- Hardcover: 468 pages
- Publisher: Aquila Polonica; 2nd ed. edition (September 16, 2009)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 1607720000
- ISBN-13: 978-1607720003
- Product Dimensions: 6.6 x 1.6 x 9.4 inches
- Shipping Weight: 2.1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 23 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #3,397,801 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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The Mermaid and the Messerschmitt: War Through a Woman's Eyes, 1939-1940 2nd ed. Edition
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September 1, 1939 is an infamous day in 20th Century history, the start of World War II. But how many of us today know what happened when Nazi Germany invaded Poland, unleashing its military furor for the first time?
Seventy years later, a new edition of The Mermaid and the Messerschmitt...does what no other book has done.
...Rulka Langer's story is utterly contemporary and compelling, and once I started the book, I could not put it down until I finished it.
...That summer, everything in Europe revolved around talk of war. Rulka read Margaret Mitchell's Gone With the Wind, and with a heavy heart pondered the fate of Poland caught between Nazi Germany and Stalinist Russia. Would it be gone with the wind?
But nothing could prepare her or anyone who lived through the blitzkrieg and the war that followed. The destruction was shockingly fast and Rulka describes it day by day, each day that seems like weeks - the bombs, the bomb shelters, the fires, the scarcity of food, horse carcasses in the street stripped to the bone by hungry people, so many deaths that people were buried in empty lots all over the city, refugees from border towns coming to Warsaw, Varsovians escaping the city for points further east, the evacuation of the leaders and of the Bank of Poland, the personal horrors of women and children trying to survive.
Rulka published her book in 1942, after arriving in the United States, before the U.S. entered the war, before anyone knew how long the war would last and how it would be resolved, and before the horrors of the concentration camps and the Nazi genocide of Jews, gypsies and others would be revealed.
Able to get a U.S. visa because of her husband's position [as a Polish diplomat posted in the U.S.], she and her children escape the Nazi occupation in February 1940 by train, from Warsaw to Cracow to Vienna to Genoa for a boat to the U.S. The train is filled with German soldiers.
In a surreal moment at the end of the book, a soldier who is on leave and going skiing in Italy, befriends Rulka. Rulka tells him that she will be coming back to Poland as soon as it is free. He replies, well, Poland will be free of Jews. When she says that she doesn't care about that because she likes the Jews, he retorts that no one likes the Jews.
And then, bravely, Rulka asks him about the many German military uniforms, brown, gray, black, green, and wonders which is the Gestapo uniform because whenever people were beaten in Warsaw, everyone said, it's the Gestapo. The young soldier laughed. You want to know what the Gestapo uniform looks like; then look here and he pointed to the SD on his sleeve. This is the Gestapo uniform.
In Rulka's compelling story, we walk in her footsteps and the past is present.
--Fontayne Holmes, City Librarian, Los Angeles Public Library, 2004-2008
An unusual take on WWII ... a rare eyewitness account of the war's early, chaotic days--the Nazi invasion of Poland, the Siege of Warsaw and the first few months of Nazi occupation--written by Rulka Langer, a civilian, a young Polish career woman and mother and a graduate of Vassar College. --Publishers Weekly, August 24, 2009, at p. 35
"The narrative is so exquisitely rendered, built as it is upon a mountain of sharply observed details and trenchant insights into human nature, I could not put it down....One of the gifts of Langer's narrative is her unsparing, truthful description of herself and others." -- Wanda Urbanska, host & producer of the PBS TV show "Simple Living"
Anyone who's ever read memoirs written during or immediately after the war knows how very different they are from those written many years later. The writing is vivid, unembellished, adrenalin charged. Memories have not yet faded, been tampered with. There is no editorializing. War is an experience unlike any other. Nobody comes out of it unchanged. When these experiences are recorded by gifted writers - and Rulka Langer certainly was that -- they are at once harrowing, inspiring and breathtaking.
Rulka Langer's The Mermaid and the Messerschmitt was first published in 1942, just months after she escaped with her two children from Warsaw, leaving behind her mother, friends and, although she didn't realize it yet, a life that could never again be restored...
When the war started, Rulka, like many of her fellow Varsovians, was confident. The Poles would stop the Germans; the British and French will help. But the news from the front was grim. The Polish army couldn't hold back the invading Germans whose tanks and planes targeted peaceful villages, residential areas and unarmed civilians as fiercely as they did military targets. The allies did not show up; instead, the Red Army joined the Germans and attacked from the east.
In a gripping, fast-paced narrative, Langer describes the anticipation and dread, the panic and confusion, people in motion - to escape the bombing of the city; to escape the burning of peaceful villages and the strafing of civilians on the run; refugees laden down with possessions; refugees forced out of homes with nothing...
Langer describes the devastation of the city but she writes primarily about people. People in their infinite variety, with their infinite ability to surprise. Only the very naïve would try to predict their own behavior in a crisis. She witnessed heroism in people she had always considered timid, and cowardice among people who, before the war, had flaunted their boldness.
Langer didn't spare herself. She was dismayed by her own response to hunger. Under extreme conditions, she who had been critical of looters suddenly found herself looting a bombed out house to get essential articles for her own family. In an unexpected bombardment she fled so quickly that she had forgotten about her own mother.
