The Last Train: A Holocaust Story

Overview

The Last Train is the harrowing true story about young brothers Paul and Oscar Arato and their mother, Lenke, surviving the Nazi occupation during the final years of World War II.

Living in the town of Karcag, Hungary, the Aratos feel insulated from the war — even as it rages all around them. Hungary is allied with Germany to protect its citizens from invasion, but in 1944 Hitler breaks his promise to keep the Nazis out of Hungary.

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Overview

The Last Train is the harrowing true story about young brothers Paul and Oscar Arato and their mother, Lenke, surviving the Nazi occupation during the final years of World War II.

Living in the town of Karcag, Hungary, the Aratos feel insulated from the war — even as it rages all around them. Hungary is allied with Germany to protect its citizens from invasion, but in 1944 Hitler breaks his promise to keep the Nazis out of Hungary.

The Nazi occupation forces the family into situations of growing panic and fear: first into a ghetto in their hometown; then a labor camp in Austria; and, finally, to the deadly Bergen Belsen camp deep in the heart of Germany. Separated from their father, 6-year-old Paul and 11-year-old Oscar must care for their increasingly sick mother, all while trying to maintain some semblance of normalcy amid the horrors of the camp.

In the spring of 1945, the boys see British planes flying over the camp, and a spark of hope that the war will soon end ignites. And then, they are forced onto a dark, stinking boxcar by the Nazi guards. After four days on the train, the boys are convinced they will be killed, but through a twist of fate, the train is discovered and liberated by a battalion of American soldiers marching through Germany.

