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Archive 08-19 GR Discussions > Those Who Save Us by Jenna Blum*SPOILERS*

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message 1: by Rose (new)

Rose (roseo) I found this book to be more than just a story of survival but a deep psychological study of a woman's (Anna) life in the midst of war, and the damages left with her in it's aftermath.

It was a great read.

Elizabeth (Alaska) Rose, thanks for leading the discussion. As many of you know I've been looking forward to it. At first I thought a lot of the psychological stuff from Trudy was interferring with Anna's story. By the end, I came to believe it was even more Trudy's story than Anna's.

message 3: by Sheila , Supporting Chick (new)

Sheila  | 3485 comments Mod
I really enjoyed this book, and am looking forward to discussing it in detail with everyone.

message 4: by Amber (new)

Amber im new to this group so i have a few questions. I bought the book a few days ago, am I supposed to already have it read by today or do i have the 15 days to read it and discuss as I go?

message 5: by Rose (new)

Rose (roseo) Elizabeth wrote: "Rose, thanks for leading the discussion. ..."

I am not the "leader", I just couldn't wait to start the discussion! :D

Elizabeth (Alaska) Brenda, thank you so much for that link.

I think if Trudy had known all along, it wouldn't be a story. She wouldn't have felt such guilt. Learning she had a Jewish father freed her from the guilt, and allowed her to forgive her mother for having been the mistress of the SS Officer. I'd like to think she came to understand and forgive her mother for not being able to speak of it.

message 7: by Rose (new)

Rose (roseo) Brenda, I agree that many horrific things happened to many people during the Nazi regime and much more than what Anna went through but I think the story brought to light that even people "supposedly" safe from the war do suffer. I get shivers just thinking about women and children in war torn countries.

Shelby *trains flying monkeys* I loved this book. It made me wonder what I would do if faced with some of the choices that women had to face during Anna's time period. I think she grew fond of the SS Officer and didn't much like herself due to that. I can see just wanting to bury that past and not think about it.

Brenda, I think she played it pretty safe too. The horrors of that time really weren't as played out as they could have been.

Elizabeth (Alaska) Brenda, I missed your comment above because I was posting at the same time.

I can agree to some extent that the author did not play up the horrors of that war. I certainly can't/won't speak for her, but perhaps she felt her audience sophisticated enough to know that part already.

I was frustrated during the early pages because I felt that Trudy should have been sophisticated enough to know about those horrors, too. Here she was, a professor of German history, already teaching about the war. How was she apparently suddenly reminded of her war memories and apparently suddenly so tormented by them that she began having trouble sleeping? That Trudy was 50, rather than some younger age, is one of the problems for me.

message 10: by Rose (last edited Aug 01, 2009 01:17PM) (new)

Rose (roseo) Shelby said Brenda, I think she played it pretty safe too. The horrors of that time really weren't as played out as they could have been.

In my opinion, there would be no interest in the character Anna. It was a story from a regular German citizen's viewpoint.

Elizabeth (Alaska) Rose, I'm not sure I understand you. Do you mean that if the book didn't include Trudy's war memories, that the story would not be compelling enough?

message 12: by Rose (new)

Rose (roseo) Elizabeth, I was responding to the point made about the author playing it safe.

Elizabeth (Alaska) I think Anna's story is important for us to understand. The author did not do enough to show us how the German citizenry suffered. I thought that was Brenda and Shelby's point about the author playing it safe, that we should have been shown more clearly about the fear under which they lived and the real physical suffering of the lack of food. Perhaps she would have been inclined to have been the SS Officer's mistress even without her half Jewish child.

message 14: by Rose (new)

Rose (roseo) I thought of Anna more of a hostage than a "mistress".

message 15: by Laura (new)

Laura | 49 comments I am looking foward to this discussion as well. I read the book in a couple of days. Somehow our parents experiences both overtly and covertly effect us. This was I believe Trudy's experience, as her mothers guilt built a wall between Trudy and Anna. Secrets have a way of worming there way into the fabric of our lives and for Anna this I believe held true. The trauma that survivors of this time faced is unspeakable.

