On April 13, 1945, when American soldiers found a German train filled with dirty and starving Jewish prisoners, one of the Americans said that he had refused to believe the stories that he had heard about Nazi-run death camps. Suddenly he knew it was all true. Rona Arato tells a survivor's story about the Holocaust in the children's book The Last Train: A Holocaust Story.
Brothers Paul and Oscar Auslander, Jewish boys from Karcag, Hungary were on that train with their mother, aunt, and cousins. For nearly a year, they had been moved by trains to various camps, sometimes forced to work on a farm, always guarded by gun-toting soldiers with vicious dogs. Several times the brothers thought they were about to be killed. Through a crack in the side of the boxcar, on that day in April 1945, Paul had seen several German soldiers setting up guns aimed at the train when an American tank appeared. The German soldiers ran away. The Americans then opened the boxcars and set the prisoners free.
The Last Train is a story told from the boys perspective. It starts where you would expect, just before the family is forced from its home by the Nazis, and what I really like is that it goes way past the point at which some authors would have stopped, the day of rescue. Arato tells how hard it was for the family to reunite and get back to Hungary and how Cold War Hungary was nearly as bad as during World War II. Then she tells even more.
The author got the story because she is now Paul's wife, though it took him nearly 40 years to tell her. What is amazing is how finally revealing the story to her and his children led to his meeting the soldiers who set him free.
The Last Train introduces the story of the Holocaust to elementary grade students through a voice much like their own, one that describes the horror of war but remains hopeful that troubles will end. Parents will enjoy this well-told story, too.
Arato, Rona. The Last Train: a Holocaust Story. Owl Kids Books, 2013. 142p. ISBN 9781926973623.