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My Train to Freedom: A Jewish Boy's Journey from Nazi Europe to a Life of Activism

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The breathtaking memoir by a member of “Nicky’s family,” a group of 669 Czechoslovakian children who escaped the Holocaust through Sir Nicholas Winton’s Kindertransport project, My Train to Freedom relates the trials and achievements of award-winning humanitarian and former Episcopal priest, Ivan Backer. As Backer recounts in his memoir, in May of 1939 as a ten-year-old Jew The breathtaking memoir by a member of “Nicky’s family,” a group of 669 Czechoslovakian children who escaped the Holocaust through Sir Nicholas Winton’s Kindertransport project, My Train to Freedom relates the trials and achievements of award-winning humanitarian and former Episcopal priest, Ivan Backer. As Backer recounts in his memoir, in May of 1939 as a ten-year-old Jewish boy, he fled Nazi-occupied Czechoslovakia for the United Kingdom aboard one of the Kindertransport trains organized by Nicholas Winton, a young London stockbroker. The final train was canceled September 1 when Hitler invaded Poland. The 250 children scheduled for that train were left on the platform and later transported to concentration camps and presumably perished. Detailed in this page-turning true story is Backer’s dangerous escape, his boyhood in England, his perilous 1944 voyage to America, and his mantra today. Now he is an eighty-six-year-old who remains an activist for peace and justice. He has been influenced by his Jewish heritage, his Christian boarding school education in England, and the always present question, “For what purpose was I spared the Holocaust?” My Train to Freedom was thoroughly researched and shaped by Backer’s own memories. It includes interviews he conducted in 1980 in Czech with his mother and her sister, later translated into English; a collection of conversations he had with his older brother and cousin; insights gained from the Czech film, Nicky’s Family, about the Kindertransport; and concludes with never-before-published death march accounts by two family members.


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The breathtaking memoir by a member of “Nicky’s family,” a group of 669 Czechoslovakian children who escaped the Holocaust through Sir Nicholas Winton’s Kindertransport project, My Train to Freedom relates the trials and achievements of award-winning humanitarian and former Episcopal priest, Ivan Backer. As Backer recounts in his memoir, in May of 1939 as a ten-year-old Jew The breathtaking memoir by a member of “Nicky’s family,” a group of 669 Czechoslovakian children who escaped the Holocaust through Sir Nicholas Winton’s Kindertransport project, My Train to Freedom relates the trials and achievements of award-winning humanitarian and former Episcopal priest, Ivan Backer. As Backer recounts in his memoir, in May of 1939 as a ten-year-old Jewish boy, he fled Nazi-occupied Czechoslovakia for the United Kingdom aboard one of the Kindertransport trains organized by Nicholas Winton, a young London stockbroker. The final train was canceled September 1 when Hitler invaded Poland. The 250 children scheduled for that train were left on the platform and later transported to concentration camps and presumably perished. Detailed in this page-turning true story is Backer’s dangerous escape, his boyhood in England, his perilous 1944 voyage to America, and his mantra today. Now he is an eighty-six-year-old who remains an activist for peace and justice. He has been influenced by his Jewish heritage, his Christian boarding school education in England, and the always present question, “For what purpose was I spared the Holocaust?” My Train to Freedom was thoroughly researched and shaped by Backer’s own memories. It includes interviews he conducted in 1980 in Czech with his mother and her sister, later translated into English; a collection of conversations he had with his older brother and cousin; insights gained from the Czech film, Nicky’s Family, about the Kindertransport; and concludes with never-before-published death march accounts by two family members.