Elizabeth (Alaska) Well, in all fairness to Anna, I think she might have hated more and been the hostage that Rose describes, had Trudy not been half Jewish.

A question occurs to me: who would you list as "Those Who Save Us?"

I would include Anna as being the primary one in the story who saved. Had she not been willing to be so compliant, I think Trudy would not have been saved. She also was one who helped save prisoners at Buchenwald. (I have loaned out my copy. Was Pfeffer the name of the prisoner who revealed to Trudy her Jewish father?) And, of course, the very beginning she saved Max for as long as she could. In this way, it is possible to see Anna as less the victim, although she was surely that, and more one who took charge of her life, refusing to be controlled.

message 17: by Sharon A. (new)

Sharon A. (sharona826) | 172 comments I'm only about halfway through the book, so I may have a different opinion when I'm finished!

I thought Anna's story was the most interesting part. Obviously Trudy's entire life has been affected by her early childhood, most of which she seems to only remember subconsciously, but I'm less sympathetic to her inner demons than I am with Anna's.

I'm also struggling with why she is so unsympathetic towards her mother. You would think that the memories/dreams/fears she has of the Nazi officer would give her some empathy for what her mother went through at the time, especially in light of some of the other women she is interviewing.

I suppose this will tie together for me before it's all over.

I am truly loving this book, though. I like the writing style; it fits the material.

message 18: by Holli (new)

Holli Jamie (the one who nominated the book) asked me about a week ago to start the discussion for her as she would be on vacation and then she said she would start it.

I'm not sure when she was planning on starting it but wanted to say THANK YOU Rose for opening the thread and starting the conversation. I'll let Jamie know in a PM that you did that. Perfect!


message 19: by Rose (new)

Rose (roseo)
Pfft! *blushing* And here I thought I was being presumptuous! :D LOL

Glad to help!

message 20: by Holli (new)

Holli So go ahead and continue talking.... she can jump in when she gets to it... Worked out beautifully!

Elizabeth (Alaska) Tell her thank you for nominating the book!

message 22: by Rose (new)

Rose (roseo) I think fierce guilt, shame, denial and anger kept Anna from telling Trudy her story. She was so damaged.

The rejection she felt when they arrived in the U.S. also served to shore up her defenses.

Elizabeth (Alaska) I was shocked at that rejection. Perhaps not at the very beginning, but after all those years, that none of those Christian women would come out to the house after the funeral I thought was uncharacteristic and unrealistic. This seemed an unfair portrayal to me.

message 24: by Rose (new)

Rose (roseo) I thought it was typical post war behavior toward the Germans and other foreigners. Especially in small towns.

Also, I just thought about how in those times people didn't "share" their feelings.

Elizabeth (Alaska) I have no European family, even extended family, from whom I might have gotten some insight into this period. My father, though he went to register, was too old to be accepted to fight. There was no one from whom I might have gotten any first hand accounts. Do any of you think your own family's experiences might have influenced your thinking while reading this book?

message 26: by Jennifer W (new)

Jennifer W | 2175 comments I actually liked Trudy's story better. I think it was probably because I agree with Brenda that Anna "lucked out" a bit. I think I felt that way because I didn't get the emotional impact that Anna was being raped, but more like, "oh here we go again," like a reluctant mistress. Although, even though I mathematically knew better, I kept picturing Trudy as much younger. I felt Trudy's romantic relationship was forced and unnecessary.

Brenda, were you asking about Anna's dad? He went to Berlin or some other major city so he could start over without the embarrassment of his pregnant daughter. Anna hears about it through the gossips.

message 27: by Rose (new)

Rose (roseo) Jack Swenson saved both Anna and Trudy. He especially gave Trudy the affection she needed.

