After the Train

Written by Gloria Whelan
Review by Vicki Kondelik

In the summer of 1955, thirteen-year-old Peter Liebig is excited about helping his father, an architect, rebuild the bombed-out church in Rolfen, West Germany, a town on the East German border. He is tired of his teacher’s lectures, making the children feel guilty about the country’s Nazi past, even though Peter was only a small child when the war ended, and he cannot wait to get out of school and play soccer with his friends Hans and Kurt (a refugee from East Germany). One day Peter’s father hints that he has a secret in his past, and Peter, trying to find out what the secret might be, reads his parents’ wartime correspondence, only to discover the photograph of a young woman who has haunted his nightmares for years. Soon he realizes the truth: that his parents aren’t really his parents, and the young woman in the photo is his real mother—a Jewish woman who gave Peter to his adopted mother before being herded onto a train to Dachau. Peter’s whole world is turned upside down as he begins to learn about his Jewish heritage from Herr Schafer, the bricklayer whose parents were killed in a concentration camp, and discovers the extent of the anti-Semitism in his supposedly peaceful town.

After the Train is a compelling, thoughtful story of a boy’s quest for his identity and a poignant tale of life in postwar West Germany, where the towns are slowly being rebuilt, refugees from the East are resented for taking hard-to-find jobs away from the Westerners, and anti-Semitism continues to run rampant. Children who are looking for a lot of action will not find it here, but this is a beautifully told coming-of-age story and portrayal of life in the aftermath of the Holocaust, and I highly recommend it. Ages 8-12.