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Archive for the ‘WWII’ Category

I’m thrilled to welcome Ron Miner back to Diary of an Eccentric today to celebrate the release of his new book, The Last Word: A Novel of the War in the Pacific. Ron is here to talk about his inspiration for the novel and share an excerpt. Please give him a warm welcome!

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Hi, again, Anna.  Thanks so much for the opportunity.

Imagine, for a moment, that you’re a journalist with an assignment in the year 2038. It’s an interview with an old man––a very old man.  And he fought in World War II.

My initial opportunity for an interview with a World War II veteran came six years ago, in 2014.  It was the first of nearly a dozen videotaped interactions with men who were members of a night flying Navy squadron that also included my father.  Dad had left behind a trove of writing and memorabilia, photos, artwork, and documentation about his adventures as a part of this little known group of flyers, and I had posthumously published a book about him and their exploits.  The book, Sketches of a Black Cat, was only the beginning of a journey that would include national museums, presentations, airshows, flights aboard World War II aircraft, experiences I never would have dreamed of when the project began.

As the interviews continued up and down the West Coast, I developed friendships and accumulated priceless narratives.  They told me stories with humor, sincerity, and tears––stories that begged for an audience.  By 2018, I knew it was time for a new book.

There was another influence.  A big one. This wonderful group of ninety-somethings that had so graciously invited me into their homes were passing away.  I was attending funerals and losing friends. I found myself wondering how long it would be before they were all gone. Some day, in the not so distant future, the process will play out until the last veteran in all of World War II surrenders to time.

It suddenly occurred to me that I should create that individual now.

I again put pencil to paper (OK, fingers to keyboard), and started developing a novel, my first attempt at historical fiction.  I was a reasonably experienced interviewer by then, had a wonderful assortment of compelling tales to draw from, and a pretty good notion of what my last World War II veteran might like to say on behalf of his colleagues, given the chance.  His personality became a composite of all the gentlemen that I’d interviewed, his mind filled with memories of skies above vast, unexplored regions, oceans between tiny specks of Pacific coral, and the nostalgia borne from well over a hundred years of living.  While my fictitious character recounts his story in 2038, it became a way of emphasizing how fragile––how finite––the World War II generation and their in-person accounts are today.

The Last Word seeks to include readers of novels and fiction, to share with them the legacies, drama, characters, and humor that made World War II a unique and unprecedented chapter in our nation’s history.

The following is an excerpt from Chapter One.  Dan, a journalist, and his self driving car piloted by his A.I. sidekick, Samantha, have stopped for coffee in rural, northern Minnesota:

Coffee in hand, Dan walked back toward the car.  He found the commercial paint job embarrassing, an off-white background veneering the sleek automobile’s body, with images of vintage newspaper clippings and pages covering every square inch of it, like decoupage. Local advertisers paid for the strategically placed, oversized electronic display ads that added color to the fictional edition. Each month, the ads rotated, and some of them could be real stinkers. Like the erection products.

At least they supplied him with a car for the trip, and there was no gas to buy.

Even with Samantha driving, Dan was ready to call it a night. He’d left work a little early to pack, but it had been a stretch getting everything together on such short notice. “Hey Sam, is there a decent hotel out here anywhere?”

“There are several choices within twenty minutes of driving, Dan. A Best Western Hotel, a Quality Inn, and a Radisson Hotel are showing occupancy. Would you like to travel to one of those?”

“Which one has a bar?”

“I think you better choose the Radisson, Dan. Serving until 1:30 a.m.”

That decided, Dan settled back and looked at his messages. Jenna was still concerned about the kitten. The little guy hadn’t been feeling well, running a high temperature, and the vet was at a loss. He wasn’t even a year old yet and seemed to be getting worse by the day. She had gently protested when Dan announced the paper’s sudden assignment, one involving a trip halfway across Minnesota that would keep him overnight. Jenna was a person who was heavily invested in her family, and that included animals that found their doorstep or had digital portraits featured in Saturday’s homeless pets section. He could feel the anxiety when she asked him why he needed to take this trip up there right now, while things seemed to be hanging in the balance.

But he had no choice really. This was not the kind of story that could wait, he’d explained. What could he do? He still wasn’t even sure why he’d been singled out for this, or for that matter, why his paper was contacted instead of the Star-Tribune or one of the other big Minneapolis dailies. Pulitzers had been handed out to some of the hotshots up there. The Winona Bulletin? Little league trophies. Yet here he was, three hundred miles north and at the approximate segue, the point from which some suggest the state is covered by nearly as much water as soil. The land of ten thousand lakes.