Shelby *trains flying monkeys* I felt so bad for poor Jack though at Christmas when Anna told him that the story about her and the SS officer having the affair was true. He was such a good guy to not let that affect him with young Trudy. He really seemed like a decent guy.

Elizabeth (Alaska) I thought the scene where Anna tells Jack the story is true was the vehicle by which we learn how much she'd come to love and care for Horst. When Jack made love to her, it was Horst she pictured.

Shelby *trains flying monkeys* I know! I hadn't realized until then that she really cared for him. I guess after so much time with him that she would. He did supply food and necessities for her and Trudy.

message 31: by Nancy (last edited Aug 01, 2009 08:41PM) (new)

Nancy | 1272 comments Elizabeth wrote: "I have no European family, even extended family, from whom I might have gotten some insight into this period. My father, though he went to register, was too old to be accepted to fight. There was n..." After my mother died, my father re-married (at 80 yrs) a woman who had immigrated from Germany in the 1950's. I had a hard time when they first met. She questioned the Holocaust, said she had no idea it was going on. She doubted it, got upset at even the mention and wouldn't discuss it. She was angry and bitter that her brother was killed by English bombing. The latter is perfectly understandable. I struggled with her attitude and that makes me feel really guilty. Could she honestly not know, or is this a huge case of denial?

My Dad was a history teacher, so I failed to comprehend how he could overlook her opinions. However, I know he was very lonely and in many ways they are good for each other. She won't let my Dad watch any war movies or have books of that subject matter in the house. He fought in the war as well, but she doesn't see him bearing any guilt as he flew in the South Pacific.

Interestingly enough, I had a discussion with a young seminary student from Germany and he said her perspective is actually typical of that generation. Reading a book like this (and recently reading "The Book Thief") have helped me to try and understand her, get over my anger and move on. So many of you have stated so eloquently that the regular Germans suffered as well. I loved Laura's comment about the suffering putting up walls and worming into the fabric of everyone's lives.

In that vein, my stepmom has come around in the last 8 years, especially now that her daughter is engaged to a Jewish man. Second marriage for both, in their 50's. Going to be interesting. Her daughter was afraid to tell her Mom when they started dating. I'm not sure if it was fears of anti-semitism or more one of religion. Ok, I'm done - sorry for being so long winded, but the question you put out there did apply somewhat to me.

Shelby *trains flying monkeys* Nancy, you weren't long winded at all. It was very interesting to hear your story. I do think it was common for other Germans to say it didn't go on. My mom said it was a bull story when I asked her about it when I learned of the Holocaust. It's unbelievable that people don't believe history but it happens.

message 33: by Elizabeth (Alaska) (last edited Aug 01, 2009 05:46PM) (new)

Elizabeth (Alaska) I think there may have been people who didn't know the extent of the horrors of the camps. I think there were also those who didn't want to know. I think there were those who suspected, but were too weak and fearful to speak up, with the subsequent denial because of their own feelings of guilt. And then there were probably those who felt the Jews were getting what they deserved. Maybe all sorts of gradations of this knowledge too.

Nancy, I didn't think you were particularly long-winded. And thank you for sharing - it is this additional insight that contributes to understanding this story.

message 34: by Rose (last edited Aug 01, 2009 05:59PM) (new)

Rose (roseo) We don't have to go far to see that people still turn a blind eye to those in trouble!

They teach women in self defense NOT to yell "help" but "fire"! Unless it affects us directly we're not likely to get involved. I can understand the german citizens' fear.

Elizabeth (Alaska) Brenda, I thought it was the relief of knowing she wasn't the daughter of an SS man that allowed her to heal. The back of the book I have says Trudy was 3 when the war was over, but she was nearly 5, old enough to remember that he brought her treats with which she was pleased. And, she called him Saint Nicholas, certainly an image to love.

Elizabeth (Alaska) Oh - and I need to look further at the website, I read only the first screen, not realizing there was more.

