“Schreiber has told an inspiring story. [She has] portrayed the quiet but forceful and effective resistance, by ordinary Belgians, Jews and Christians alike, to four years of occupation by Nazi Germany. . . . [This] is an honest effort to depict a side of the war that is little known outside Belgium itself, a story that adds to our appreciation of the lengths to which unknown people went to save not merely themselves and their families but others to whom they had no obligations beyond those of common humanity.” Jonathan Yardley, The Washington Post
The Twentieth Train
The True Story of the Ambush of the Death Train to Auschwitz
978-0-8021-4185-9 • $14.00 • Paperback • Mar. 2005
The remarkable true story of how three young men ambushed a Nazi death train and rescued more than two hundred Jews on their way to Auschwitz
The spring of 1943 was a desperate season for the Jews of Brussels. The resistance movement had successfully bombed the SS headquarters that January, but anti-Jewish laws were tightening, and a camp had been set up in the nearby town of Mechelen (dubbed the “ante-chamber of death”) to transport Belgian Jews to Auschwitz. The time had come for action.
One day in April, resistance fighter Youra Livchitz, a young doctor, discovered the departure date of the next transport train. With only one weekend in which to organize a raid, Youra recruited two school friends, Jean Franklemon and Robert Maistriau, to pull off one of the most daring rescues of the entire war. Equipped with only three pairs of pliers, a hurricane lamp covered in red paper, and a single pistol, the men ambushed the train, which was transporting 1,618 Jews to Auschwitz.
These three lone men freed 17 men and women before the German guards opened fire. Miraculously, by the time the convoy had reached the German border another 225 prisoners had managed to escape unharmed and found shelter with the locals. In a testament to the solidarity of the Belgians, none of the escapees were betrayed. Yet the three young rescuers shared a different fate, ending for them in concentration camps and, for one, death.
Marion Schreiber’s gripping book about the only Nazi death train in World War II to be ambushed draws on private documents, photographs, archive material, and police reports, as well as original research, including interviews with the surviving escapees. Like Schindler’s List, The Twentieth Train creates a vivid, moving portrait of heroism under impossible circumstances.