The Last Train to London by Meg Waite Clayton
Published September 10th 2019 by Harper
5 Stars ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
I enjoy Historical Fiction, especially stories set during wars. I always learn something from the well researched books, notably the real life heroes, that are often footnotes in history. This is the story of one of those heroes, Truus Wijsmuller, a Dutch Christian who as part of the Kindertransport rescue efforts helped transport close to 10,000 predominantly Jewish children out of Nazi-occupied Europe, just before War was declared.
The fictional characters in this book, the children and their families were well developed and had me caring deeply for them. What was happening to the Jewish families, specifically in Vienna, was heartbreaking. The two main children in this story were Stephan, a 17 year old Jewish boy who wants to be a play-write, and his friend Zofie-Helene, a Christian whose mother publishes the local paper that is anti-Hitler. When the Neumans’ chocolate company is confiscated and Stephan’s father arrested, he takes to the tunnels under the city to hide. I was quite interested to learn about this underground. Zofie-Helene’s mother is arrested and her grandfather is worried about both her and her sister. When the story begins, Truus Wijsmuller, known to the children as Tante Truus, is smuggling small groups of children out of Austria. As the Nazis pick up their horrendous treatment of the Jewish population, it becomes more urgent than ever to get children out of the country. This is when the Kindertransport is arranged to get large groups (the first was 600) children to Britain.
This story is heartwrenching. Knowing that it is based on true facts and events, makes it even harder to read, but it is an important event that people need to read about. Truus received recognition from the Yad Vashem, being honored as one of the Righteous Among the Nations. She was arrested by the SS twice, but was released both times. She was a smart, quick-thinking, selfless woman. Her husband Joop, supported and understood what she was doing, even though he was frightened for her. This book was extremely well researched and I learned a lot about these events. I also found reading the author’s notes to be enlightening.
There are so many themes dealt with in this book. Bravery from Truus and her team, but also from the parents who put their children into the hands of strangers hoping that they would be safe, as well as the children who left on these trains. Hope, again both the parents and children hoping that they would be saved and would hopefully see one another again, although most were never reunited. Motherhood, especially when with blind faith, infants and young children were handed off to other children not much older than their own. Strength shown when Truus and her team made plans to rescue these children despite the odds against them. Determination and Perseverance shown by the teams that did not give up when they had to select, process and plan transportation for so many in a short time. Of course, love, goodness, faith resiliency and friendship. Reading about these strong and heroic people in the worst situation, gives us hope that humans are inherently good and that this type of thing will never happen again. I recommend this well-written book to all who read historical fiction, especially if you read WWII stories.
About the Book: 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.