The Radisson did have a bar, and after Dan had secured a first floor room and dropped off his belongings, he headed straight for it. At this hour he hadn’t expected to see much going on, but the place was surprisingly peppy. He pulled a stool away from the handsome bar rail and sat down.

“What can I get you?” asked a rugged, silver-haired bartender dressed all in black.

“Bourbon and seven, if you would.”

“Coming right up. My name is Ted. All we have is a snack menu after 10, but we can still rustle up a sandwich. Like anything?”

“Sounds great.”

Ted expertly slid Dan’s drink and a short menu toward him. “Business in the area?” he inquired, wiping down glasses as Dan surveyed the choices.

“Actually, yeah. I’m up here on a story. More of an interview, I guess. There’s an old gentleman that lives west of here that, if you can believe it, fought in World War II.”

The bartender broke into a wide smile. “Hell, you mean old Owen Trimbel? I haven’t seen him in years. Navy guy. Glad to hear he’s still chugging along. Damn, he’s got to be, let’s see…”

“A hundred and twelve.”

“Geez, is that right?” Ted let out an impressive whistle. “You know, he used to come into Bunyan’s Bar and Grill every so often when I worked up there, sip a Schmidt Beer for an hour and talk with his buddies.” He continued with a chuckle, “But he outlived ‘em all, even the ones way younger than he was. After that, I’d hear something about him now and then, a Veterans Day article in the local rag here a time or two, but it’s been quite a while. How’s he doing?”

“I’ve never met him. In fact, never even spoke to him.” Dan took another sip of his drink. “I’m heading over there tomorrow. He and his daughter must share a place. Hell, even she’s nearly twenty years older than I am.”

“Well, I’ll be. You’re going to interview Owen Trimbel. I hope he’s holding up okay. A hundred and twelve! Damn!” A waitress flagged Ted down with a drink order and he quickly grabbed four glasses and headed toward the mixers.

Dan tossed back the last of his bourbon and slid a ten across the bar. Vending machine would do for tonight. He needed to turn in. As he stood, he found himself softly repeating Ted’s final refrain. “I hope he’s doing okay, too,” he whispered under his breath. “Hundred-and-twelve-year-old Owen Trimbel. The last surviving World War II veteran in the world.”

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About The Last Word

A small town journalist is tasked with the most important assignment of his life––a conversation with the last surviving World War II veteran. And the man is willing to talk.

Gleaned from real life filmed interviews with ten squadron members, this novel is a poignant tale of a life well lived, and an evocative legacy of rescue missions and night flight from New Guinea to the Mariana Islands of World War II’s South Pacific.

Dan Callahan’s next three days take him on a pilgrimage of over one hundred years in the life of Owen Trimbel, a Great Depression-era Minnesota farm boy. Owen’s story begins with an unforgettable visit to an uncle’s home near Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. Over the next hours and days, he enchants Dan with his collective wisdom, humor, and philosophy––from the intricacies of attaching a plow to a mule to firing the .50 caliber machine guns from his PBY Catalina’s waist hatches.

Dan soon realizes that he currently occupies a rare instant in the trajectory of history: he can actually speak with an individual who lived the World War II experience––and it is something that will end with Owen.

The Last Word takes us on missions over an endless sea, lacing together stories of duty, friendship, responsibility, and ninety-year-old secrets.

Buy on Amazon

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About the Author

Ron Miner

In the late 60’s, I attended the University of Rhode Island, playing soccer, baseball, and graduating with a B.A. in English and minor in landscape design. In 1979, I began a career as a landscape designer and contractor. The opportunity to pen my father’s memoirs, developing the story from a library of unknown resources, rekindled my passion for writing. I am currently submitting articles about the Black Cats and their saga to magazines around the country.

My wife, Heidi, and I live with our dogs in the Oregon countryside near Salem. Heidi is a retired school teacher and we are both active hikers, gardeners, and photographers.

Connect with Ron Miner: website | Facebook | Goodreads

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Giveaway

Ron is generously offering a mobi, PDF, or epub version to three lucky readers, open internationally. To enter, please leave a comment with your email address. This giveaway will be open through Sunday, July 5, 2020. The winners will be chosen randomly and announced in the comments section of this post. Good luck!

Thank you, Ron, for being my guest today, and congratulations on your new book!

