Paul Auslander was five years old in 1944 when the Nazis occupied his hometown of Karcag, Hungary. Along with his mother and 10-year-old brother, he was moved to the town’s Jewish ghetto, deported to work on a farm in Austria, and, fulfilling his family’s worst fears, taken to the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp in Germany.
After enduring four months in horrific conditions, all the inmates, including Paul’s family, were suddenly ordered to board a train, where they remained for four days. Finally, on April 13, 1945, while peering through the boxcar’s slats, Paul saw American soldiers chase off their captors. After releasing the prisoners, the soldiers confirmed that the war was over.
More than 60 years later Paul sees a picture of the train online, setting in motion a process that leads to a reunion with the American soldiers who saved his life. His story, as recounted in The Last Train, is one of resilience against a background of overwhelming tragedy, made all the more remarkable because his family all survived and found each other after the war.
Author Rona Arato is Paul’s wife. Her experience interviewing Holocaust survivors for the Survivors of the Shoah Visual History Foundation is apparent in the characters’ powerfully authentic voices. (The book tells a true story, but Arato creates, or recreates, dialogue based on Paul’s memories and her own conjecture).
It is somewhat disappointing that Paul’s postwar life is not more fully explored; young readers would benefit from learning how history has repercussions right into the present day. That being said, The Last Train will move anyone who reads it, emphasizing that, even in a tragedy of such massive proportions, the experiences of individuals are still what matter most.