SCoJeC’s latest author talk was by the acclaimed children’s writer Tom Palmer, speaking about his most recent book After the War: From Auschwitz to Ambleside. Tom is a multi-award-winning author of several books for young readers. In 2019, he was the recipient of the National Literacy Trust’s Ruth Rendell Award in recognition of his significant contribution to literacy work in the UK, and we counted ourselves very lucky that he was able to join us on Zoom to talk about his research into this book.
After the War is the story of three boys, Yossi, Leo, and Mordecai, who arrived in the Lake District in the summer of 1945, after surviving the horrors of the concentration camps. While narrated from the viewpoint of Yossi, and including flashbacks from Leo and Mordecai, this book is actually the true-to-life retelling of many experiences Palmer uncovered through his research.
Tom described how, inspired by the true story of the Windermere Boys, he pursued his research until he felt confident in sharing the true horrors of their experience. He described linking in with the Lake District Holocaust Project and framing his writing with their guidance on the best ways to approach this difficult subject. Tom’s research led him abroad to Poland and the Netherlands as he tracked the stories of the Windermere Boys, and he also met individuals in the Lake District who remember growing up in the same industrial housing barracks as the children.
Tom commented that while we learn about the Holocaust and the experiences of victims and survivors, we do not often hear about their lives before these terrible events as just regular children in their home countries. In this way, young people learning about the Holocaust do not identify with the victims as real people like themselves, and do not realise that this can happen to anyone and for any reason. As a result, Tom was careful to describe scenes from the boys’ pre-war adolescence. This creates a constant tension for Yossi’s character as he keeps having new experiences in the safety of the Lake District while not being able to escape the flashbacks to the concentration camps. This is apparent at the very opening of the book, when Yossi hides all of his new possessions under his pillow as he did in the camps, and as all the boys await their first meals in the dining hall but can’t help recalling the sheer hunger they experienced before their arrival.
Tom ended his talk by reiterating the importance of giving a true account of the Holocaust without embellishment, in a way that grips readers and allows them to learn so that we may never forget.
One participant told us, "Many thanks for arranging the talk with Tom Palmer. It was extremely interesting and informative. It was good to see how a writer approaches a book like this and I think not only will the book make schoolchildren better understand the events of the holocaust but make them think more about the plight of refugees today."
If you are interested to learn more, Tom’s website includes videos and other resources.