In the concluding notes of After the War, Tom Palmer observes that this was a difficult book to write. It is a difficult book to read too – not for the language, which is as clear as you expect from this author and publisher – but because of the enormity of the events it explores and the uncomfortable, but vital, reflection that it inspires.
The book tells the story of three young holocaust survivors who have been transferred from concentration camps to a hostel in the English Lake District. On the idyllic shores of Lake Windermere they take the first steps towards a recovery, of sorts.
They eat hearty meals, study and exercise in safety, but even in moments of happiness – such as riding a bicycle for the first time in years – the boys are haunted, sometimes blind-sided, by the traumas they suffered before.
Yossi is an Auschwitz survivor whose mother was a gas chamber victim. He faces his new life alongside fellow survivors, Leo and Mordecai, who have become his greatest friends. Where much of what this story recounts is bleak, the strength of the bond between the children breathes hope and warmth throughout.
This is a book bursting with poignant moments – when the reader sees the significance of a spoon to someone who has been starving, or the discomfort of a comfortable bed for a child unused to sheets. The scene in which an innocent pillow fight triggers a devastating flashback will stay with me for a long time.
It’s no surprise that, though fiction, this book is based on meticulous research about real experiences. Its truths ring clearly from every page, but while the facts are brutal, they are framed with examples of warmth, kindness and connection that bring light to the dark.
In After the War, Tom Palmer has written about events of enormous weight, with brevity, imagination and insight. Not only will this remarkable book convey the stories of the Lake District Holocaust Survivors to a new generation of young readers, it will surely inspire those readers to share the stories with their peers and future generations too.