When the siege ended and the occupation began, the enemy that until then was an impersonal machine in the air was now seen face to face. Terrifying as the bombs were, the sight of a uniformed soldier beating young men, arresting women, shouting, shoving and humiliating people you knew, evicting and dispossessing your neighbors, these acts tore at the heart as acts of cruelty took on a personal character.
Langer's book takes you to the centre of the drama, not just the way a war correspondent would, she explained, because a war correspondent, when reporting on a bombed city, "doesn't leave his children behind in his hotel room... nor tremble for the life of his own mother... and it isn't his own house that has been set on fire by the incendiary."
"The horrors of war," she writes, "come pretty much like the pangs of childbirth. At first, in spite of apprehensions, life still goes on, almost normal, with all its little trivialities. Then comes the pang: wild, screaming, inhuman. You think you'll never stand it - yet you do. It passes - once more you are yourself. Trivialities reappear." And so it goes, another and another. People die, and people are born. And no one will ever be the same again. -- Cosmopolitan Review, December 2009
World War II started on September 1, 1939, when German troops and warplanes launched their assault on Poland... Langer, a working housewife with two children, was in the city waiting for an opportunity to join her husband Olgierd, who was working for the Polish Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Philadelphia. Her description of the blitz, the siege, and the occupation is personal, moving, laced with grim humor, and accessible to a modern audience... This edition has added more than 100 black-and-white photos and maps, explanatory footnotes, a timeline, and an epilogue by Langer's son George. -- College & Research Libraries News, December 2009, published by the Association of College & Research Libraries
"It is absolutely one of the best eye-witness accounts of WWII Poland that I ever read." -- Alan Furst, author of The Foreign Correspondent and The Spies of Warsaw
From the Publisher
On the 70th anniversary of the beginning of WWII (Sept. 1, 1939), we are very proud and excited to present our new edition of The Mermaid and the Messerschmitt.
We spent more than a year researching and licensing the photos and other illustrations from many sources in the U.S., U.K. and Poland to include in our edition -- we wanted our visuals to really illuminate and enrich the story. We will also offer to purchasers of our edition a copy of the rare 1940 Academy Award-nominated 10-minute newsreel Siege, consisting of original footage of the Siege of Warsaw shot by American photojournalist Julien Bryan, the last neutral journalist remaining in Warsaw during September 1939.
We're sure that if you're interested in knowing more about WWII, the civilian experience of modern war, and/or seeing war through different eyes, you'll love this book!
Thanks for your interest!
Aquila Polonica Publishing
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At the time, Rulka Langer was in her mid-thirties, with two young children and living with her mother, as her husband was in the United States with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. With admirable pluck and phenomenal energy, she (and her family) survived the siege, though their apartment was heavily damaged. She and her children were fortunate to obtain visas to the United States, and she left Poland in February 1940.
The book begins in August 1939 with the escalating rumors of Nazi attack and the mobilization of the Polish Army (including requisition of farmers' horses). It ends when Langer and her children leave German territory and enter Italy on their way to the U.S. Langer wrote the book in 1942 to "explain to Americans the devastation of this war for the average, ordinary human beings caught in it." She tells the story with grace and intelligence and, despite the devastation and death, with relative good humor.
In a world in which millions of average, ordinary human beings still must endure bombings, artillery fire, and war-created shortages of food, water, and housing, THE MERMAID AND THE MESSERSCHMITT unfortunately retains much contemporary relevance. It also is a valuable historical document and a tribute (one of many) to the valor and determination of the Poles in the face of an overwhelmingly superior enemy.
Langer came from a family of status and relative wealth. In the 1920's she attended Vassar for two years on a scholarship. Hence, she herself was not an "average, ordinary" Pole, and I have seen several mild criticisms of the book on that ground. But the bombs and shells that the Germans launched during the Siege of Warsaw did not discriminate according to status, wealth, and education, and certainly, by virtue of her background, Langer brought to the book both literary abilities and a broader perspective that most of her compatriots did not have.
Langer wrote the book in English. The prose style is of its time (1942), and now seems a tad clichéd and old-fashioned. Yet it reads effortlessly. This is a very recent second edition. It includes a large number of historical photographs of the Siege of Warsaw that add considerably to the reading experience. I bought the book in hard-cover, and it is a handsome volume indeed (excepting the rather lurid dust cover).
The author, Rulka Langer, recounts what it was like for her as a young mother of two children, as a daughter, as a sister, and as a friend to survive the Siege of Warsaw in September 1939. Not only are the details of Langer's day-to-day existence incredible, but the narrative is very engaging thanks to her writing style which is personal and honest yet reflective without over-dramatization - although if anything qualifies as true drama, this certainly does. This memoir has a way of conveying the emotional truth of war that few books do. An example: "To the average person, I think, war horrors come pretty much like the pangs of childbirth. At first, inspite of apprehensions, life still goes on, almost normal, with all of its little trivialities. Then comes the pang: wild, screaming, inhuman."
With the holidays around the corner, THE MERMAID AND THE MESSERSCHMITT would make the perfect gift for the history buff in your family or really for anyone who enjoys a thought-provoking and engaging read. Highly recommend. You will not be disappointed.
important time in the history of World War II. The writing is immediate, informative, and gives insight into what it was
actually like to live in Warsaw at the beginning of the war. She writes beautifully and one only wishes that is were a longer book so that we could know what happened to her later in her life.
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