When They Made Us Leave

Written by Annette Oppenlander
Review by Eileen Charbonneau

A seldom-told story of World War II involves what happened to children too young to serve but old enough to understand and experience wartime trauma. This novel tells their story through the viewpoint of childhood friends Peter and Hilda, young teens whose growing romance is cut short as they are sent off from their hometown of Solingen, Germany, to different evacuation camps. Peter goes happily, as he’s told that his destination six hundred miles from home will be a wonderful experience. It turns out to be badly conceived and executed, and the boys experience harsh deprivations and cruel taskmasters. Hilda is brought to a convent with its own challenges as she and her classmates suffer cruel punishments for being homesick and missing their parents. Even their journeys home are devastating. Hilda’s train is bombed, and Peter and a companion must make the trek themselves to avoid being killed by advancing Russian forces. Once they make it home, the duo find their world forever changed.

Solid characterizations and love of place are highlights of this well-told tale of courage, fortitude and the power of kindness. When They Made Us Leave is a welcome addition to World War II historical fiction.