Tin Soldier in a Cardboard Box

A Young Boy in Hiding: Austria-Belgium-France

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Ari Livne
Ora Cummings
  • Jerusalem, Israel: 
    Yad Vashem Publications
    , July
     204 pages.
     For other formats: Link to Publisher's Website.


Beginning in the 1960s, Holocaust memoirs and testimonies have proliferated, offering us insight into wartime experiences, the impact of trauma, and the workings of memory. In this tradition, Ari Livne’s memoir, Tin Soldier in a Cardboard Box: A Young Boy in Hiding: Austria-Belgium-France, written in Hebrew in 2010 and translated into English and published by Yad Vashem Publications in 2015, provides an intimate and introspective account of what it was like to be a Jewish child living in wartime Brussels under an assumed Christian identity.  It is a must-read for anyone interested in the experiences of hidden children, their ways of coping, and the lasting impact of psychological trauma.

Livne left Vienna with his parents in 1938 at the age of three. After traveling to Belgium and spending time hiding together in Antwerp and Brussels, his parents brought him to a local home where he spent the remainder of the war living under an assumed identity. When the war ended, he learned of his parents’ fate, moved to France to live with surviving members of his family, and immigrated to Israel in 1961. The title of the book refers to a tin soldier and a cardboard box, Livne’s only toys as a young child.

His account begins with a dream in which he is visited by the heroic figure of Nathaniel, who defends the Jews and punishes the Germans. The name Nathaniel is the Hebrew equivalent of Dieudonne, the name he went by during his time in hiding, and he describes Nathaniel as his alter ego.  During the time spent hiding with his parents, Livne adopted many practices that would help him to cope with the difficulties ahead. He recalls the efforts made by his parents to create the feeling of a home despite their lack of security.  As the situation became increasingly dangerous, his parents decided to separate from him and placed him in Aunt Angele’s care. Adapting, but never feeling like he fully belonged, Livne lived in a state of constant tension and fear. At times when he was alone, he would allow himself to return to his true identity giving him the chilling sensation that he was living in two worlds, one real and one imagined. “I was living a double life. During the day, I was in every sense a Walloon child and at night, I was a Jewish child thirsty for revenge” (48). Through this coping strategy, he was able to preserve his self and his “own small corner of truth” (100).

In the epilogue, Livne explains his reasons for writing his story. “This is not an autobiography. It is a kind of biography of my war; a war that did not come to an end in the summer of 1945, but remained a fixed pattern, the basis for everything that happened to me” (199). Livne’s account meanders at times in a non-chronological, train-of-thought style that captures the mindset of a young boy forced to live in a state of fear and confusion. Several themes emerge: loss, memory, religion, identity, and the kindness, strength, and courage of strangers—many of them women—who protected and nurtured him along the way. While conveying hope and acknowledging the power of love in his life, Livne’s memoir tells us more about the traumatic inner world of a child living in a time of upheaval and unspeakable horror and how this continued to affect him after the war.



About the Reviewer(s): 

Alison Rose is part-time faculty member at the University of Rhode Island and at Ohio Wesleyan University.

Date of Review: 
December 27, 2019


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