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September 10, 2019

The Last Train to London by Meg Waite Clayton ~ a Review

by Susan Roberts

Stout flakes softened the view out the train window: a snow-covered castle on a snow-covered hill ghosting up through the snowy air, the conductor calling, "Bad Bentheim; this is Bad Bentheim, Germany. Passengers continuing to the Netherlands must provide documents." Geertruida Wijsmuller - a Dutchwoman with a strong chin and nose and brow, a wide mouth, cashmere-gray eyes - kissed the baby on her lap. She kissed him a second time, her lips lingering on this smooth forehead. She handed him to his sister then, and pulled the skullcap off their toddler brother. "Es ist in Ordnung. Es wird nicht lange dauern. Dein Gott wird dir dieses eine Mal vergeben," Truus responded to the children's objections, in their own language. It's all right. It will be only for a few moments. Your God will forgive us this once. (p. 3)

Amazon affiliate links are used on this site. A free book was provided for an honest review.

September 2019; Harper; 978-0062946935
audio, ebook, print (464 pages); historical fiction
"Following Germany's annexation of the independent country of Austria in March, 1938, and the violence of Kristallnacht that November, an extraordinary attempt to bring ten thousand children to safety in Britain began. Although fiction, this novel is based on the real Vienna Kindertransport effort led by Geertuida Wijsmuller-Meijer of Amsterdam, who had begun rescuing smaller groups of children as early as 1933. She was, to the children, Tante Truus." (Author's Notes)

I've read many World War II books and it always amazes me when I am able to learn about someone who was a hero during this time but forgotten over time. Truus Wijsmuller, a member of the Dutch resistance, was a real hero. Through her determination and bravery, she was able to bring over ten thousand children from the German-occupied areas of Europe to safety in England. She died in 1978 at 82 years of age.

The book begins in 1936. Germany has gotten stronger and Truus has begun to rescue small numbers of Jewish children. The two main characters are young teenagers who live in Vienna and are living their lives in the carefree way of the young. Fifteen-year-old Stephan Neuman, the son of a wealthy and influential Jewish family and budding playwright lives in a huge home with his parents and younger brother. Stephan’s best friend and companion is the brilliant Žofie-Helene, a Christian girl whose mother edits a progressive, anti-Nazi newspaper. In March 1938, their lives change drastically when the Germans invade Austria. Truus realizes that she needs to get a large number of children out of Austria for their safety and arranges a meeting with Adolf Eichmann. He tells her that 600 children can get on the train headed to England - not 599 and not 601 but they must travel on the Sabbath, which makes the rescue even more difficult to arrange. Will Truus be able to rescue Stephan and Zofie and keep them safe or will they be forced to stay in Austria and face an unknown and perilous future?

This novel was beautifully written and well-researched. I loved all three of the main characters - they were all brave and cared deeply about their families and other people. Truus was a real hero but the other heroes were the parents who sent their children away, knowing that they would probably never see them again so that they could be safe. This book made me cry because the characters were so real and I cared deeply about their futures.

Author Karen Fowler said this about The Last Train to London: "Recommend this book to anyone who thinks no single person can make a difference.”

Buy The Last Train to London at Amazon

About the Author

Meg Waite Clayton is the New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of six novels, including BEAUTIFUL EXILES, the Langum-Prize honored THE RACE FOR PARIS, THE WEDNESDAY SISTERS, which Entertainment Weekly's named one of the 25 Essential Best Friend Novels of all time, and THE LANGUAGE OF LIGHT, a finalist for what is now the PEN/Bellwether Prize. She's written for The Los Angeles Times, the New York Times, the Washington Post, The San Francisco Chronicle, The San Jose Mercury News, Writer's Digest, Runner's World, and public radio. A graduate of the University Michigan and its law school, she lives in California.;; @megwclayton.

Monuments to honor Geertruida Wijsmuller-Meijer

Auntie Truus statue in Amsterdam

A sculpture of her, made by Herman Diederik Janzen [nl], was unveiled in 1965 in Beatrixoord in Oosterpark in Amsterdam. When Beatrixoord was closed, "Auntie Truus" took the statue home. After her death in 1978 it was reinstated on the Bachplein in Amsterdam. A placard at the foot mentions: "Mother of 1001 children, who made rescuing Jewish children het life's work".

In November 2011, a monument in Hook of Holland was unveiled by Mayor Aboutaleb, commemorating the 10,000 Jewish children that left for England from there. The monument was designed by Frank Meisler, one of the children on the transports. He made three other monuments that are located in Gdańsk, Berlin and London.

In Amsterdam, Gouda, Leiden, Pijnacker and Coevorden, streets are named after her. In Leiden a tunnel bears her name.

Asteroid number 15296 is named after her and is named Tantetruus ("Auntie Truus").

Distinctions and medals to honor Geertruida Wijsmuller-Meijer

Righteous among the Nations
Medailles from the Dutch and German Red Cross
Visser-Neerlandia Prijs in 1962
Truus Wijsmuller-tree in Yad Vashem
Officer in the Order of Orange-Nassau
Honorary Citizen of Amsterdam ( Silver Medal)
Medal of French Gratitude (Reconnaissance Francaise)

Susan Roberts lives in North Carolina when she isn't traveling. She and her husband enjoy traveling, gardening and spending time with their family and friends. She reads almost anything (and the piles of books in her house prove that) but her favorite genres are Southern fiction, women's fiction, and thrillers. Susan is a top 1% Goodreads Reviewer. You can connect with Susan on FacebookGoodreads, or Twitter

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  1. I don't read a lot of historical fiction but, I do like the sound of this one.

  2. I enjoy this author, and I've had my eye on this one. Thanks for sharing, and here's mine: “THE FAVORITE DAUGHTER”

  3. I've got a copy of this book in my reading queue. I'm a huge historical fiction fan, especially of this time period.

  4. I do like the sound of this one, I am keen on historical fiction!

    Sorry I am late - here's my Tuesday post. x