30 review for My Train to Freedom: A Jewish Boy's Journey from Nazi Europe to a Life of Activism

  1. 5 out of 5

    Connie G

    Ivan Backer's Jewish parents made the difficult decision of arranging for their ten-year-old son to board the Kindertransport from Prague to England in 1939. Sir Nicholas Winton, a British stockbroker, saved the lives of 669 children by transporting them out of Czechoslovakia before they could be rounded up and sent to Nazi concentration camps. The author relates his experiences in England, his exposure to Christianity, his 1944 trip to the United States, and his decision to devote his life to hu Ivan Backer's Jewish parents made the difficult decision of arranging for their ten-year-old son to board the Kindertransport from Prague to England in 1939. Sir Nicholas Winton, a British stockbroker, saved the lives of 669 children by transporting them out of Czechoslovakia before they could be rounded up and sent to Nazi concentration camps. The author relates his experiences in England, his exposure to Christianity, his 1944 trip to the United States, and his decision to devote his life to humanitarian purposes. In the book he tries to answer the question: "How did the fact that I avoided the Holocaust horrors influence the choosing of my life's work and the major decisions I made along the way?" He has been a civil rights activist, and worked for many years to improve the lives of minorities in Hartford, Connecticut, especially near Trinity College. In his retirement he also has held leadership roles in the Adult Learning Program for older adults. In addition to his own experiences, he also shares the stories of two family members' death marches just before the end of the war. I heard Mr Backer give an author talk, and it is truly inspirational how he has given back to society in gratitude after being saved from the Holocaust. The documentary film, "Nicky's Family", about the Kindertransport, is also excellent.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Rae

    Confession: I brought my family to a talk given by the author regarding his book. Ivan seemed like a sweet, thoughtful older gentleman that, to this day, is still haunted by the question, “Why me?” While the writing may be amateurish, I found it interesting because it was so personal. I had met the author. I heard him speak of what happened to him more than 70+ years ago regarding a war that must never be forgotten. Toward the end of his speech, like in the book, you are reminded that he’s just Confession: I brought my family to a talk given by the author regarding his book. Ivan seemed like a sweet, thoughtful older gentleman that, to this day, is still haunted by the question, “Why me?” While the writing may be amateurish, I found it interesting because it was so personal. I had met the author. I heard him speak of what happened to him more than 70+ years ago regarding a war that must never be forgotten. Toward the end of his speech, like in the book, you are reminded that he’s just a man. He got lucky when so many people didn’t. He’s done his best to live a life that honored God, that honored the victims and to help bring about peace among all people starting in his own community. To that, I give 4 stars.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Cathy Santaniello

    Inspiring A different story. I have read many books about the kindertrains, but this one is completely different. Read this for some activist inspiration.

  4. 5 out of 5

    The Coycaterpillar Reads

    An interesting read, I am extremely interested in the events of the holocaust and this memoir was both sad but a life not put to waste, and how his harrowing journey influenced his career.

  5. 5 out of 5

    rhonda granquist

    Ivan Backer was one of many children that were rescued by Winton Nickelous during WWII. He tells of his escape. Then he goes on and talks about how he got into being an activist. At the end of his story, his uncle paul relates his survival of the war as does Ivan’s favorite cousin Lislott tells her story

  6. 4 out of 5

    Clara Roberts

    This was a dull and boring read. This Czech secular Jewish boy and his family are saved from the Nazis. WWII is spent in England. He becomes a Christian because he likes the ritual. There appears to be no conviction of sin or of the need of a Savior. The family immigrate to the USA where he devotes his life to left radical causes that hurt the greater good of American citizens. The read was a waste of time and money.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Amber

    A very interesting book. The author weaves his story of how at age 10, he escaped Czechoslovakia on a kindertrain to England, just before the Nazis close the border to all who are trying to escape. Being Jewish by birth, Backer has a deep sense that he was saved from the jaws of death for a life purpose. That ethos guides all his life decisions and personal and professional choices. While Backer becomes a Christian in England, and eventually a pastor in America, his Jewish heritage underlies his A very interesting book. The author weaves his story of how at age 10, he escaped Czechoslovakia on a kindertrain to England, just before the Nazis close the border to all who are trying to escape. Being Jewish by birth, Backer has a deep sense that he was saved from the jaws of death for a life purpose. That ethos guides all his life decisions and personal and professional choices. While Backer becomes a Christian in England, and eventually a pastor in America, his Jewish heritage underlies his sense of family and the many who lost their lives because of it. It is especially intriguing that Backer was imprinted in his soul to live a life of activism given the crucible of his early years and the impact of the war on him. Clearly, Backer had a sense of justice and right living which comes out in his life. The beginning chapters and ending appendices are the most riveting since it covers the time period during the Nazi occupation and end of the war, including accounts of some family members who faced the horrors of concentration camps. The book also has some photos at the end. My four stars are mainly because sometimes the book rambles and the author jumps around in time and remembrances between paragraphs. This was confusing since Backer was detailing periods in his life, and then would jump back to earlier episodes or people. All in all, a good read.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Vicky Hunt