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Hello, dear readers! It’s release day for Catherine A. Hamilton’s Victoria’s War, and I’m delighted to be sharing an excerpt with you. I’ve long been drawn to stories set in Europe during World War II, and after reading this excerpt, Victoria’s War is on my to-read list. I hope you all find it as intriguing as I did!

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Lagodny, Poland—September 1, 1939

RADIO changed Victoria Darski’s world. It brought swing jazz and blues into her living room. And on the first of September, when she sat on the high-backed sofa and reached for the brass knob on the cabinet radio, it brought news of war.

“This is a special announcement,” the commentator said. “German tanks crossed the Polish border in a devastating predawn attack that Hitler launched against Poland.”

Victoria sat upright. Her hands trembled as she dug to the bottom of her black leather handbag and pulled out rosary beads, a cotton handkerchief, and her train ticket. Departure: 9. 1. 1939 11:00, the stamp on the ticket read. Her train would leave in two hours to take her to the women’s dormitory at the University of Warsaw. She was supposed to start her first semester tomorrow. The announcer was saying that all university classes were suspended indefinitely, but Victoria’s suitcases sat packed and waiting in the front hall closet. Can it be true? Victoria crossed one leg and then the other to buckle the straps on her platform shoes. She hurried to tell her parents the horrible news.

By twelve noon, Victoria joined her mother and her sister, Elizabeth, in kissing Papa’s freshly shaven cheeks, telling him to come home safely. The army reserves had called him into active duty. It was the first time Victoria had seen her parents cry in each other’s arms. When the long embrace ended, and the goodbyes were whispered, the Darski women—Victoria, her mother, and Elizabeth—remained at home, glued to the radio all hours of the day and night, believing that at any moment the “Germans would turn back, that western Europe would come to Poland’s aid.

Victoria’s bags still waited in the front hall closet twenty-eight days later when Hitler raised the German flag on the Warsaw capitol building. She couldn’t listen to jazz because Chopin’s dirge was the only tune playing out of Warsaw. But she played the radio anyway. It was her only solace, her quasi escape from being held hostage in her own home. It muffled the sound of her sister bickering with her mother about the impossibility of cooking with little to nothing—no salt, no butter. Would there ever be potato dumplings again? Sausage or bacon or ham? Thankfully, over the noise of the cupboards slamming in the kitchen, Victoria heard Chopin.

That is, until Elizabeth stormed into the living room and said, “Mother wants you to turn the radio off and come help me bring the laundry in from the clothesline.”

Victoria didn’t look up. She straightened her dress hem and ignored Elizabeth. Not until Elizabeth switched the radio off did Victoria look at her sister. Elizabeth’s face was flushed brighter than the red polka dots on her blouse, and Victoria said calmly, “I’ve been fourteen, Elizabeth. I know it isn’t easy, but at least try to behave like a lady.”

Elizabeth crossed her arms defiantly. “No. You need to help me with the laundry.”

None of them had set foot outside in weeks, at least not past the clothesline in the backyard. Not since the German soldiers arrived in Lagodny and gave them strict orders not to leave the property. Being cooped up in the house was putting them all on edge. Victoria took in a deep breath and gathered her thoughts. “The point is, Elizabeth, I’d be at the university if it weren’t for Hitler. My suitcases are packed, sitting out there in the hall closet, and I don’t plan to let them sit there forever. There is a chance that Britain and France will show. They’ve declared war on Germany and this occupation could end, and when it does, I’ll be out of here.”

Elizabeth’s perfectly round face and delicate features hardened. “I’d love to see you go to Warsaw. I’m praying for it. Then I won’t have to watch you dress up day after day as if you’re going off to college, wasting your time on tying all that ribbon in your hair. Why can’t you face the truth?”

Victoria stared at Elizabeth. She had taken time on her waist-long French braid, elaborately weaving in the thin pieces of indigo ribbon. And why not? They had all the time in the world. But it never helped to reason with her little sister. “Right now, I’m thinking how nice it would be if you didn’t treat me like the enemy.” Victoria switched the radio back on. “You go get started. I’ll be right out.”

“Victoria again turned up the volume. The lamplight threw a hazy glow over the front room, and she found a sense of comfort in the smells of her mother’s cooking. The midday meal would begin, as always, with soup. Today it would be a clear beet soup, followed by potato cakes and sliced apples. She was too hungry to care that the food would be served without salt or butter. They had run out of salt days ago, and no one could go to the market. No one could even so much as visit a neighbor to borrow some salt. Not until they had ID cards.