Elizabeth (Alaska) Again, I apologize for not having my copy so that I can look up some things. When was it that Jack Swenson died?

message 38: by Rose (new)

Rose (roseo) Elizabeth wrote: "Again, I apologize for not having my copy so that I can look up some things. When was it that Jack Swenson died?"


Elizabeth (Alaska) Thanks, Rose. I thought it was nearly 40 years after the war. That time span was why I thought it completely out of character for all of the Minnesota people to be so uncharitable. Anna was still attending church, still as active as she would allow herself to be. Ok, I'm running this into the ground, but it bugs me.

message 40: by Rose (new)

Rose (roseo) Elizabeth wrote: "I thought the scene where Anna tells Jack the story is true was the vehicle by which we learn how much she'd come to love and care for Horst. When Jack made love to her, it was Horst she pictured."

I disagree with her being in love with Horst. I think it was a case of Stockholm Syndrome.

message 41: by Rose (new)

Rose (roseo) from Wikipedia:

"The Stockholm Syndrome is a psychological shift that occurs to captives when they are threatened gravely but shown acts of kindness by their captors. They tend to sympathize with their captors and think of them highly because they believe that their captors are showing fervor because of their inherent kindness and thus might not be as bad as they look. Unfortunately, they fail to recognize that their captors are making choices based on their own discretion. When subjected to these situations for a period of time, the captive develops a strong bond with the captor and in some cases (especially with a captor of the opposite sex) develops a sexual interest."

Elizabeth (Alaska) Oh, I thought Anna knew exactly who Horst was, and how evil was the regime he represented. Remember, she dissembles whenever they have sex. But he satisfied her sexually, something that apparently Max had never accomplished. Since she was so practiced at dissembling, one would think she would have done the same with Jack. Well, yes she did, but she had the thoughts she never allowed herself in Germany. If she had not been fond of Horst, I think she would have continued to think of almost anything except Horst. How is it, for instance, she felt she could laugh at Horst in his yellow paisley pajamas? Fear would have kept her from that, surely.

Elizabeth (Alaska) I wanted to comment that it feels as if we are discussing real events that happened to real people. What a credit to this author on her debut novel to have crafted a story of such compelling interest.

message 44: by Ally (new)

Ally (goodreadscomuser_allhug) Shelby wrote: "Nancy, you weren't long winded at all. It was very interesting to hear your story. I do think it was common for other Germans to say it didn't go on. My mom said it was a bull story when I asked he..."

Has anyone read 'The Reader' by Bernhard Schlink? - This book really demonstrates the generational differences in opinion regarding the genocide committed during WW2 in Germany. The characters of Hannah, & Michael’s parents, represent the first generation. Those that lived through it and either directly or indirectly had a part to play in it (maybe they were conscripted into the army and carried out the orders or maybe they turned a blind eye, maybe they simply believed the propaganda). Michael himself & his student friends were part of the second generation who actively tried to dissociate themselves from their parent’s generation.

The problem is that during a war (...and indeed in today's mass media world) you are fed the information that the government wants you to hear - its unpatriotic to disagree with the 'norm' & part of your identity is bound up in the collective 'voice' of your nation. It’s very difficult to go against the grain (…particularly when hard facts are difficult to come by).

When I learned a bit of history at the start of my degree my tutor always said there is no such thing as history - there are just different 'stories' about what happened in the past (...there's his-story and his-story). History is written by the victors and because of the webs of propaganda and the fact that people always have an 'agenda' we may never be able to know the 'truth' of anything that has happened in the past. All we have are the different and personal versions of the truth from which we can build up the jigsaw.

In books like ‘The Reader’, ‘The Book Thief’, ‘Those Who Save Us’ etc we have 'part of the truth' & it's an interesting snapshot but that’s all it is. In the end we all have to make up our own minds. I can fully understand those from the first generation of Germany having a hard time coming to terms with what happened and being a little disbelieving. People like Nancy’s stepmother, who maintains her own version of the truth. After all, to admit the atrocities is to admit your part in concealing or condoning them and often people cannot come to terms with a notion like that about themselves, when in effect all they were doing was what they though was right at the time.

