Book Scene: Unsung heroism takes center stage in WWII novel 'Last Train to London'

last train to london

Winston Churchill, President Franklin D. Roosevelt, Generals Eisenhower and Patton.

These are the people most often credited with winning World War II, but there are others, individuals whose personal sacrifice and astounding bravery are just now finding the light of day.

I continue to gravitate to historical fiction that is centered on the lives of individuals who chose to make a difference during that horrific period of world history. I have found yet another of those individuals in the pages of “The Last Train to London” by Meg Waite Clayton.

Here's more information provided in the book: "Following Germany’s annexation of Austria in March 1938 and the violence of Kristallnacht that November, an extraordinary attempt to bring 10,000 children to safety in Britain began.

"Although fiction, this novel is based on the real Vienna Kindertransport effort led by Gertruida Wijsmuller-Meijer of Amsterdam, who had begun rescuing smaller groups of children as early as 1933. She was, to the children, Tante Truus, a term of endearment."

Clayton’s emotionally powerful book, set in the prewar period, follows the lives of 15-year-old Stephen Newman; his best friend, Zofie-Helene; and Tante Truus, a childless Dutch woman who is determined to save as many children as she can.

Stephen, the son of a wealthy and influential Jewish family in Vienna, is forced to hide in the tunnels and sewers of Vienna to avoid Adolf Eichmann’s mandatory roundup of Jewish men and boys. His survival and that of his mother and younger brother become dependent upon his ability to hide and the food that is left for him in the tunnels by Zofie-Helene, a young Christian girl whose mother edits a progressive anti-Nazi newspaper.

As Stephen sleeps in the cold and damp of Vienna’s underground and Zofie-Helene continues to risk her safety smuggling food to him, Truus Wijsmuller has been slipping across the border, smuggling children out of Austria. In an effort to secure the safety of more children, Tante Truus dares to approach Eichmann — the man who would later help devise the “Final Solution” to the Jewish question — with a solution of her own.

Clayton’s evocative and engaging prose pulled me along as Tante Truus worked tirelessly to secure the safety of as many children as possible as Eichman’s plan began to take shape. The fate of Stephen, his younger brother Walter and that of Zofie-Helene hinges on their ability to avoid capture and secure passage on the last train to London as a fatal deadline fast approaches.

This story highlights once again how one person can make a difference in the lives of so many. It is a wonderful tribute to the memory of one remarkable woman who believed and dared to do the impossible.

• “The Last Train to London” by Meg Waite Clayton was published in September by Harper. It retails for $27.99.

• Irene M. Pearcey works for Inklings Bookshop. She and other Inklings staffers review books in this space every week.

Load comments