A historically accurate, intense and moving story – 5 stars!
It’s summer 1945 and the Second World War is finally over. But the memories of the war live on for many. Others – notably the survivors of the concentration camps – are cast adrift with no home, and in many cases no family, to return to. Yossi, Leo and Mordecai are among the three hundred children taken from Auschwitz to the English Lake District. It’s a terrifying journey and, after everything they’ve been through, the three friends don’t know who to trust. Life, however, gradual improves and they find themselves safe and fed. But what will the future hold and will they ever truly be able to leave the past behind?
I’m a huge fan of books from Barrington Stoke and, since I’ve started reviewing their books, have become an even bigger fan of Tom Palmer’s wartime stories. If I’m honest, I’m not that much of a fan of historical fiction but Tom’s books bring the past to life in a way that is instantly accessible to the modern reader. His simple and moving writing is also addictive. I started reading After the War: From Auschwitz to Ambleside in bed and devoured all 188 pages in one sitting, reading late into the night.
The other thing that impresses me about Tom’s books – particularly when I read D-Day Dog last year – is the way they encourage the reader to reflect on the events they describe and to think about what can, or should, be learned from them. After the War: From Auschwitz to Ambleside is another good example of this: the message of how the Nazi treatment of the Jews and the holocaust should never be repeated is clear without ever being mentioned.
Writing about the holocaust in a way that is historically accurate whilst still being suitable for children, has to be challenge but this book has exactly the right balance. The story skillfully skips between post war events in the Lake District and Yossi’s recollections of his war time experiences. His experiences are a composite of those of the real-life Windermere Boys and are described in a way that is simultaneously sensitive and moving.
Part of the story is set in Auschwitz so the gas chambers can’t be ignored. As an adult I found the reference to the gas chambers powerful and a little unnerving. (In one of the most impactful scenes I’ve ever read, a clearly traumatised man in Yossi’s hut comments on the millions of grey flakes that fall from the sky.) However, the reference will only have meaning to older readers and is subtle enough that those with no knowledge of the gas chambers are likely to skip over it until the significance is explained to them.
Given the attention to historical accuracy, I was intrigued how the ending would be managed. For this age range, it’s clearly advisable to have a positive and inspirational ending but I couldn’t see how this would be possible given the subject matter. The conclusion is, however, perfect. (Sorry, to tell you more would give to much away so you’ll have to read the book to see if you agree).
Overall, this is an intense and moving story that has inspired me to learn more about the survivors of the holocaust.
Publication date: August 2020
Publisher: Conkers (Barrington Stoke)
Author: Tom Palmer