honor Book for Most Distinguished Informational Book for Children; and Outstanding Children's Book from the American Society of Journalists and Authors