After the War: From Auschwitz to Ambleside
Summer 1945. The Second World War is finally over and Yossi, Leo and Mordecai are among three hundred children who arrive in the English Lake District. Having survived the horrors of the Nazi concentration camps, they’ve finally reached a place of safety and peace, where they can hopefully begin to recover.
But Yossi is haunted by thoughts of his missing father and disturbed by terrible nightmares. As he waits desperately for news from home, he fears that Mordecai and Leo – the closest thing to family he has left – will move on without him. Will life by the beautiful Lake Windermere be enough to bring hope back into all their lives?
After the war: from Auschwitz to Ambleside is the new book by Tom Palmer. I have been eagerly awaiting this book for a while and I must say it doesn’t disappoint.
The holocaust is never an easy subject to talk about, particularly in a children’s book but it is a vitally important subject; if we are to learn the lessons of history we must not forget them, we must face the awful truth of the tragedies unflinchingly in order that we don’t repeat the mistakes of the past.
This book centres on three boys, who are survivors of Auschwitz. Yossi, Mordeci and Leo. Yossi is the principle character that the narrator focuses on but the friendship of the three boys and their different personalities and the way they complement and support each other is as inspirational as it is harrowing at times, because in their friendship the truth of the horrors they have experienced is revealed. From the moment that they all huddle up in the same bed together for comfort rather than sleep in their own beds to the way they know each other’s feelings without a word being spoken we see these three are survivors and they have survived by holding each other up and looking out for each other.
The book had a similar impact on me to ‘Once’ by Maurice Gleitzman, which also tackles the subject of the holocaust through the eyes of a child. I’m not ashamed to say the ‘After the War’ brought tears to my eyes on more than one occasion. Where it differs from ‘Once’ though is that in that book the world is seen through the eyes of an innocent who hasn’t been exposed to the horrific truth of what is going on and their innocence is gradually stripped away whilst we, the unseen reader watch on knowing the tragic truth. In ‘After the War’ however innocence has long gone and we see the tragic and harrowing truth of the holocaust through the unflinching eyes of its survivors.
This is a hard read at times, as these children struggle to come to terms with being safe and learning to trust people again. The most impactful moments for me came through the flashbacks that Yossi has, when something in his current safe surroundings reminds him of the horrors he has experienced. Tom Palmer pulls no punches in recollecting the experiences of the holocaust, told through Yossi’s eyes and he has done this deliberately. He says in his message at the end of the book ‘It is very important to me, when I am writing about history, that I represent it as accurately as possible-especially out of respect for the people who suffered the events that I am describing.’ He goes on to tell us that the recollections of the holocaust are all true events based on the testimony of survivors. The characters in the book are not real but are an amalgam of real surviving children.
Although this book is a difficult read at times, it is an important book and there is a note of hope throughout the book. The kindness of the people at Calgarth Estate, many of whom have been displaced from their own homes by the war as well is truly touching at times and it is through this kindness and support that the children, the holocaust survivors, gradually begin to recover. There is a note of optimism at the end of the book as well; Yossi is fascinated with planes and wonders how they manage to take off. The metaphor of taking off whilst a force is trying to pull you down applies perfectly to the boys and where they find themselves.
I think this is a book I would share with children but I wouldn’t give it out indiscriminately. I would be careful to have some discussion around the topic before, during and after reading the book so that it can be understood with sensitivity. Similarly to ‘Once’ which I have regular shared with Y6 children, I would want to make sure the children are emotionally mature enough to cope with it first and I as the adult would support their understanding through discussion.
Tom Palmer clearly cares a great deal about this subject and he wants to make sure that the holocaust survivors that came to the Lake District for a brief time are not forgotten and their stories are told. He has lots of extra information at the back of the book giving details about them as well as links to his website which have a wealth of information and resources. I have shared the link here:
The book is available to buy now. Here are some links should you wish to purchase it:
Or if you want to support Tom’s local independent bookshop you can get a signed copy here:
Also a quick shout out the publishers Barrington Stoke who are a dyslexia friendly publisher and always produce brilliant books, of which this is another perfect example.
You can also purchase the book directly from them at this link: