Andrea's Reviews > Those Who Save Us

Those Who Save Us by Jenna Blum
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's review
Oct 03, 08

really liked it
bookshelves: read-historical-fiction
Recommended for: People interested in the social history of WWII and the holocaust

A great book - one of the best books that I have read in a while! It's a fascinating story (I found I couldn't put it down), a sad story, a heroic story of surviving in WWII Germany as a civilian although a bit unbelievable. Still, it was a story that I wanted to believe in and I'm sure there are untold stories out there that may never be told.

Blum does a good job of portraying life for German civilians while still being incredibly aware and sympathetic to the treatment of Jews in Germany and of the holocaust, especially in her development of the one of the main characters, Anna. I was incredibly drawn to Anna and felt for her and all that she had to go through. I thought several times - what else could she do? What would I have done? However, the plot was advanced through this empathy and I do wonder how true to life the character of Anna was.

The book flip-flops back and forth between war era German in Weimar and the present day in the U.S. It chronicles Anna's fight to survive during the war and her daughter Trudy's fight in the present to understand Anna's role as she refuses to discuss anything that happened to her. After finding a portrait of her mother, herself, and an S.S. officer as a girl Trudy grows up thinking that her birth father was the S.S. soldier. When she grew up she became a professor of German history and started a German remembrance project to record oral histories of Germans who survived the war. (As a side note, the funding was pulled from a grant a co-worker received to record interviews of Holocaust survivors. Pretty generous if you ask me and a part of the book that made me angry. She should have gone out and found her own funding!!!!!)

Through the interviews she's confronted with a wide variety of attitudes and starts remembering bits about her life in Weimar with the S.S. officer. What she did not know was that her mother fell in love with a Jewish doctor (despite her father's incredible anti-semitism) and hid him in her house in the attic. Her father turned him in the the S.S. and she was with his child. She ran away to a local bakery - the baker was active in the resistance movement (as was her doctor) and she stayed there learned the trade. They supplied bread to the officers at Buchenwald and used the opportunity to deliver bread to the prisoners and taking out messages and sometimes film. When the baker is caught and executed, Anna has no choice but to become the lover of an S.S. officer - the one whose picture her daughter found.

Everyone assumed the worst - including the American soldier husband Anna ended up marrying. But through the German remembrance project Anna discovers the truth. Even when confronted Anna doesn't admit the truth, but the process of healing for mother and daughter (and in the process a better relationship) started.

While there were many hearth breaking parts to this story, the one that really hit hard was when Anna first came to American with Trudy and her new husband and was learning English. They all went to the Christmas Eve service and all of the women of the church shunned her. (After all those years of hating Germans, it doesn't die that quickly....or at all...which is so sad to me!) She made a German pastry for the potluck dinner and by the time they left at the end it was untouched - all her hard work and care for nothing b/c it was German and because it was from her. So sad!

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