Fiction, Historic Fiction, Holocaust
Meg Waite Clayton
September 10, 2019
January 28, 2023 February 2, 2023
Reading by the Numbers, The Backlist Reader
In 1936, the Nazi are little more than loud, brutish bores to fifteen-year old Stephan Neuman, the son of a wealthy and influential Jewish family and budding playwright whose playground extends from Vienna’s streets to its intricate underground tunnels. Stephan’s best friend and companion is the brilliant Žofie-Helene, a Christian girl whose mother edits a progressive, anti-Nazi newspaper. But the two adolescents’ carefree innocence is shattered when the Nazis’ take control.
There is hope in the darkness, though. Truus Wijsmuller, a member of the Dutch resistance, risks her life smuggling Jewish children out of Nazi Germany to the nations that will take them. It is a mission that becomes even more dangerous after the Anschluss—Hitler’s annexation of Austria—as, across Europe, countries close their borders to the growing number of refugees desperate to escape.
Tante Truus, as she is known, is determined to save as many children as she can. After Britain passes a measure to take in at-risk child refugees from the German Reich, she dares to approach Adolf Eichmann, the man who would later help devise the “Final Solution to the Jewish Question,” in a race against time to bring children like Stephan, his young brother Walter, and Žofie-Helene on a perilous journey to an uncertain future abroad.
About the book
The book is about a true story even if a little fictionalised, in the sense that the author, as she says in the final part, added her own, especially where it is not known exactly how the story went.
What I think
The book is very beautiful, the hope that you read is very heartfelt and knowing this part of the history made me happy. I knew the rough outlines of the help England gave to Jewish children, but I didn’t know the story that deep.
The book is obviously very sad, it’s the first time I’ve cried, sobbing, so much so that I couldn’t breathe, since I read it while I had the flu, and I had to stop reading or I risked going into apnea.
The children were taken to England, but through Stephen and Walter we see how difficult the situation is for ‘grown’ children who are unable to be adopted. And that really hurts me. All their lives waiting for some couple to take them home and when they turn 18, they are asked to leave. How do you let this happen? Yes this book talks about a particular case, but nonetheless it makes you think and a lot, both in regards to adoptions and to refugees status.
I was sad to read about the last train, fictionalised here with the protagonist’s little sister, because not only Jews were affected, even dissidents and their families.
Really, I will never be able to understand people’s indifference and how this could happen in 1900s Europe. But we are seeing what happens in Eastern Europe (Russia may also have territory on the European continent but obviously I don’t even consider it part of this world) so maybe I shouldn’t be amazed, but every time I read about the Holocaust, I am. Of course you will never understand the mind of a psychopath and the psychopaths who followed him, but sometimes I just want to understand how such a thing could have happened. Not only of those psychopaths whose names we know, but also of ordinary people, of Christians who call themselves such. Of course I can understand the fear of going against the regime or rather, I can imagine that fear has held back many protests, but I still find it irrational. Obviously I speak with my post-war mentality, many years after the end of the war and in a context where if you want to go against something you group up and protest, however, you are free to protest, so maybe I will never understand this silence from Christians of the time, since I have a different mentality and situation.
Going back to the book, this, too, must be a mandatory reading in schools, especially now. Because, if, on the one hand we must know about the harm that was done with the genocide of the Jews, on the other, we must also celebrate people like Tante Truus and Helen who went against nazism and managed to save human lives even against their own safety or their happiness (Tante Truss and becoming a mother).