after-the-war by Carol Matas
Ruth Mendenberg, a Polish Jew, has survived one of the most atrocious experiences in history; the Holocaust. She returns to her village in Poland, hoping to hear of someone in her family also having survived. Ruth finds no one, and is treated abominably by her uncle’s former maid, who is wearing her mother’s dress and living in the family home. Fifteen and all alone, Ruth has no desire to live. She exists in a state of numbness wondering why she had the misfortune to survive when everyone she ever loved is gone.

“When we lived in the ghetto Hannah often begged me to tell them stories at night. But I couldn’t think of anything scarier than real life anymore. Especially after the day most of the Jews were herded into the town square and shot. Father hid us under the floorboards of the house we were staying in. Others had escaped somehow too. Those of us who lived were put to work in factories. until we too were taken away.”

Ruth’s memories are haunting and sad. Almost overwhelming. As she sits in a daze outside of the city hall, she is approached by a young man with an offer of hope,

Amcha” . . .

“I know what amcha means. “With the people,” literally. It’s Hebrew and is used as a code word. If someone says it to you, he can be trusted, because he’s one of us, one of the people, a Jew.”

With nothing better to do, Ruth embarks on a journey to Palestine. Along the way she helps other war orphans on their journey to Palestine and in their efforts to process the horrors they have endured. Some lived secretly in the woods, waiting in streams to escape capture. Others lived in sewers.

I couldn’t put this book down and was in tears much of the night because of the abominable treatment the Jews received- especially the crimes perpetrated against children. This book is not for the light-hearted, but is filled with realistic portrayals of life after World War II for refugees that nobody wanted. It is a sobering, yet hopeful read, appropriate for Junior High and older readers.

Carol Matas, an acclaimed Canadian author, once again resurrects the horrors of the Holocaust so that we will never forget and never repeat them. Her website is an excellent source of background information, and details her incredible work to interview and document the experiences of those who survived the Holocaust.

This review is part of my efforts to honor April as National Holocaust month. As Carol has many books in this genre- expect to see more reviews of her excellent books, coming soon.