In a bombed-out Polish village during World War II, a young resistance fighter finds that he is suddenly alone and trapped between two opposing armies. He is one of Poland’s “Devil’s Rebels” fighting desperately to save his homeland, but an injury has erased his memory and his only possession is a torn photograph of a couple he assumes are his parents. The woman appears to be holding the hand of a young child whose image has been ripped off. Could this be him?
Caught in the crosshairs of the retreating German army and the advancing Russian forces, the village holds nothing but destruction and despair until a mysterious young woman offers a small glimmer of hope that may represent his last chance – news of a refugee train departing from a nearby town, headed for American installations at the border.
But complications arise when the resistance fighter is betrayed by his own countryman and hunted by German SS officers who are determined to kill him before they retreat. Desperately searching for a home and family he can’t remember, he is persuaded to rescue two children who are doomed to die without his help. But as time runs out, the former rebel is faced with an impossible choice. Standing at the crossroads of saving himself or risking his life for strangers, what would motivate a young man at the brink of salvation to make one more sacrifice?
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Outside of Gorndask, Poland
December 20, 1944
The train swayed abruptly as it lurched along the poorly repaired tracks. Rail lines were the lifeblood of the war effort, and for six years the line, like every other in the war zone, had fallen under relentless bombing attack. Indeed, the track had been bombed and rebuilt so many times it was a miracle that it could carry any rail traffic at all. So the train engineer kept it slow, knowing that every bridge was an adventure, every crossing a potential derailing point. At one junction he looked briefly for oncoming traffic, though he suspected his was the only train running within two hundred miles. Who else would have the courage, or desperation, or defiance, or whatever combination of such things it might take to put another train upon the track?
The railroad track was a thread of black weaving through a white and green landscape of rolling hills, thick forests, farming cottages, and small towns. Black smoke billowed from the engine and floated back to coat the train in gray soot. The countryside was white with fresh snow. The storm had started out as rain a couple of days before and then turned to heavy snow, thick and wet. The train was surrounded by tall pines, their boughs drooping under the snow’s weight, seeming to reach for the ground. The sky was cloudy still, gray with soft wisps of fog drifting over the hills. Winter had come, and it might be weeks before the sun would break through the overcast to sparkle on the snow.
The train consisted of five troop transport cars. All the seats had long before been ripped out, leaving the desperate passengers to stand chest-to-chest or back-to-back as they swayed together with each lurch of the train. A few of the weakest among them huddled on the floor, too exhausted, sick, or wounded to stand.
The cars were packed with terrified civilians, mostly women and their scarce belongings: piles of clothing held together with rope, a few bags, an occasional suitcase. One of the women held a small sewing machine, another a wooden cage stuffed with three chickens. In the corner of the compartment, a young mother stood alone. Her long hair framed a beautiful oval face that was so vacant it looked lifeless. In her arms, she held a tiny bundle tightly wrapped from head to toe in a light blue baby blanket. Her child. No longer living. Taking him home. It was a pitiful sight, and the other passengers gave her as much space as they could muster, but no one spoke to her. The death of a child was as common as the falling of the snow, and no one had the ability to offer any comfort anymore.
About the Author
Chris Stewart is a New York Times bestselling author who has published more than a dozen books, has been selected by the Book of the Month Club, and has released titles in multiple languages in seven countries. He has also been a guest editorial list for the Detroit News, among other publications, commenting on matters of military readiness and national security concerns. He is a world-record-setting Air Force pilot (fastest nonstop flight around the world) and president and CEO of The Shipley Group, a nationally recognized consulting and training company.