If you read this blog regularly you will know that World War II and the Holocaust are major topics of my nonfiction reading. I have known of the Kindertransports, but have read next to nothing about them. So, when an author I’ve enjoyed released a new novel on the whole rescue operation I wanted to read it immediately. I listened to the audiobook this week and was amazed.
In 1936 teen Stephan Neuman, a budding writer and playwright, his little brother Walter, the child’s beloved stuffed Peter Rabbit, (who plays a delightful role in the book) and the boys’ parents live in the lap of luxury in Vienna, their life paid for by the fabulous Neuman’s Chocolate company that is the family’s pride. As one of the wealthiest Jewish families in Austria, their lives are about to descend into chaos and hell on Earth. Žofie-Helene Perger, a Christian girl of Stephan’s age, is a math prodigy whose parents believe in writing and publishing the truth about Hitler and his regime.
Meanwhile, in the Netherlands, Truus Wijsmuller, soon to be Tante Truus to the many children of the coming kindertransports, is rescuing small groups of Jewish children and spiriting them across the border to safety with Dutch families. As time goes on more and more nations, the United States included, shut their doors to Jewish refugees. At last the British agree to take Jewish children on a “temporary” basis that everyone knows could be forever. Included, too, are children in mortal danger for other reasons–children with communist parents or children of other political opponents of the Reich. When Truus wrangles an appointment with Vienna’s fearsome Adolf Eichmann, the architect of the Nazi’s “Final Solution,” he agrees to the transportation of children out of Austria but sets seemingly impossible conditions under which it must be done. Any deviation from his set conditions and the whole deal is off.
What I Loved
First of all, Meg Waite Clayton can tell a story! Second, she’s done her research. While the story occasionally lurched just a bit, I couldn’t stop listening. Stephan’s dramatic story clutched at my heart. His sweetness to his little brother was one of maturity–it was never precious or fake. That was so wonderful to read. His care for his poor mother, too, was that of a man, not what today we call a teenager. Žofie-Helene’s geeky math-love was used to such great advantage that even I was interested in higher math! The little “family” clinging to each other and the relationship between Stephan and Žofie-Helene, was poignant. But it was Truus, the woman we all hope we’d be in the face of such evil, that ultimately left me spellbound.
This book is a wonder. To tell such a story with such grace and such tenderness takes great talent. Yes, there were a few flaws–obviously, no one would have discussed such things on a telephone under the Nazis, but the reader instinctively knows these conversations were needed to drive the plot. The occasional lurches that I mentioned above made me wonder if there were last-second cuts by an editor. The title, too, was “off” to me–but I supposed it relates to a scene near the end [no spoilers] or was badly chosen by a marketing team. No matter! These are not things to concern the reader.
The book is lovely. Just read it.
You may also be interested in:
Defying the Nazi’s: The Sharp’s War about two Americans who rescued Jewish children.
Other Books I’ve Loved by Meg Waite Clayton
My review of Meg Waite Clayton’s The Race For Paris
My review, from my old blog, of Meg Waite Clayton’s book The Wednesday Sisters: “If you’ve ever dreamed of becoming a writer….
If you’ve ever wished for a writer’s group in your own backyard….
This is the book for you! A novel of my Mother’s generation–when it wasn’t taken for granted that women SHOULD, let alone COULD make their own dreams come true. The husband’s dreams–well, of course! This is a book of sisterhood, of motherhood, neighborhood and, if such a word exists, wife-hood. I loved it. Yes, there are stereotypical things….So what? is what I say this time. My one and only complaint was that the only negative character was a Christian. Otherwise, I loved it cover-to-cover.” The Wednesday Sisters, by Meg Waite Clayton.