Monday, December 27, 2010

AFTER THE TRAIN: Putting the story back into history

Recently, while I was checking out books on Germany at the library, the patron beside me mentioned a failed plot to kill Hitler. I knew that someone had carried a briefcase with a bomb into a meeting but neither of us could remember the would-be assasins's name.

Fast-forward one week:

I go back to the library for more books on Germany and come home with AFTER THE TRAIN, middle grade historical fiction by Gloria Whelan. 

I am reading along in this story when suddenly, Claus von Stauffenburg, the would-be Hitler assassin enters the plot.

Not in person, of course, because Hitler ordered him executed immediately and because After the Train takes place in 1955. Germany is trying to recover from WWII. Thirteen year old Peter Liebig remembers nothing about the war but his school teacher wants the class to learn from Germany's response to Hitler.

Herr Schmidt says ,"In spite of the things that happened during the war, there were Germans who risked their lives to oppose Hitler.  I want you to find such a person and write that person's story."

Peter talks to his father, an architect who was drafted to build barracks for Hitler's troops. Father struggles with shame but he also tells Peter he did one thing that he's proud of. He leaves Peter in suspense about what that was, unwittingly sending him on a quest to find out.

Father tells Peter about Claus Von Stauffenburg, the Nazi army official who tried, but failed, to kill Hitler.  Suddenly both Peter and I are engrossed in this piece of history. I rush to the internet where I get a refresher history lesson on Stauffenburg. Peter sneaks to his mother's dresser drawer and a stack of old letters where he discovers a secret his parents have kept from him. 

Peter also becomes friends with Herr Schafer, a Jewish bricklayer who's helping Peter's father rebuild St. Mary's Church.  Herr Schafer helps Peter understand the war's complexities in ways that Peter's parents cannot.

Remember my convo with the stranger at the library?  I'd love to bump into her again, hand her this novel, and say, "We should be reading more historical fiction for young people".

And now to St. Mary's church. 
Attribution: Bundesarchiv, Bild 146-2005-0054 / Unknown / CC-BY- shared under Creative Commons Guidelines.
 Here's a picture of it after the war.

Photo by Arnold Paul shared under Creative Commons guidelines
Here's the restored version of St. Mary's Church.

And for a breath-taking view of the church's interior, check out this video!

Thank to Dave's Been Here for that! And to Gloria Whelan for putting the story back into history!


  1. Sounds like a great book for my historical fiction challenge. I'll add it to my "gotta read" list.

  2. I have to read this book. SOunds fascinating. BTW, my parents didn't want to talk about the war either. Sounds familiar.

  3. This sound very interesting and I will have to check it out. Here is a piece of trivia: Von Stauffenberg's sister in law Melitta was a flygirl for the 3rd Reich, mostly just ferrying planes, but she was awarded the Iron Cross 2nd class, then shot down by the US Air Force in 1945.

    I love your blog!

  4. Thanks all! Gretchen, glad you are doing the historical fiction challenge. One of my New Year goals will be to actually review the books as I read them! If I don't do it immediately I have trouble doing it later.

    Carol, I think the horrors of war must be nearly impossible to revisit. And were your parents Jews living in Europe at the time? Those letters you mentioned must be full of valuable human insights and experiences.

    Alex, I did not know that about von Stauffenberg's sister. I need to read a little deeper!

  5. Joyce,

    I want to look for this book. It sounds very interesting. What a great blog post. There's lots to learn here.

    Linda A.

  6. Hi Joyce,

    I finished reading After the Train and I loved it. Thanks for the recommendation.

    Linda A.