Even with the radio turned up loud, the dirge didn’t muffle the sound of the crucifix rattling on the wall behind the sofa. Someone was pounding at the front door and nobody but the Nazis made a heart-stopping knock like that.

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About Victoria’s War

In Victoria’s War, Hamilton gives voice to the courageous Polish women who were kidnapped into the real-life Nazi slave labor operation during WWII. Inspired by true stories, this lost chapter of history won’t soon be forgotten.

POLAND, 1939: Nineteen-year-old Victoria Darski is eager to move away to college: her bags are packed and her train ticket is in hand. But instead of boarding a train to the University of Warsaw, she finds her world turned upside down when World War II breaks out. Victoria’s father is sent to a raging battlefront, and the Darski women must face the cruelty of the invaders alone. When Victoria decides to go to a resistance meeting with her best friend, Sylvia, they are captured by human traffickers targeting Polish teenagers. Sylvia is sent to work in a brothel, and Victoria is transported by cattle car to Berlin, where she is auctioned off as a slave. 

GERMANY, 1941: Twenty-year-old Etta Tod is at Mercy Hospital about to undergo involuntary sterilization because of the Fuhrer’s mandate to eliminate hereditary deafness. Etta, an artist, silently critiques the propaganda poster on the waiting room wall while her mother tries to convince her she should be glad to get rid of her monthlies. Etta is the daughter of the German shopkeepers who buy Victoria at auction in Berlin.

The stories of Victoria and Etta intertwine in the bakery’s attic where Victoria is held—the same place where Etta has hidden her anti-Nazi paintings. The two women form a quick and enduring bond. But when they’re caught stealing bread from the bakery and smuggling it to a nearby work camp, everything changes.

Amazon | Goodreads

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About the Author

Catherine A. Hamilton

CATHERINE A. HAMILTON is a freelance writer of Polish descent whose articles and poems have appeared in magazines and newspapers including the Sarasota Herald-Tribune, The Oregonian, the Catholic Sentinel, the Dziennik Związkowy (the oldest Polish newspaper in America), and the Polish American Journal. She is the author of the chapter about Katherine Graczyk in Forgotten Survivors: Polish Christians Remember the Nazi Occupation, edited by Richard C. Lukas. Victoria’s War, her first novel, will be published in 2020 by Plain View Press. She actively publishes and blogs at http://www.catherineahamilton.com. Hamilton lives in the Northwest with her husband.

Connect with Catherine: Twitter | Instagram | Facebook | Website

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Giveaway

The publicist is generously offering an ebook (mobi or epub) to one lucky reader, open internationally. To enter, please leave a comment with your email address. This giveaway will be open through Sunday, June 7, 2020. The winner will be chosen randomly and announced in the comments section of this post. Good luck!

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I can’t wait to get a chance to read Exile Music by Jennifer Steil, which is on sale today. I’m so excited about this book, so I wanted to do a release day spotlight to see if all of you are as intrigued as I am.

Here’s the blurb:

Based on an unexplored slice of World War II history, Exile Music is the captivating story of a young Jewish girl whose family flees refined and urbane Vienna for safe harbor in the mountains of Bolivia

As a young girl growing up in Vienna in the 1930s, Orly has an idyllic childhood filled with music. Her father plays the viola in the Philharmonic, her mother is a well-regarded opera singer, her beloved and charismatic older brother holds the neighborhood in his thrall, and most of her eccentric and wonderful extended family live nearby. Only vaguely aware of Hitler’s rise or how her Jewish heritage will define her family’s identity, Orly spends her days immersed in play with her best friend and upstairs neighbor, Anneliese. Together they dream up vivid and elaborate worlds, where they can escape the growing tensions around them.

But in 1938, Orly’s peaceful life is shattered when the Germans arrive. Her older brother flees Vienna first, and soon Orly, her father, and her mother procure refugee visas for La Paz, a city high up in the Bolivian Andes. Even as the number of Jewish refugees in the small community grows, her family is haunted by the music that can no longer be their livelihood, and by the family and friends they left behind. While Orly and her father find their footing in the mountains, Orly’s mother grows even more distant, harboring a secret that could put their family at risk again. Years pass, the war ends, and Orly must decide: Is the love and adventure she has found in La Paz what defines home, or is the pull of her past in Europe–and the piece of her heart she left with Anneliese–too strong to ignore?

