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Profile Books: World War II novel explores child evacuees’ lives
by Kerry Hammond June 2, 2016
The Children's Train: Escape on the Kindertransport
The devastation created by World War II lives on in both fiction and nonfiction as writers continue to grapple with the events that occurred.
Some might think that the topic is overdone, whereas others believe that an important step to never repeating history is to retell it to each subsequent generation. The Children’s Train is one writer’s attempt to retell and investigate a small facet of this part of history, and the tale is written in such a way as to appeal to a range of audiences, both adult and young adult.
The Kindertransport was an actual train that took almost 10,000 children, mostly of Jewish descent, away from Germany and the families they knew and loved. These children were taken to England until 1939, when war was officially declared and the borders were closed. Britain agreed to shelter the children in order to keep them safe from Nazi Germany, but the fates of the children’s parents and other relatives were not considered. Many of the children found they had nothing to return to once the fighting was over.
In The Children’s Train, Zinser conjures a fictional group of children who rode this transport to England. She follows each of their lives, relating their everyday experiences. Running alongside each narrative is that of the loved ones the character in focus left behind.
The children that left may have faced a lesser degree of suffering, but their stories are just as heartbreaking. Peter Weinberg, a shy violin player who boards the train at the age of eleven, is our protagonist and hero. We quickly empathize with his hard journey: he is separated from his younger sister and relocated to a family which takes him in solely to gain a farm hand. We see him grow into a man at a very young age and take steps to oppose the war.
Although a work of fiction, Zinser’s characters are viscerally real. The subject matter is disturbing yet Zinser delivers a poignant and humane portrayal of the facts. Certain events that took place during the war as represented in the novel are factual, whereas the towns, camps and people are creations of the author’s imagination. These creations, however, bear such a resemblance to the real places and experiences that the reader can feel a sincere authenticity.
The children’s experiences are difficult at best, but we are still offered some aspects of hope, and the courage these children exhibit is inspiring. The Children’s Train is a story of loss, but it is also one of survival and, perhaps most importantly, love. The book is not to be feared for its dark premise. Rather, it offers the reader a surprising chance to experience the love and hope that the children may have felt, even in the face of fear.
by Kerry Hammond June 2, 2016