Review: The Nazi Officer’s Wife: How One Jewish Woman Survived the Holocaust ~ Edith Hahn Beer, Susan Dworkin

Nazi officers wifeISBN ~ 978-0349113791
Publisher ~  Abacus
No. Of Pages ~ 305 pages
Links ~ Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Harper Collins

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.

3 Thumbs-UpI 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.

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Review: Once We Were Brothers ~ Ronald H. Balson

Once we were borthersElliot Rosenzweig, a respected civic leader and wealthy philanthropist, is attending a fundraiser when he is suddenly accosted and accused of being a former Nazi SS officer named Otto Piatek, the Butcher of Zamosc. Although the charges are denounced as preposterous, his accuser is convinced he is right and engages attorney Catherine Lockhart to bring Rosenzweig to justice. Solomon persuades attorney Catherine Lockhart to take his case, revealing that the true Piatek was abandoned as a child and raised by Solomon’s own family only to betray them during the Nazi occupation. But has Solomon accused the right man?

3 Thumbs-UpThis is a debut novel from this Author and was recommended to me for review by a Polish survivor of the camps.

I was pulled into this book from the first chapter, and found myself returning to read more at every opportunity I got.  However, the characters portrayed in the book came across as being rather flat.  The person I perceived as being the main protagonist was under-developed and could have been given so much more depth by the Author; there seemed to be so much more that could have been written into his background that would have turned him from the old befuddled fool that came out of the pages into a strong and resilient character that showed the human spirit can endure things we never think possible.  Certain players in this novel professed to know nothing about the Holocaust, and this added an air of incredulity to the novel.  I felt that if the Author had invested more time into the development of their characters, and explored the complexity of the human soul, they would have turned this book around and made it into something more than it actually is.  Readers need to be aware that there are also some characters thrown into this book that are never heard from again, making one wonder what the point of including them in the first place actually was.  Unless the Author was trying in some way to reflect how people suddenly ‘vanished’ during these years, it may have been better not to include them at all rather than to leave the reader wondering what happened to them and how the events taking place affected them.  I really couldn’t connect with any of the characters in this novel, and that is not because I’ve not walked the path they did, it was just because they were so one-dimensional with no endearing traits at all.

Taking place in two eras, World War II and the present day, it was hard to accept that they were part of the same novel.  In writing this book it is apparent that the Author spent a great deal of time researching the historical aspects of the pogrom in Poland, but not nearly enough time as some of the things that are written as facts are actually a little off skew.  Despite this the historical parts of the book are extremely well written, and it was these parts more than anything that made this a page turner for me; to the point where when the storyline returned to modern-day, I just wanted to hurry through them to get back to the past.  In comparison to the skilful way in which the Author wrote about World War II, its run up and the way it affected the Jews in Poland, the modern-day storyline was rather weakly written, and it is in this portion of the book that I found the plot to be rather predictable.

I wouldn’t say this was a must read for anyone that is interested in this period of time and the depravity that accompanied it in some countries in Europe, but I will recommend it as a book that breathes a new life into a dismal subject as it looks at this whole area from a different viewpoint.  Unfortunately, it could have used the talents of an expert editor in many places to polish out the rather amateurish feel it had, and this is what led to my rating it as I have.

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Review: Hitler’s Furies: German Women in the Nazi Killing Fields ~ Wendy Lower

Hitler's FuriesHitler’s Furies builds a fascinating and convincing picture of a morally “lost generation” of young women, born into a defeated, tumultuous post-World War I Germany, and then swept up in the nationalistic fervor of the Nazi movement-a twisted political awakening that turned to genocide. These young women-nurses, teachers, secretaries, wives, and mistresses-saw the emerging Nazi empire as a kind of “wild east” of career and matrimonial opportunity, and yet could not have imagined what they would witness and do there. Lower, drawing on twenty years of archival and field work on the Holocaust, access to post-Soviet documents, and interviews with German witnesses, presents overwhelming evidence that these women were more than “desk murderers” or comforters of murderous German men: that they went on “shopping sprees” for Jewish-owned goods and also brutalized Jews in the ghettos of Poland, Ukraine, and Belarus; that they were present at killing-field picnics, not only providing refreshment but also taking their turn at the mass shooting. And Lower uncovers the stories, perhaps most horrific, of SS wives with children of their own, whose female brutality is as chilling as any in history.

4 Thumbs-Up

WARNING: THIS BOOK IS NOT FOR THOSE WITH A WEAK STOMACH, THE OVERLY PASSIONATE OR ANYONE UNDER THE AGE OF 18.

This book has taken me a tremendously long amount of time to finish; not because it is badly written or long-winded, but because it overwhelms the reader’s emotions to such a point that you need to put it down and walk away.  This book is definitely not for the faint of heart, and can only be digested in small, not so easily swallowed mouthfuls.

In writing this book the Author pulls on her twenty years experience as an archival researcher and also things she learnt whilst out doing field work; it shows in the way the book is put together that she felt this was a part of history that needed to be told, warts and all, and covers a part of Nazi Germany that has remained untold.

Through a series of detailed biographies, the Author introduces the reader to each of the “Furies” in the title; we see their simple and ordinary backgrounds, which are all relatively diverse, but all had one reason to go to the Eastern front and this was also simple; money, duty to the Reich, keeping the family together and social or political connections.  Once there, however, their stories take on lives of their own and, in some cases these are very chilling and hard to comprehend in today’s society.  These women came from areas of their society as diverse as nurses, secretaries and teachers, but each of the women mentioned in this book all had one thing in common, they became a part of the “Final Solution”.

The Author carefully and skilfully separates the women in the book according to their level of participation in these events, whether it is as witnesses to events, indifference at what was happening or, as the reader finds in some cases, just acceptance. By direct or indirect participation, these women could, by no means, be all ‘lumped together’, as each had their own motivations for doing what they did, as chilling as they may have been.  Also brought to light is the fact that while many of their male counterparts were the subject of aggressive manhunts that spanned the globe, these women were left untouched and allowed to escape any accountability for their actions by claiming ignorance.  I’m not sure if they could be said to have gone on to lead ‘normal’ lives, but the latter part of this provocative and highly emotional read looks into theories that try to explain their participation in such atrocities.  The banality of evil was a phrase that came to mind every time I picked up this book and read a little more of their actions.  After reading this book, I felt that I am going to need some time away from my much-loved books, both fiction and non-fiction, that cover this period of our history it affected me so much.

I would cautiously recommend this book to all that are interested in this period of history, but if you are going to read it you need to be aware it will move you in ways you never imagined.

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