For more information about the book and various buy links, please visit the publisher’s website.

I’d like to give a big congratulations to Jennifer Steil on her release day, and a big thank you to Viking/Penguin for a copy of the book!

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I’m happy to spotlight another book from Paulette Mahurin today. I like to draw attention to Paulette’s books because she uses all the profits to help rescue dogs from kill shelters. One of our three guinea pigs was rescued from a kill shelter by a local organization, and I can’t imagine our lives without our sweet little boy, so I want to do what I can to help promote Paulette’s efforts. If you follow Paulette on social media, you know that she has helped rescue hundreds of dogs so far.

I hope you’ll take a look at her newest novel, The Old Gilt Clock. (You can click the link to buy on Amazon.)

During one of the darkest times in human history when millions of innocent Jews and others deemed “undesirables” were being sent to concentration camps to be brutality worked to death or slaughtered, a group of Dutch resistance workers rose up against the atrocities. Their resistance to the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands created a vast counterintelligence, domestic sabotage, and communications network to help hide Jewish people from German authorities. The Old Gilt Clock is the story of how one Dutch resistance member, Willem Arondéus,  risked his life to defy the Nazis’ plans to identify and deport hundreds of thousands of Dutch Jews. Arondéus’ courage is largely forgotten by history, but not by the Jewish and Dutch people. Written by the award-winning international Amazon bestselling author of The Seven Year Dress, comes a story of Arondéus’ courageous struggle to stand up to the unimaginable evil designs of Hitler. Inclusive is Arondéus’ battle to come out to his homophobic father, who hated his son’s homosexuality. It is also a story about friendships formed in the Dutch resistance movement, their joys and sorrows, their wins and losses, their loves and betrayals, and ultimately their resilience to oppose tyranny and oppression when millions stood silent condoning heinous behavior. Thousands are alive today because of these brave, compassionate men and women.

About the Author:

Paulette Mahurin is an international best-selling literary and historical fiction novelist. She lives with her husband Terry and two dogs in Ventura County, California. She grew up in West Los Angeles and attended UCLA, where she received a Master’s Degree in Science.

Her first novel, The Persecution of Mildred Dunlap, made it to Amazon bestseller lists and won awards, including best historical fiction 2012 in Turning the Pages Magazine. Her second novel, His Name Was Ben, originally written as an award winning short story while she was in college and later expanded into a novel, rose to bestseller lists its second week out. Her third novel, To Live Out Loud, won international critical acclaim and made it to multiple sites as favorite read book of 2015.  Her fourth book, The Seven Year Dress, made it to the top ten bestseller lists on Amazon U.S., Amazon U.K. and Amazon Australia. Her fifth book, The Day I Saw The Hummingbird, was released in 2017 to rave reviews. Her sixth book, A Different Kind of Angel, was released in August, 2018, also to rave reviews.

Semi-retired, she continues to work part-time as a Nurse Practitioner in Ventura County. When she’s not writing, she does pro-bono consultation work with women with cancer, works in the Westminster Free Clinic as a volunteer provider, volunteers as a mediator in the Ventura County Courthouse for small claims cases, and involves herself, along with her husband, in dog rescue. Profits from her books go to help rescue dogs from kill shelters.

Congratulations, Paulette, on your latest novel, and thank you for your animal rescue work!

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Source: Borrowed from library
Rating: ★★★★☆

Hitler’s Forgotten Children is the heartbreaking story of Ingrid von Oelhafen’s decades-long journey to uncover her true identity. Ingrid grew up in Germany with German parents, but she was only a young girl when she learned that she might be Erika Matko, who was born in Nazi-occupied Yugoslavia in 1942, stolen from her parents, brought to Germany, and placed with “politically vetted foster parents.”

In a first person narrative, von Oelhafen explains in great detail her earliest memories, her cold treatment by her foster parents, how she first learned about Erika Matko and the Lebensborn program, her research into Lebensborn, and all the steps she took over the years to find out the truth.

Von Oelhafen’s story is hard to read at times, from the way her foster parents treated her to the part of her life that was taken away and irrevocably changed by the Nazis. I vacillated between sadness and anger, and there were several times I had to put the book down for a day or two. It’s hard to wrap your mind around the evil of the Nazi regime and how one can live nearly their whole life without knowing who they truly are.

