In the historical fiction novel Prisoner B-3087, 10-year-old Yanek Gruener is at the mercy of the Nazis who have taken over Poland. Though he’s taken prisoner and sent from one concentration camp to another—and in turn, loses everything and everyone he loves—he’s able survive the horrors of his experience through courage, determination, and luck.

    Yanek’s story is both inspiring for students and provides an opportunity for teachers to teach lessons on World War II and the Holocaust in a way that fosters a deeper connection to the material. During reading, you can engage students with activities focused on history and geography, such as tracing Yanek’s route and researching survivors of the Holocaust. Here’s how:

    Study Yanek’s route.

    Encourage students to research the route Yanek traveled during the three years he was a prisoner of the Nazis. 

  • Distribute a blank map of Europe to the students. 
  • Ask students to record their research by drawing the route from Yanek's starting point in Krakow, to each of the camps, to his home in Munich. 
  • For students needing an extra challenge, have them measure the distance from each place in order to calculate the total distance of Yanek’s terrible journey.
  • Research survivors of the Holocaust.

    Help students understand how the Nazis dehumanized prisoners.

  • Ask students why they think the Nazis identified prisoners by number instead of by name. (It dehumanizes them.) 
  • Remind students that one way to fight cruelty and dehumanization is by knowing people as unique individuals. Have students work in pairs to research and present on a Holocaust victim. 
  • Encourage students to find details, such as birth, death, interests, career, family; anything that will take them from a number to a unique human being. 
  • Have students present their findings using graphics, sound, and visual displays.    

    After reading, you’ll definitely want to encourage students to further engage with Yanek’s story and the peril he suffered through writing. Here are 5 writing prompts you can use to help students reflect on Yanek’s experience and increase their understanding of such an important lesson in history:

1. Compare and Contrast 
When the Germans invade Kraków, what changes for the Polish people? How does the invasion affect Jews as compared to non-Jews?

2. Analyze Character 
When Yanek loses his whole family, how does he show character? What promise does he make?

3. Setting
Describe Birkenau concentration camp. How did it compare to the camps Yanek survived through previously?

4. Analyze Character 
When the boy turned thirteen at Birkenau, what gifts did Yanek give to him?

5. To promote critical thinking
How did Yanek survive the Holocaust?

    To further inspire students to reflect on Yanek’s story, remind students that the book’s author Alan Gratz wrote Prisoner B-3087 after he interviewed Ruth and Jack Gruener about Jack’s experience in the concentration camps. Students can do the same thing by interviewing each other about a life experience and then use the interview responses to write their classmates’ stories.