by Sharon E. McKay
When the Germans occupied Amsterdam in May 1940, not everyone, and certainly not elderly brothers, Hans and Lars Gorter, were adversely affected immediately. The two Dutch bachelors, both in their 60’s, continued to live in the home they had once shared with their mother in a quiet cul-de-sac across the road from her friend, Mrs. Vos, now 80. They continued to work on a city tram, Hans driving it and Lars collecting tickets. And they continued to keep to themselves and their routines, though they were becoming perplexed by the hatred being directed at the Jewish people and the Nazis insistence that suspicious behaviour of any sort be reported.
But in 1942 when a woman on the tram separates herself from the little girl accompanying her and is taken away by the Nazis, Lars claims the young girl as his niece and, with a quick release of the hand brake, Hans distracts the Nazi who leaves without the girl. Hours later, the two men, befuddled as to what to do with the child, take her home. That simple act, including taking her hands to walk her across the street, has Lars and Hans becoming unofficial uncles to little Beatrix.
To Lars it was as if the curl of a wave had come to rest in his palm To Hans it felt as if the gentlest creature on earth–a baby bird, perhaps–had nestled in his hand. In that moment both felt the intense pride that comes with great responsibility as they guided the child safely across the street. (pg. 22-3)
The brothers and Mrs. Vos raise her as Beatrix Gorter and have her schooled in Catholicism. Neighbours are encouraged into silence with polite threats of secrets to be revealed, and a new neighbour, the young Mrs. Lieve van der Meer, taking a special role in Beatrix’s education and upbringing. And as Beatrix grows, and the persecution of the Jews escalates, and food shortages and strikes make life virtually impossible, the years pass, Beatrix ever hopeful that her mother will return.
This could have been another story of surviving the Holocaust but Sharon E. McKay doesn’t do the same as everyone. It’s not about escaping or surviving. It’s the story about naively opening one’s home and one’s heart to a stranger and finding both enriched in unexpected ways. The End of the Line is such a simple story about two unlikely and even reluctant heroes who jump in to help a little girl and find their lives changed forever. What makes the story all the more poignant is the way in which Beatrix’s unofficial adoption creates a lovely new family of anomalous individuals. And even with the horrors of Nazism and the persecution of the Jewish people and the Dutch under occupation, Sharon E. McKay is able still to provide moments of sweet tenderness and a reassuring ending that will fill one’s heart with gladness and one’s eyes with tears.