Hitler’s Forgotten Children provides much food for thought, particularly about identity, what makes you who you are, and how to build a life for yourself when you don’t know where you came from or who you belong to. Von Oelhafen was forced to consider what she knew, what she didn’t know, and what she will never know, and the book explains how this affected her opportunities and her decisions over the course of her life. Fortunately, there are moments of hope and light in her story as well, but it definitely is one that will pull at your heart.

Unfortunately, Hitler’s Forgotten Children is a relevant read these days with the migrant children in detention who are separated from their families and may never be reunited with them. It will definitely make you think long and hard about the impact on those children, especially knowing that some of them could very well find themselves in von Oelhafen’s shoes in the coming years, questioning their origin and identity. If you are fascinated with stories about World War II and want to think deeper about its impact, Hitler’s Forgotten Children should be on your list.

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Source: Borrowed from library
Rating: ★★☆☆☆

Niklas Frank was seven years old when his father, Hans Frank, governor general of Nazi-occupied Poland, was hanged after the Nuremberg war crimes trials in 1946. In the Shadow of the Reich reads like a conversation with his dead father, in which Niklas Frank pours out his hatred and rage. He details his father’s career as a lawyer for the Nazi party and his rise to the governor general position, his theft from the Jewish ghetto, his groveling at Hitler’s feet, his hatred for Himmler, and, mostly, his cowardice.

In the Shadow of the Reich is the most bizarre book I’ve ever read about the Nazis. Niklas Frank imagines he is speaking to his father in hell. He interrupts excerpts from his father’s diary, letters, and testimony with his own thoughts. He imagines how his father acted in certain situations or what his father should have done, calls his father names, and basically goes on and on (and on and on) about how much he hates his father and his crimes.

This was a hard book to read, both for the content and its rambling. There was a lack of focus in its structure, like the only purpose of the book was to denounce his father. Niklas Frank had a lot of things to get off his chest, a lot of things to say to his father that he wasn’t able to say as a child seeing his father for the last time, and it feels like this book served as a kind of therapy to his tortured soul.

On the one hand, it was nice to see that he distanced himself from his father’s beliefs, but on the other hand, it felt way too personal. It’s hard to describe the book to people who haven’t read it before, but as someone who has read dozens and dozens of books about Nazi Germany, I must say this is the most unique and yet most disappointing in terms of the writing. Niklas Frank has an interesting story to tell, but I got more out of watching various YouTube interviews with him and other books about the children of Nazis in which he was featured (such as My Father’s Keeper) than from his own book. However, I think it would be worth giving a try if you are fascinated with firsthand accounts from World War II. In the Shadow of the Reich is definitely something different.

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Source: Borrowed from library
Rating: ★★★★☆

My Father’s Keeper is based mainly on the extensive 1959 interviews of children of high-ranking Nazis by Norbert Lebert (who died in 1993). These interviews detail what happened to the children of Nazi war criminals right when the war ended and in the 15 years after. Norbert Lebert’s son, Stephan, then follows up (or attempts to) with the “Nazi children” in 1999-2000 to learn about their lives in the subsequent decades.

The book focuses on Wolf Rüdiger Hess, son of Rudolf Hess; Martin Bormann, Jr., son of Martin Bormann; Niklas and Norman Frank, sons of Hans Frank; Gudrun Himmler, daughter of Heinrich Himmler; Edda Göring, daughter of Hermann Göring; Robert and Klaus von Schirach, sons of Baldur von Schirach; and Karl-Otto Saur Jr., son of Karl-Otto Saur.

Some of these “Nazi children” forged a different path and distanced themselves from their fathers’ crimes; some embraced the ideology of their fathers and defended them even decades later. Most loved their fathers still. Some found their fathers’ names to be a detriment; others still reaped the benefits of their Nazi connections. But none can be held guilty for their fathers’ war crimes.

The narrative is a bit disjointed, shifting from the 1959 manuscripts by Norbert Lebert to the later interviews by Stephan Lebert. Stephan Lebert also attempts to discuss the psychological aspects of being a child of a high-ranking Nazi, and how that shaped their early years and contributed to the paths they took later in life. There are quotes from researchers on the subject, some comparisons to the psychological trauma of the children of Holocaust survivors, and even how the German mentality in the 1950s was to sweep the horrors of the war under the rug, rebuild, and move on. But mostly My Father’s Keeper is merely a collection of biographical stories about the “Nazi children.”