Also, who’s to say that our version of history will stand in 100 or 200 years time? – Perhaps when the next few generations of historians do more digging and we’re way outside the time-period of living memory there may be some re-writing of history????

Just some thoughts to throw into the pot. Please feel free to debate this argument, what do others think?


message 45: by Nancy (new)

Nancy | 1272 comments Thanks, Ally - so thoroughly and thoughtfully articulated. I read "The Reader" several years ago. I obviously have come to realize that first generation does turn a blind eye and are victims of propaganda. I don't think we will know the truth of our own time either. :^) That's always been my excuse to riding the fence on some current events and issues - all I will ever know is someone's snapshot. I am sure my stepmother can't admit what happened for all the reasons you stated.

In that light, I wasn't surprised that the many of the neighbors were so unkind to Anna. She was a closed personality. A woman with that much history, I doubted she would have had a light, friendly relationship with her neighbors when she had such a closed relationship with her own daughter. Neighbors were likely of that same generation and hadn't forgotten either. Growing up in the 50's, my neighbors were Japanese. We were close families. My grandmother loved and respected them. But in her mind they were the exception and that didn't stop her from generalizing her prejudices about "those Japs." Embarrassing!

Elizabeth (Alaska) The "Japs"? You mean our own atrocity of WWII? I live in a small town on an island, which was even smaller in 1942 after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. Everyone lierally knew everyone. The father of a friend of mine was one of the guards overseeing the loading of the Japanese onto a ship that took the locals to the camps. When he saw his childhood friend climb aboard, he had to choke back the tears. Even with that experience, he still called the enemy "Japs".

Elizabeth (Alaska) I have a question in my notes that has to do with Trudy's bath scene after an interview. She scrubbed herself with a brush. Apparently the information obtained in the interview made her felt so physically dirty that she felt bathing with a brush was necessary to cleanse herself. I have read of this phenomenon before. Have you ever felt that the external punishment of the brush would clean the internal revulsion? I must admit I never have, but it must happen or it wouldn't be written about. Or am I taking this too literally?

message 48: by Nancy (new)

Nancy | 1272 comments Elizabeth wrote: "The "Japs"? You mean our own atrocity of WWII? I live in a small town on an island, which was even smaller in 1942 after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. Everyone lierally knew everyone. The father of ..." Amazing isn't it Elizabeth!? yes! My grandmother was also a product of the negative propaganda of her time. Makes me wonder, as Ally said, how history is going to be written about our times and what we are products of. I really don't know.

Brenda, as always - thanks for the insights. I love reading your posts. What great discussions we seem to generate! I really appreciate all you wonderful women!

message 49: by Nancy (new)

Nancy | 1272 comments I don't think you are taking this too literally Elizabeth. Like an obsessive/complusive behavior. Enjoyed yours and Rose's comments about Stockholm syndrome. I think you've all nailed it.

message 50: by Wendy (new)

Wendy (wldinnis) I was very interested to read this book. I do a unit on the Holocaust with my students every year and what I feel that many of them do not fully grasp is that all Germans were not evil and that there was hardship for them as well. I also feel like the do not comprehend the horror of what was going on in the camps. I liked the idea of Trudy's and Ruth's projects (the German side of the war, the Jewish side of the war) because I think it is in these personal experiences that we find the true cost of the war. Anna's story was amazing and while she did suffer greatly, she always seemed to land on her feet. When she became pregnant, Mathilde took her in. When Mathilde died, the S.S. officer protected her. When she broke things off with the officer, Jack (I think that was her husband's name) stepped in and took care of her to the best of his abilities. I thought that maybe this stream of people was what the book was named for. In Trudy's case, we must add Anna to the list as well.

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