One of the most favourite books of my childhood is “Tarnina” by Jerzy Szczygieł, which tells the story of a group of boys living in a small town on the Vistula River during World War II. These boys are Tadek, Kazik, Zymek, Jurek, Benek, Mietek, Stefek, Witek and Gietek. Many of these boys have lost their fathers, and live from day to day, experiencing hunger, poverty, lack of clothing and shoes first-hand. Their only entertainment is listening by the fire to books read by one of the boys, dreaming of faraway countries, expeditions, their own homes. As in the books, the boys have their own chief.
And so, influenced by the books they read, they decide to build their own shelter in the middle of the forest, a hut underground, in a thicket of blackthorn bushes. They eagerly set to work, temporarily forgetting about their hunger, as the achievement of their goal overshadows all their previous problems. Even after they have built their dream shelter, they have to fight for it against a group of hated Sandmen, eager to conquer the Tarnina.
They fight for their Tarn, winning over the Sandmen. They insulate it with moss, bring boards and nails to make their place look like a home where they can feel safe. They think of how to get food, steal from nearby fields and orchards, and carry off any food they can get their hands on. In winter they set up snares. They knew that the Germans would not venture into the forest for fear of partisans.
In the meantime, they commit many acts of sabotage against the occupants living in the town, stealing food from German warehouses, setting fire to a German cinema, even sneaking into German tanks to get weapons and warm clothing for Abram, a ghetto refugee who lived with the boys. I often return to this book, read when I was still a teenager, and I think it is worth recommending to young people nowadays, who only know stories about how things used to be, even twenty to thirty years ago, from stories and films. Thanks to this book, it can be explained to them so that they can appreciate what they have now, which boys like Tadek, or Stefek and Zymek could only dream about.