The book concludes when Paul, now a grown man living in Canada, stumbles upon photographs on the internet of his train being liberated. After writing to the man who posted the pictures, Paul is presented with an opportunity to meet his rescuers at a reunion in New York — but first he must decide if he is prepared to reopen the wounds of his past.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
One of the most heartening stories to come out of the Holocaust was that of an American tank battalion’s 1945 discovery of an abandoned death train carrying 2,700 Jews—a moment documented by the American soldiers’ remarkable photographs. Among those liberated was a six-year-old Hungarian Jew (and Arato’s future husband), Paul Auslander. As the family moved from ghetto to camps, Paul was able to remain with his mother, his fiercely protective brother, an aunt, and two cousins. Arato’s writing lacks tautness, and she is only moderately successful in bringing her story full circle, when an adult Paul is reunited with his liberators. What is most compelling is her emphasis on how his family literally held on to one another during their ordeal, as if a touch, a grasp, or an embrace could ward off the unfolding horrors. Older brother Oscar is constantly reaching for Paul’s hand to keep him from being lost or frightened; their mother tries to coax warmth into her children’s freezing, starved bodies with her bare hands. It is in these moments of simple, profound human contact that the story finds its real power. Ages 9–up. (Mar.)
From the Publisher
"He'd never seen his mother cry. Suddenly, Paul was very afraid."
— from the book
Children's Literature - Lois Rubin Gross
The hardest decision to make, when introducing children to the history of the Holocaust, is when a child is old enough to understand the horrors that were perpetrated. Most young people become familiar with the events around age twelve through Anne Frank's writings or Lois Lowry's. Number the Stars. Arato, in the fictionalized account of her husband's life experience, has brought the actual experience of the concentration camp to a slightly younger audience. Arato's husband, Paul, was rounded up from his Hungarian village in the days before D-Day, therefore his time in captivity was shorter than some prisoners. He was also part of a somewhat "privileged" group of prisoners who were designated by Adolf Eichmann to be held in case they were needed for a prisoner exchange. Despite these factors, Paul and his family were transported as slave labor to work on a farm and, ultimately, transferred to Bergen Belsen in the last days of the war. Paul's treatment was inhumane but survivable. He was able to remain with his ailing mother and brother and even make contact with his uncle in another part of the camp. Arato touches on Paul's encounters with stacks of dead prisoners and a child being shot to death for the "crime" of having a happy birthday. These horrors are touched on, but not lingered upon. The conclusion, in which a grown-up Paul meets his liberators and, after years of silence, tells his story is an emotionally moving conclusion. Honestly, this is the best true chapter book I have read on the Holocaust in quite some time. The fictionalization places enough distance between the young reader and the truth to make it palatable, yet the facts are undeniably present for discussion. With witnesses dying every day, every documentary such as this is critical. Reviewer: Lois Rubin Gross
School Library Journal
Gr 7 Up—In 1944, Paul Auslander's town of Karcag, Hungary, is occupied by German soldiers. The Nazis have taken his father to a labor camp, and the 5-year-old, his 10-year-old brother, and their mother are moved to a ghetto. Their lives there and in a series of concentration camps, in cattle cars, and on a sugar-beet farm are presented from the points of view of the two brothers: Oscar, as he tries to shield his rambunctious brother from the guards and support his sick mother in the interminable check-in lines, and Paul, whose exuberant curiosity threatens his life. It is on a train from Bergen Belsen to what is sure to be certain death that the prisoners are liberated by the Americans. This fictionalized story is told by Paul's wife, who was inspired to do so by the coming together of survivors of that last train and their liberators at a symposium at Hudson Falls High School, New York, in September 2009. It was a photo of the last train discovered on the Internet in 2008 that prompted the survivors to speak at last of their terrible ordeal. The author relates the thoughts of the children as they experience the horrors of the camps: hunger, beatings, starvation, disease, and death of other prisoners. The vivid content is frightening, the language clear. Informative black-and-white photos include the family before and after the war, the survivors on the day of liberation, and American soldiers. The last two chapters offer a moving account of the reunion of survivors and liberators.—Jackie Gropman, formerly at Chantilly Regional Library, VA
Kirkus Reviews
Arato fictionalizes the painful, true story of brothers Paul and Oscar Auslander, 5 and 10 respectively, along with their mother, Lenke—Hungarian Jews who survived Nazi concentration camps during the final years of World War II. The story follows the family as they are forced to move repeatedly, ending up at the horrifying Bergen-Belsen camp. They are transported in cattle cars packed with terrified fellow Jews. The clarity of specific recalled events crystallizes their reality. Tiny Paul, momentarily separated from his family, is shoved onto a different train than Oscar and his mother; miraculously, they find one another again. The book has three distinct parts: the inhumane camps, the dramatic rescue and the powerful reunion in 2009 of Paul and his American liberators. Most revealing are the photographs and author's notes, conveying both historical details and the personal conflict of remembering—Paul is the author's husband. Less successful is the delivery of the narrative itself; an emotionally flat writing style and awkward shifts in perspective from young Paul to an omniscient narrator serve to distance readers. The maladroit placement of a sheaf of images, the first of which reveals the happy family reunited in 1947, in the middle of the titular journey is especially unfortunate. Nevertheless, this is a good introduction to a difficult topic—give it to readers for whom a "true" survivor's story will carry more weight than a wholly fictional account. (introduction, photographs, author's notes) (Historical fiction. 9-13)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781926973623
  • Publisher: Owlkids Books
  • Publication date: 3/12/2013
  • Pages: 144
  • Sales rank: 952,837
  • Age range: 9 years
  • Product dimensions: 5.70 (w) x 8.10 (h) x 0.70 (d)

Meet the Author

Rona Arato, a former teacher, is an award-winning children’s author with a strong interest in the field of human rights. From 1994 to 1998, she was an interviewer for Survivors of the Shoah, a Steven Spielberg project that recorded the histories of Holocaust survivors. She is the author of Courage and Compassion and the On a Day Story Voyages series, among others. She lives in Toronto.
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Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

Karcag, Hungary
April 1944

Ma nishtana ha-laila ha-zeh mi-kol ha-lelot? Why is this night different from all other nights?

This night is different because our fathers are not with us.

Paul listened to the familiar words of the Four Questions, the heart of the Passover Seder.

This night is different because we are celebrating Passover without our fathers.

He looked around the synagogue social hall, where women, children, and a few elderly men sat at tables draped with white cloth. As the rabbi chanted, Paul thought of Passovers he and his older brother, Oscar, spent at their grandparents’ house, when all his aunts, uncles, and cousins were still together. But his father, like other men in town, had been taken away to some kind of work camp, so his mother and some other women had organized this Seder to celebrate Passover, the holiday of freedom. And tonight, as they recited prayers, sang familiar melodies, and ate matzo (unleavened bread), chicken soup, and roast chicken, they tried to forget, for a few hours, about the missing fathers, brothers, and grandfathers, and this thing called war raging around them.

The next day, German soldiers marched into Karcag.

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