As we approach Remembrance Sunday, I wanted to share my review of After the War by Tom Palmer. One thing I now ready myself for when I read a book by Tom Palmer is the huge emotion his storytelling evokes. After the War is a brilliantly written story, published by Barrington Stoke and set in Summer 1945, inspired by the true story of the Windermere boys.
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 is moving from the very first page – even the Foreword is an absolute eyeopener, written by Trevor Avery of the Lake District Holocaust Project. I had never heard of the Windermere Boys nor the Project, which seeks to share the stories of the children who were brought to the Lake District following their release from captivity in concentration camps during the Second World War. It is instantly clear After the War is well-researched and depicts the real-life events with great sensitivity. The three central characters are all inspired by the true stories of survivors.
Yossi, Leo and Mordecai all experienced horrors we can only imagine. This is contrasted with the immense kindness and generosity of the people of the Lake District who look after them when they arrive in Cumbria. The boys have to learn to trust again, having been so appallingly treated by the Nazis. They also have to start to look to the future, each with their own ideas of what they want to do. Yossi is desperate for news of his missing father who he last saw in the Camp – and when the Red Cross arrive to offer help in reuniting families, Yossi leaps at the chance to see if his father can be found. He cannot think about anything until he knows where his father is. Mordecai finds solace in his Jewish faith, contemplating living in a Jewish community in Leeds and Leo thinks the best place for them is Palestine, where Jews won’t be persecuted.
The narrative intertwines the boys’ experiences with the those of the local people, including a family whose son has not yet returned from fighting. Even though they are suffering, they still help support the Windermere Boys. There are also glimpses of the treatment of the boys by the Nazis at the outbreak of war and during their time in the Camps. Whilst not gratuitous in any way, the stark reality of the holocaust and the conflict as a whole is clear. I never cease to be stunned and appalled by man’s inhumanity to man – and especially to children. In one scene as the boys get used to their new surroundings, Yossi refuses to get up, asking why should he bother after so much has happened to him and his loved ones. It’s only when he recalls his father’s words “…if we let ourselves go, the Germans will think they were right: that we are not human.”, that he realises that getting up every day was an act of defiance in the face of their persecutors – and still is.
As Yossi, Mordecai and Leo recover, they slowly being to trust again and see hope for the future, helped by the hard work of those looking after them. The beautiful setting of the Lake District provides a stunning backdrop to the harsh reality they have left behind – and must have been part of the healing process for all those who survived. Beautifully told, After the War is an opportunity to celebrate the bravery and courage and determination of those who survived persecution by the Nazis. It’s also an opportunity to celebrate the kindness of the people of Windermere as they helped hundreds of children recover from the horrors of the holocaust.
But most importantly, this story is an act of Remembrance – both in its creation and for everyone that reads it. We cannot ever forget the service and sacrifice of wartime heroes and ordinary people, who secured our freedom and restored hope to so many.