There is much to ponder within these stories — like how much guilt, if any, should they bear; whether they should have been allowed to just pick up their lives, albeit without the money and comforts they enjoyed as children during the Third Reich, when so many lives were lost at their fathers’ hands; how to separate their suffering as the children of the perpetrators from the suffering of the victims and their children; whether one should feel sorry for their harsh treatment based on their parentage (they were children, after all); and how they could possibly feel love for their fathers after learning the full extent of their crimes. How could some turn a blind eye to that as they grew into adults? There is no clear answer to any of these questions, but they certainly provide much food for thought.

I had a hard time reading these stories, especially the ones where the children continued to adore their fathers long after the war. But I was fascinated with the psychology behind their stories and felt like I learned a lot from these “case studies.” If you are like me and read as much as you can about World War II, this book is not to be missed.

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Source: Borrowed from library
Rating: ★★★★☆

But what can I, with my dark skin and friends all over the world, have to do with such a grandfather? Was it he who destroyed my family? Did he cast his shadow first on my mother and then on me? Can it be that a dead man still wields power over the living? Is the depression that has plagued me for so long connected to my origins? I lived and studied in Israel for five years — was that chance or fate? Will I have to behave differently toward my Israeli friends, now that I know? My grandfather murdered your relatives.

(from My Grandfather Would Have Shot Me, page 10)

Jennifer Teege was 38 years old when she learned a terrible secret that had plagued her family since long before she was born. Born in Munich, Germany, in 1970, Teege was placed in an orphanage at four weeks old, with sporadic contact with her troubled mother and her grandmother. Contact with her biological family ceased when she was adopted at the age of seven, and she missed her grandmother terribly. Her adopted family welcomed her with open arms despite her differences; with a German mother and a Nigerian father, she always stood out, especially in Germany at that time.

Never feeling like she truly belonged and feeling abandoned by her mother, Teege battled with depression. In the strangest of coincidences she was drawn to a book in the psychology section of the library in Hamburg, and when she pulled it off the shelf, she saw a photo of a woman on the cover who looked like her mother and shared the same name: Monika Goeth, daughter of Amon Goeth, commandant of the Płaszów concentration camp during World War II and who was hanged for his crimes in 1946. He was portrayed by Ralph Fiennes in the movie Schindler’s List. The knowledge that she was the granddaughter of a Nazi war criminal and a sadistic murderer nicknamed “The Butcher of Płaszów” affected Teege deeply. She didn’t know how to process this information and how to face her friends in Israel, where she lived for five years and attended college, as many lost family members in the Holocaust.

My Grandfather Would Have Shot Me: A Black Woman Discovers Her Family’s Nazi Past tells Teege’s story of coming to terms with her family’s past and the secret that was kept from her. The book follows Teege as she visits the scenes of the atrocities committed by her grandfather in Poland, tries to balance her love for her grandmother with what she learns about her complacency during the war and her undying love for Amon Goeth, and tries to build a relationship with her estranged mother and understand why she was never told the truth and why she was given up for adoption. Teege’s story is told in her own words and interspersed with historical details and commentary from the people closest to her.

The book raises many issues, from the burden of family secrets to the guilt carried by the descendants of the Nazis, from the need to understand what is impossible to grasp about human nature and how to cope with the knowledge of the horrors and suffering inflicted by their relatives in the recent past even while knowing they are not directly responsible for those actions. Teege is honest with her feelings, the pain and shame she endured, her failure to make certain things right, and how to accept and move on in a positive light. There is much to ponder and discuss within these pages, and despite the heavy themes, the overall message of the book is one of hope, love, and compassion.

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Source: Purchased
Rating: ★★★★☆

But I do know there is no justification. No possible rationalization for what the Nazis did, for what civilian Germans permitted and encouraged to happen.

And yet: you. Here you are. You have the temerity to sit in my home, at my table, with your lights and your cameras and your questions and your historical credentials. You dare to seek some explanation. You dare to record the stories of the butchers and those who abetted them. You dare to seek some exoneration of a people who committed wholesale slaughter of an entire race!

(from Those Who Save Us)

Jenna Blum’s Those Who Save Us focuses on a broken relationship between a mother and daughter who lived in Weimar during World War II. The book centers on Anna Schlemmer, who has spent 50 years in silence about her wartime experiences. Her daughter, Trudy, who was just a baby during the war, remembers only bits and pieces of her life then.

