Today children are often told, “Don’t talk to strangers.” Not long ago, however it was different. Once strangers were thought of as rescuers. So begins The End of the Line by Sharon E. McKay. While relying on the help of strangers may be unusual in today’s world, McKay illuminates the necessity of these “righteous gentiles” in 1940s Europe.
The End of the Line depicts the plight of Beatrix, a five-year-old Jewish girl who watches as her mother is dragged off an Amsterdam train by a Nazi official. In order to save the child from the same fate, sixty-five-year-old ticket taker Lars Gorter impulsively tells the officer that the child is his niece. Along with his sixty-three-year-old brother, tram driver Hans, the lifelong bachelors, who have no experience raising children, take in little Beatrix and become her uncles. In their desperation, they enlist the help of two neighbors: the elderly but fierce Mrs. Vos and young former schoolteacher, Lieve. The group quickly becomes a loving family as they struggle to keep Beatrix’s real identity a secret until Holland’s liberation.
From food rations to constant threat of bombs, McKay depicts the negative impact the Nazi regime had on non-Jews too. Although we get a sense of Beatrix’s fear as she waits for her mother’s return, the story is mostly chronicled through the eyes of the Gorter brothers in a third person narrative.
The short middle-grade novel sensitively touches on the atrocities of war in a way that is understandable to younger readers. It shows the bravery of those who risked their lives to harbor Jewish children during the war.
The book includes an afterword which features facts, pertinent dates and statistics regarding Holland’s involvement in the war, the allied forces and the ways in which Jewish children were smuggled to safe locations via rescue missions during the Holocaust.