The Girl from the Train by Irma Joubert
About the Book
Six-year-old Gretl Schmidt is on a train bound for Auschwitz. Jakób Kowalski is planting a bomb on the tracks.
As World War II draws to a close, Jakób fights with the Polish resistance against the crushing forces of Germany and Russia. They mean to destroy a German troop transport, but Gretl’s unscheduled train reaches the bomb first.
Gretl is the only survivor. Though spared from the concentration camp, the orphaned German Jew finds herself lost in a country hostile to her people. When Jakób discovers her, guilt and fatherly compassion prompt him to take her home. For three years, the young man and little girl form a bond over the secrets they must hide from his Catholic family.
But she can’t stay with him forever. Jakób sends Gretl to South Africa, where German war orphans are promised bright futures with adoptive Protestant families—so long as Gretl’s Jewish roots, Catholic education, and connections to communist Poland are never discovered.
Separated by continents, politics, religion, language, and years, Jakób and Gretl will likely never see each other again. But the events they have both survived and their belief that the human spirit can triumph over the ravages of war have formed a bond of love that no circumstances can overcome.
Irma Joubert has written an exceptional and unique book.
Gretl Schmidt is six years old when she and her relatives board a train, bound for Switzerland, she thinks, to find her uncle. Germany invaded her homeland, Poland, and even though she is the daughter of a distinguished SS soldier, she also has Jewish blood in her, from her mom’s side of the family. While on the train, her grandmother forces her and her sister to jump, promising she will meet up with them later.
Thus begins Gretl’s journey and the beginning of her growing up. Her story spans approximately 15 years until she is around age 22. The Girl from the Train is rich with the history of Poland during World War II and continues into South Africa in the 1950’s. Written from the viewpoint of Gretl and her friend Jakób, through the years, the novel gives a rare and unusual perspective of the changing of time.
The story is long (384 pages) and filled with history; it is at times hard to read, but in the end, worth the time it takes to complete.
I received this book from The Fiction Guild sponsored by Thomas Nelson and Zondervan in exchange for an honest review.