Monday, 20 February 2012

Those Who Save Us

Those Who Save Us
For fifty years, Anna Schlemmer has refused to talk about her life in Germany during World War II. Her daughter, Trudy, was only three when she and her mother were liberated by an American soldier and went to live with him in Minnesota. Trudy's sole evidence of the past is an old photograph: a family portrait showing Anna, Trudy, and a Nazi officer, the Obersturmfuhrer of Buchenwald.Driven by the guilt of her heritage, Trudy, now a professor of German history, begins investigating the past and finally unearths the dramatic and heartbreaking truth of her mother's life.Combining a passionate, doomed love story, a vivid evocation of life during the war, and a poignant mother/daughter drama, Those Who Save Us is a profound exploration of what we endure to survive and the legacy of shame.

I guess the best place to start is with the book that I'm currently reading, Those Who Save Us by Jenna Blum. I picked this one up because the history itself fascinates me along with the story. My mom's family was German, with a likely sprinkling of Jewish background - at least, that's the tale that we were told growing up as to why my grandmother's family left 'the old country' prior to WW1.

Like Trudy, my grandmother's story is hazy, filled with half truths and full-on lies, because in our case, there's no one around who's alive who actually knows what happened.

So, the idea of Trudy actually finding out the truth - or as much as she can get - about her story is what really attracted me to this novel, but the imagery and 'first-hand' recollections is what's causing me to not be able to put it down.

I try to imagine what it was like back then - either as Jewish refugee, or as a German civilian - and I really don't know what I would have done in either case.

For the first instance... Would I have gone along like a good sheep, and simply died in the gas chambers? Or would I have tried to fight back? Hold on as long as I could - to both sanity and hope - until things got better? Or just plod along with no hope at all, like some sort of robot?

As for the second instance... Could I have turned in friends, even family members, in exchange for extra food, or money, or some sense of security? Would I have been able to face the SS directly and tell them "There are no Jews here?" without breaking down and putting us all into danger? Or would I have been a good German girl and simply gone about my day, thinking "It's not my business. Let's just get through this one day at a time..."?

I guess it's one of those things that you'll never really be able to deal with until faced with the situation, but I'd like to think that I would have done what was best for everyone...

Then again, that's probably what Anna was thinking too...

In any event, I still have 1/4 of the book left to go, but from what I've read so far, I think this book is definitely worth its 4.25 out of 5 rating. I have to agree with one critic, who said that if it wasn't for Trudy being so one dimensional, (perhaps if she'd been written more like Anna) it'd be closer to a 5 - but maybe the end will make up for that... we'll see...


  1. Mel, if you haven't already read it, you should check out The Book Thief by Markus Zusak. Similar setting, great characters, and a very compelling read.

    1. Thanks, Ardently! I've put that on my 'to-read' shelf.

      And to anyone reading this - this is _exactly_ what I wanted to happen when I started this blog... An exchange of suggestions, thought and reviews. Keep them coming, please!