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)