Sunday, March 22, 2009

Book 30: Those Who Save Us

Those Who Save Us by Jenna Blum

I've been reading more Holocaust/World War II books lately, and I don't know why. I guess I picked up Sarah's Key, and it recommended this one, and here we go. This novel, as seems to be the trend lately, is also told from two different perspectives and two different times. The novel tells the story from Trudi's view in the mid-90s, but also goes back in time to her mother's life in Nazi Germany.

Anna, Trudi's mother, is the strong, silent type. and has never told her daughter much about her life in Germany. All Trudi knows is that she was three years old when they left to come to the States with Jack Schlemmer, an American Anna met and married at the end of the war. While Anna keeps her daughter at a distance, it is still hard to really like or sympathize with Trudi. She puts her mother in a home after there is a fire at the farm house, instead of considering an alternate option like assisted living or simply a smaller apartment, and she also keeps her mother at a distance - as she mentions later in the novel when she invites her mother to live with her, she had only invited her mother to her home once in twenty or thirty years when she first moved in. After Trudi's friend, who is also the head of Holocaust Studies receives a grant to interview Jewish survivors, Trudi is inspired to do her own interviews of Germans who lived in Germany under the Reich. Trudi is still on a quest to get to know her mother and understand how normal Germans could have let everything happen. Mainly she is afraid to discover what her mom did, especially since there is a picture of her mother, herself and a German SS officer that was her mother's only keepsake from her former life.

While this is what Trudi knows about her mother, the readers know early on that things aren't that simple, and that there must be an involved story to how Anna ended up with an SS officer. When the novel begins, Anna has just met a Jewish doctor that is almost twice her age, but whom she is very interested in. She eventually hides him in her attic, and even becomes pregnant before her father, a loyal party member discovers and turns him in. Angry at her father, she leaves home and helps the local baker with small gestures of resistance but soon finds herself involved with the SS officer to save her life.

Even though Anna did more than some of her fellow people, she still feels guilty and confused about how she survived the war since her relationship with the officer actually gave her certain benefits. She does not feel like a hero, and while it may be wrong to not let her daughter know about her roots, she doesn't want any false glory. and chooses not to discuss it.

As I said, I definitely preferred Anna to Trudi. One of the characters in the novel raises the question whether or not the Germans have the right to discuss their war experience or try to excuse themselves because of their willful ignoral of events. While it may seem odd to hear Germans talk about how difficult the times were and the invasion, it's still important to know from a historical and psychological perspective as to how group mentality can work.

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