The novel opens upon the death of Anna’s husband, Jack, the American soldier who married Anna shortly after the war and brought her and Trudy to Minnesota. Trudy, a professor of German history, does her duty in caring for her mother, but the distance between them is palpable. Her unanswered questions and desire to understand her mother’s wartime choices prompt her to take on a project in which she interviews Germans about their experiences during the war, including how they survived and what they knew about the Nazi atrocities.

Trudy has long been haunted by a photograph she found in her mother’s drawer as a child: what looks to be a family photo of Anna, Trudy, and an SS officer. The truth behind the photo is revealed over the course of the novel, which shifts back and forth between Anna’s wartime story and 1997 as Trudy interviews subjects for her project and navigates her mother’s coldness and silence.

What struck me most about this novel was how the war resulted in a sense of guilt and isolation for both Anna and Trudy. Anna stands by her actions during the war, both good and bad, as a means of survival and protecting her daughter, though the shame and the lingering trauma closed her off to both her husband and daughter. Trudy carries guilt based on her interpretation of the photo, and her mother’s refusal to revisit the past has left her without a support system. It was interesting how both of them carried the weight of guilt, though Trudy was too young to remember the war.

Those Who Save Us is a rare instance for me in which both the past and present aspects of the novel were fascinating. Although it is hard to connect with Anna and Trudy, as they keep themselves at arm’s length even from each other, Blum enables readers to understand their motivations and empathize with them as the story unfolds. Blum also doesn’t shy away from detailing the violence of war, and there were several times that I had to put the book down and calm my emotions. I had hoped for more resolution in the mother/daughter relationship at the end, but Blum stays true to their characters while giving them and readers a sense that healing is on the horizon. Those Who Save Us is a well-crafted, thoughtful novel that takes on some pretty ambitious subject matter but handles it with care and without assigning blame.

Serena and I featured Those Who Save Us as the June/July readalong on War Through the Generations. Our discussions can be found here (beware of spoilers): Week 1 | Week 2 | Week 3 | Week 4. Stay tuned for an interview with author Jenna Blum, which also will be featured on War Through the Generations sometime soon.

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Source: Review copy from HarperCollins
Rating: ★★★★★

For here, in this battered and stubbornly beautiful city, where death and destruction fell from the skies night after night, she had finally found a home. Here was the one place in the world where she truly belonged. And that alone, she decided, was reason enough for thanksgiving.

(from Goodnight from London)

I really enjoyed Jennifer Robson’s trilogy set around the Great War (check out my reviews of Somewhere in FranceAfter the War Is Over, and Moonlight Over Paris), so when I saw that her next book was set during World War II, I knew I had to read it — and I was not disappointed! Goodnight from London is the story of American journalist Ruby Sutton, who arrives in London in 1940 to cover human interest stories for Picture Weekly. She left behind a lonely life in New York to pursue her career, and she soon comes into her own with the help of her new friends, editor Kaz, photographer Mary, and the secretive Captain Bennett.

Ruby believes she will bring an outsider’s perspective to her stories, which are being sent back to her New York weekly as “Dispatches from London,” but it’s not long before London feels like a real home to her. She endures the Blitz along with everyone else, finding comfort in Londoners’ ability to “keep on keeping on” even after they’ve lost everything but their lives. Robson follows Ruby over the course of the war as she finds love and friendship and matures as a writer and a person, forcing herself forward even as the war and her past catch up to her and threaten her newfound happiness.

I loved Goodnight from London, especially its plucky heroine, Ruby (who was inspired by Robson’s grandmother), and her determination to make something of herself no matter what. Robson has created a strong supporting cast of characters as well, especially in the sweet but mysterious Bennett and his charming godmother, Vanessa. Robson beautifully sets the scene of London during the Blitz, making readers feel like they are truly accompanying Ruby as she seeks out the good in the midst of so much destruction and is brave enough to move closer to the action in order to understand the importance of sacrifice, not only by the soldiers, doctors, and nurses but the everyday person as well.

Robson is a true storyteller, whose passion for her subject matter shines through in every page of the novel. If I hadn’t been so busy and distracted lately, I likely would’ve devoured this book in one sitting. Goodnight from London is an emotional tale for sure, and while I enjoyed the romantic aspects of the story, I’m glad Robson kept Ruby, her courage and determination, and her wartime experiences at the forefront. Definitely a contender for my Best of 2017 list!

Thanks to TLC Book Tours for inviting me to participate in the blog tour for Goodnight from London. Click here to follow the tour.

Disclosure: I received Goodnight from London from HarperCollins for review.

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