In another life I was the publicist for Alison Pick when I was working in publishing and she was just starting out as a poet. She is a very skilled, beautiful writer. But in this book, a novel, she turns to an historic topic – the Kinder Transport in which close to 10,000 children were rescued from Germany, Poland, Austria and Czechoslovakia.
Far To Go takes place in Czechoslovakia months prior to the outbreak of the Second World War and follows the life of the Bauer’s, a well-to-do Jewish family, as the Germans move in and occupy their border town.
It’s narrated by Marta the nanny and by AnnaLiese a Kinder Transport researcher whose own life is inextricably linked to the story.
This novel, as you can imagine, doesn’t end well and Pick doesn’t try and hide this fact. But what she does well is detail the shifts in thinking and realizations that bring about the family’s ultimate demise. How the trusted right hand man to Pavel Bauer ultimately betrays his friend for greed, racism and hatred. How Marta, so real, so warm and loving, so imperfect and human, misses the opportunity to save herself and the family.
The Bauers, disbelieving and not fully understanding the very real dangers that lay before them, miss opportunity after opportunity to escape safely. This is a story I hear again and again as I read through accounts of people and families during this period of time. As people who were Jewish in name only, Pavel Bauer felt a false sense of protection which was ultimately betrayed by the nauseating racial policies of the Nazi regime and all of those complicit in its implementation.
The Bauer’s learned far too late, that no-one was safe. But they did manage to get their son Pepic out by Kinder Transport. Hooray you want to say but in reality a mind-numpingly heartbreaking choice.Reading even a fictionalized version of this painful event makes it all so real.
Today, as the world spirals toward racial and religious division, threats of evicting entire ethnic groups, building walls, taking away women’s rights, refusal to acknowledge and help refugees , I think about my friend Inge who is a survivor of the Kinder Transport. I remember how she described the last time she saw her parents, how she cries even now, today when she talks about no longer being able to go to school in Germany, how she found out her parents were murdered. Inch by inch this happened to her and millions of others. Inch by inch, we can never give in to this.
Never doubt that historic fiction isn’t important. It is and always will be.