Edith Hahn was an outspoken young woman studying law in Vienna when the Gestapo forced Edith and her mother into a ghetto, issuing them papers branded with a “J.” Soon, Edith was taken away to a labor camp, and though she convinced Nazi officials to spare her mother, when she returned home, her mother had been deported. Knowing she would become a hunted woman, Edith tore the yellow star from her clothing and went underground, scavenging for food and searching each night for a safe place to sleep. Her boyfriend, Pepi, proved too terrified to help her, but a Christian friend was not: With the woman’s identity papers in hand, Edith fled to Munich. There she met Werner Vetter, a Nazi party member who fell in love with her. And despite her protests and even her eventual confession that she was Jewish, he married her and kept her identity secret.
In vivid, wrenching detail, Edith recalls a life of constant, almost paralyzing fear. She tells of German officials who casually questioned the lineage of her parents; of how, when giving birth to her daughter, she refused all painkillers, afraid that in an altered state of mind she might reveal her past; and of how, after her husband was captured by the Russians and sent to Siberia, Edith was bombed out of her house and had to hide in a closet with her daughter while drunken Russians soldiers raped women on the street.
Yet despite the risk it posed to her life, Edith Hahn created a remarkable collective record of survival: She saved every set of real and falsified papers, letters she received from her lost love, Pepi, and photographs she managed to take inside labor camps.
On exhibit at the Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C., these hundreds of documents form the fabric of an epic story – complex, troubling, and ultimately triumphant.
I always feel that when reading about this period of our history, the Holocaust and its accompanying literature should be taken in small pieces due to its intensity and the emotions it can bring out in the reader. This is one small piece that was worth reading but it wasn’t as mind-blowing as other true accounts I have read. I actually feel a little guilt at only giving 3 thumbs to a book written about a holocaust survivor, as each survival story is remarkable in and of itself, but this book didn’t capture me in the way others have, and I found the Author really hard to connect with.
With that said, this book opened my eyes to a part of the Holocaust I had heard of, but never really read anything about; the story of a Jew in Nazi Germany living as a non-Jew, or as they were known a ‘U-boat’. This book gives a whole new meaning to the phrase ‘living with the enemy’. I was totally immersed in the paperwork and rationing involved in Germany at this time, and along with the presence of mind required by the Author to remember who she was at any given moment, and to keep her cool when questioned I found myself pulled more into the era and life then, than I was towards the Author herself.
The evidence of how the Author had to harden her emotions to everyday events, something that she still carries with her today, was apparent in the way in which this book was written. Events were put on the page in a very matter of fact manner and with very little emotion, this also spilled over to others mentioned in the book, as they came across as one-dimensional and with little to no depth. This made it very hard to figure out their personalities and the motivation behind their actions; but maybe I was looking for too much in what is an account of an extraordinary life.
I would recommend this book to anyone who is interested in Holocaust fiction as they might find a viewpoint on this period they had not read before.