In the devastating The Last Train to London, bestselling novelist Meg Waite Clayton brings to life the true story of Truus Wijsmuller, a Dutch woman who helped transport hundreds of Jewish children out of Austria as countries closed their borders to these youngest refugees. Wijsmuller, known as Aunt Truus to the many children she shepherded to safety, fought bureaucracy and apathy with steely determination to get as many children as possible out of the Nazis’ grip.
It was dangerous and frustrating work, but Wijsmuller believed it was her calling. “Perhaps this is why God chose to deny us children,” she said to her husband. “Because there would be this greater need, this chance to save so many. Perhaps He’s saved us the burden of having to choose to risk leaving our own children motherless.”
On a trip to Vienna soon after occupation, she gets an unfathomably cruel offer from Nazi leader Adolf Eichmann: Gather exactly 600 Jewish children in one week, and they can be transported by train out of Nazi-occupied Vienna, with no guarantees of reunification with their families. It came to be known as the Kindertransport, and the details of how Wijsmuller and her partners pulled it off are unforgettable. Clayton depicts an all-too-relevant story of cruelty in its many forms, from the casual nastiness of Gestapo taunts to the violence of nighttime home raids. The book is haunted with images of traumatized children caring for each other on packed train cars, of a teenage boy hiding in the sewer tunnels below Vienna to avoid being sent to a labor camp.
In a time when many parents are again facing the impossible choice of seeking safety for their children, even if it means separation and uncertainty, The Last Train to London reads like a warning note from the past. Yet the novel also glimmers with hope: the heroism of everyday people putting their own comfortable lives in jeopardy to help others.