    Escape through Germany While just a young boy, the author was placed on a train alone and sent through Germany to the safety of Great Britain just before the war started. Now, he shares his story, and the stories of his immediate and extended family during those war years. It is a factual story that is told without animosity or resent. Mr. Backer shares the details of his life's work in various roles of activism as well. The appendices include some never before shared accounts from extended famil Escape through Germany While just a young boy, the author was placed on a train alone and sent through Germany to the safety of Great Britain just before the war started. Now, he shares his story, and the stories of his immediate and extended family during those war years. It is a factual story that is told without animosity or resent. Mr. Backer shares the details of his life's work in various roles of activism as well. The appendices include some never before shared accounts from extended family members that tell of death marches. I read this story for my stop in Slovakia on my Journey Around the World in 80 Books for 2018. I selected it for my collection of train books, as well. I read it in the Audible narrated in high quality by Eric Dove. My next stop will be Poland.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Brenda

    This is the first audio book I’ve returned. It started out ok, but the stories skip around so they’re a little hard to follow. The part that I thought would be most interesting - what caused a Jewish boy that escaped the Holocaust is just skimmed over. SO much repetition about “why was I saved”. And then it goes into a monologue about all the groups he joined, the leadership positions he held in each... not the inspiring story I thought it would be at all. Reading this book is like getting a bite This is the first audio book I’ve returned. It started out ok, but the stories skip around so they’re a little hard to follow. The part that I thought would be most interesting - what caused a Jewish boy that escaped the Holocaust is just skimmed over. SO much repetition about “why was I saved”. And then it goes into a monologue about all the groups he joined, the leadership positions he held in each... not the inspiring story I thought it would be at all. Reading this book is like getting a bite of salt when you thought you were getting sugar. Blech.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Andrew Scholes

    This first part of the book where the author tells of his time in Germany and being on one of the last Kindertransports is interesting. The last part of the book in which he discusses the various occupations he had in America seem to me to be self congratulatory. I understand it is an autobiography but he seems to go over the top patting himself on the back.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Louise Duckworth

    Sorry was naff...

  12. 5 out of 5

    Alice Sather

    What was most interesting was how his childhood experience informed his educational choices and, ultimately, profession.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Rose Ross

    An interesting memoir. I'm not generally fond of memoirs or auto-bios An interesting memoir. I'm not generally fond of memoirs or auto-bios

  14. 4 out of 5

    Jerroleen

    Tooting your own horn. The best part of the book was the appendices.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Robert Mosley

    This book is a memoir This book should be a memoir not a book of leadership. It is the afterlife of the author adult journey

  16. 5 out of 5

    Diane

    Interesting and well-written beautiful sad story. This is the story of World War II--sad but lucky but horrifying and poignant. A grateful survivor shares with us his history.

  17. 4 out of 5

    cathy poland

  18. 5 out of 5

    Joanne van der Schoor

  19. 4 out of 5

    Wanda

  20. 5 out of 5

    Debra Kessab

  21. 5 out of 5

    Shelley Stevens

  22. 4 out of 5

    Karen

  23. 4 out of 5

    Michaella Myš Kamenská

  24. 4 out of 5

    Trish

  25. 5 out of 5

    Traci

  26. 5 out of 5

    Paula Fisher

  27. 5 out of 5

    Gloria

  28. 5 out of 5

    fran mcwilliams

  29. 5 out of 5

    Kari Navarre

  30. 5 out of 5

    Joanne

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