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After The War – Novel Study Activity Guide
by Carol Matas
Ruth Mendenberg has just been released from Buchenwald, one of Hitler’s concentration camps. World War II is over, but Ruth returns to her hometown in Poland to learn that both her home and her family are gone. She is fifteen, alone, and has nowhere to go. Worst of all, she lives with the guilt of having survived when no one else in her family has.
She meets a man named Saul from Eretz Israel, who encourages her to travel toward freedom in Palestine with him and other Jewish refugees. He takes her to a place where the other refugees are housed. Although Ruth believes there is no hope, she agrees to accompany the refugees on the journey. After all, she has nothing or no one else. When an angry mob attacks the house, killing many of the refugees inside, Ruth must once again hide to survive. After soldiers stop the mob, the survivors flee. Ruth is put in charge of twenty orphans. It is her job to lead them safely to Czechoslovakia, Austria, Italy, and then to Palestine. She hopes that this duty will help her forget everything that has happened.
The group survives both an ambush by Poland and Czech border guards and long train trips to cross the border into Austria. There, Ruth meets a sixteen year old boy named Zvi who tries to get her to open up so that she does not lose her heart to the Germans along with everything else they have taken from her. Ruth continues to feel numb.
When the group enters the French occupied zone of Austria, they are forced to fight their way through the guards. Ruth finally feels some emotion –anger—and takes part in the attack. Later, disguised as British soldiers, the group manages to pass by the Italian border guards. Once in Italy, they are taken to a children's camp run by a man named Mayer. Mayer puts all the older kids, including Ruth, in charge of teaching the younger ones, as well as learning their horrifying stories about the war. Ruth is reluctant to do this because it will dredge up her own memories. Slowly, however, their stories, and Zvi’s support, help her cope with her own sadness.
On the ship to Italy, Ruth learns that her brother Simon and her Aunt Sophie have also survived the war. Her joy is short-lived because the ship is attacked by British warships and Saul is killed. Realizing that she has a lot to live for, Ruth helps fight off the British onslaught. The refugees manage to reach Eretz Israel, but are picked up by the British and sent to a camp in Cyprus. Simon, who managed to avoid the British, helps Ruth, Zvi, and Rivka escape. They return to Palestine, and Ruth opens up her heart to allow her true feelings for Zvi to surface.
For more information on the novel, please visit the author's website.