THE LAST TRAIN TO LONDON by Meg Waite Clayton

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When faced with huge problems that appear insurmountable the tendency among many people is to blurt out, “well really what can one person do.” And that often becomes the response to the matter, and no further effort is expended.  Ms Clayton’s latest book tells the true story of one woman that did something and many many children benefited by having their lives saved through her efforts.

The events portrayed take place in Germany, Austria, Holland, and England in the few years just before the initiation of hostilities in World War II. Vienna, Austria is a good place to live if one has the income.  There is fun, culture, fine family life and the means to assure the well being of one’s family.  The good life comes to an end when Hitler, who has come to power in Germany forces a plebiscite in Austria which indicates that they will side with Germany in the event of war with other countries.  The agreement is policed by the entrance of Nazi troops that change the landscape immediately for Austrians.

Stephen Neuman, the son of a wealthy and influential  Jewish family and a budding playwright, and Zofie-Helene, a Christian girl whose mother edits an anti-Nazi newspaper, are friends.  It also appears that life taking its course will find them marrying when old enough. The two are used by the author to illustrate what happens to the good life in Vienna and subsequent events.

Hitler sends Adolf Eichmann to supervise the shift in Vienna, and he quickly initiates Nazi policies.  Repression of Jews, Gypsies and Gays become a reality in the once happy country of Austria.  These groups are quickly prohibited from enjoying the normal rights of others with jobs, businesses right to own property denied them.  Eichmann initiates plans to get these groups out of Austria but purposely makes it almost impossible for them to travel outside.

In the darkest period of this time, Truus Wijsmuller a member of the newly formed Dutch Resistance, begins risking her life to get children out from the Nazi sphere of influence.  When England passes a law to take in at-risk children from the German Reich she gets up the nerve to approach Eichmann to get permission to start sending out children.  He agrees imposing almost impossible conditions, but Tante (Aunt) Truus as she begins to be known to the children manages to start with a group of 600 children sent to London. The author’s description of this trip, the anguish of parents sending out children that they may never see again, the children devastated at being torn away from their families and the lives they lived to enter the unknown cannot fail to stir emotion with any reader.

Stephen and Zofie-Helene are members of this first group and followed until they enter the system established in England to take care of these children. This includes finding them homes with families that consider adopting them.  A very powerful book set in a world gone mad and one that has no problem in getting the reader to finish it in one sitting.

9/19 Paul Lane

THE LAST TRAIN TO LONDON by Meg Waite Clayton. Harper (September 10, 2019). ISBN 978-0062946935. 464p.

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