The Ins and Outs of an Ordinary Life

Friday, April 16, 2010

Those Who Save Us by Jenna Blum

Those Who Save Us is an historical fiction novel set in Germany during World War II. Anna is an eighteen year old girl who falls in love with a Jewish doctor and finds the courage to hide her lover in her own home. Her father, a Nazi sympathizer and ugly person, finds him and turns him over to the Gestapo. Anna, now pregnant, finds the courage to leave, and lives and works with a woman who works with the Resistance Movement. Anna is ultimately left with her own resources and determination to survive and protect her infant daughter. She does this by becoming the mistress of an SS officer. Despite a near complete loss of self-respect, she keeps her cherished daughter alive.

Divorced, lonely and adrift, Anna's daughter, Trudy, knows nothing about her past. A "conspiracy of silence, a wall that Trudy could neither penetrate or scale" prevents her from learning the truth of her mother's past. Trudy knows only her mother's repeated injunction: "The past is dead...and better it remain so." The only clue is a photograph of Anna, Trudy and a German military officer. She knows that her step father is not her "real" father, and she assumes her father was a Nazi.

The theme of “Those Who Save Us” is woven into the story. So man of the characters are lost and saved; the Aryan and the Jew; the resistance worker and a pregnant woman; the SS officer and his mistress; the American soldier and the German woman; the German American and her Jewish lover. This is a complicated story about the difficult and sometimes ugly choices a woman makes to survive, the shame she endures for her choices, and the black hole it creates for those close to her.

The book is set in Weimar, Germany, which was a few miles from Buchenwald. Anna often travels through the woods to the quarry where the prisoners are working and leaves them food in a hollowed out tree. Buchenwald was not an extermination camp, but still 55,000 people were either killed or died there. Many died of starvation; others simply worked to death. Political prisoners and Russian POWs were shot or hanged. Buchenwald was the first concentration camp liberated by the American troops. Elie Wiesel was among the survivors.

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