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Those Who Save Us Paperback – May 2, 2005
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From Publishers Weekly
Blum, who worked for Steven Spielberg's Shoah Foundation, takes a direct, unsentimental look at the Holocaust in her first novel. The narrative alternates between the present-day story of Trudy, a history professor at a Minneapolis university collecting oral histories of WWII survivors (both German and Jewish), and that of her aged but once beautiful German mother, Anna, who left her country when she married an American soldier. Interspersed with Trudy's interviews with German immigrants, many of whom reveal unabashed anti-Semitism, Anna's story flashes back to her hometown of Weimar. As Nazi anti-Jewish edicts intensify in the 1930s, Anna hides her love affair with a Jewish doctor, Max Stern. When Max is interned at nearby Buchenwald and Anna's father dies, Anna, carrying Max's child, goes to live with a baker who smuggles bread to prisoners at the camp. Anna assists with the smuggling after Trudy's birth until the baker is caught and executed. Then Anna catches the eye of the Obersturmführer, a high-ranking Nazi officer at Buchenwald, who suspects her of also supplying the inmates with bread. He coerces her into a torrid, abusive affair, in which she remains complicit to ensure her survival and that of her baby daughter. Blum paints a subtle, nuanced portrait of the Obersturmführer, complicating his sordid cruelty with more delicate facets of his personality. Ultimately, present and past overlap with a shocking yet believable coincidence. Blum's spare imagery is nightmarish and intimate, imbuing familiar panoramas of Nazi atrocity with stark new power. This is a poised, hair-raising debut.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
Family secrets of Nazi Germany are at the core of this powerful first novel told in two narratives that alternate between New Heidelberg, Minnesota, in the present, and the small town of Weimar near Buchenwald during World War II. Trudy is a professor of German history in Minnesota, where she's teaching a seminar on women's roles in Nazi Germany and conducting interviews with Germans about how they're dealing with what they did during the war. But her mother, Anna, won't talk about it, not even to her own daughter. Trudy knows, she remembers, that Anna was mistress to a big Nazi camp officer. Why did she do it? Was he Trudy's father? The interviews are a plot contrivance to introduce a range of attitudes, from blatant racism to crippling survivor guilt. But the characters, then and now, are drawn with rare complexity, including a brave, gloomy, unlucky rescuer and a wheeler-dealer survivor. Anna's story is a gripping mystery in a page-turner that raises universal questions of shame, guilt, and personal responsibility. Hazel Rochman
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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The narrative flashes back and forth between the story of Anna, a German girl living in Weimar, Germany, during WWII, and Trudy, her daughter, who lives in Minneapolis with her mother in the late 1990s.
Anna breaks the 1935 "Nuremberg Laws" which excluded German Jews from Reich citizenship and prohibited them from marrying or having sexual relations with persons of "German or German-related blood." Anna falls in love with Doktor Maximmilian Stern, a Jew, who has been prohibited from practicing medicine on non-Jews since 1933. Fittingly, Anna brings Max her sick dachshund to heal. He is allowed to treat animals. They have a love affair and she becomes pregnant. Shortly afterward Max is taken away during a Nazi "Aktion." Anna is racked with guilt. "What if, despite her caution, somebody has seen and reported the Aryan girl visiting the Jewish physician's house? What can be done for Jews taken into custody? If only she had paid more attention to the rumors whispered around her during her daily errands?" Anna, finds living at home unbearable because of her father's Nazi sympathies. She moves in with Frau Mathilde Staudt, a baker who works the young woman hard from dawn 'til dusk. But the older woman is actively involved in the resistance and recruits Anna.
Trudy, Anna's and Max's daughter, is born. Meanwhile, all Jewish residents of the area are interned in a nearby camp, Buchenwald. When Mathilde dies, Anna takes over the bakery. An SS officer, an Obersturmfurher, enters the shop the same day as the funeral, and tells the young woman he has not come for bread. Thus begins a sadomasochistic affair which will last until the war ends. Aggression and total submission is the name of this vicious man's game. And Anna will do anything to keep her daughter alive...anything! The officer, Horst is evil and relishes his work at Auschwitz, Buchenwald, and other camps. He believes he is doing his duty for the "Vaterland." From this time on, Anna's capacity for love is blighted. "Her heart is now a sick and limping muscle."
In Minnesota, during the 1990s, 56 year-old Trudy, lives with her mother, who married an American soldier after the war when Trudy was 3 years-old. He has since died. Trudy is a professor of German history who is working on a research project to record German memories of the Nazi regime. Anna has never discussed the "past" with her daughter and has repeatedly told her, "the past is dead, and better it remain so." "Anna has taken the burden of silence upon herself. It is her decision not to speak of the things she has done, valient or otherwise. It is, in fact, her prerogative as a hero. And in another way, whether she is a hero or not is immaterial. Each person has this choice to make about how to live with the past, this dignity, this inviolable right." One can only think that Trudy's project is motivated by this secret past, which she vaguely remembers.
Anger, guilt, hurt, responsibility, pride and so much grief are the emotions which fill Anna and Trudy. These two are such well developed characters that one feels their angst and has so much empathy for the two women. A Jewish survivor whom Trudy interviews tells her, "I do not deserve to have this - I am not meant to be this happy".
This is not an easy book to read, but it is a page turner and extremely well written. I applaud the talented Jenna Blum for tackling such a controversial subject and look forward to her next book.
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