The Nazi Officer's Wife: How One Jewish Woman Survived the Holocaust by Edith Hahn Beer
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Most people have heard of Anne Frank, the young Jewish girl who lived through most of WWII in an annex, hidden away from the world for a few years before being turned in and sentenced to her death in a concentration camp.
The question I had to ask myself after finishing "The Nazi Officer's Wife..." was, 'How have I not heard of this book before?' Why is it not on any reading list that I was given in my high school classes?
This book is a fantastic and beautiful story of a Jewish woman living through WWII in the heart of Germany. It gives you a sense of what happened to those Jews who went underground during that time and managed to maintain their façade until the end of the war.
Edith Hahn sees her sisters sent away. Her mother disappears while she is toiling first as a farm girl and then as a factory girl for the Germans. She receives little money, is malnourished and abused, but manages to stay alive and keeps the hope through the entire war that she will one day see her mother and family again.
After finishing her term as a farmer and factory worker, she returns back to her home town to find most of the Jews gone and her formers friends unwilling to take her in at the personal cost it may incur. She wanders from house to house, staying only for a night, until she happens to find herself beginning a relationship with a German Nazi.
The story introduces us to an aspect of WWII that is spoken about very much: collaborators. In The Netherlands and France when the war ended, the women who had carried on liaisons with Germans for whatever reasons were punished quite severely. In Germany the situation was different. Edith emerges at the end of the war relatively unscathed (especially compared to the sad plight of her people) and finds herself in a strange position, working with the Russian communists and being able to acknowledge her background and culture without having to be afraid of death.
After reading this book, the overwhelming feeling I experienced was a sense of the savagery and idiocy of human nature, especially with regards to the politics of WWII. The Germans allowed Hitler to take over their country and inundate them with propaganda because they were angry at the way they had been treated post WWI. The Russians raped German women and stole German children because of the cruelty that had been exacted on them by the Germans during the same time period. Hatred begets hatred, revenge more revenge, and that becomes very clear in this succinct yet poetic biography.
Hahn does a masterful job of expressing herself without being too wordy or descriptive. Her feelings are easy to understand and grab hold of, her characters is empathetic and admirable, her novel a sobering read. I would highly recommend this book if you are interested in that time period; I would highly recommend this book if you have never read anything about the Holocaust or the "Jewish Solution".
I found myself reading with bated breath at the end of the book, wishing that Hahn would find her mother and reunite with her family. My only minor complaint with the novel was the fact that it barely spent any time on her life reunited with her sisters, but that is understandable considering the general aim of the novel.
While hatred causes more hatred and terrible acts, learning and remembering can only teach us this history lesson over and over again:
"All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing." ~Edmund Burke
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