Saturday, October 31, 2015

The Nazi Officer's Wife: How One Jewish Woman Survived the Holocaust by Edith Hahn Beer with Susan Dworkin

genre: memoir

Edith Hahn spent her youth in a proud Vienna, full of good food, a loving family and cultural beauty. After the Anschluss, however, Vienna was no longer safe for people like Edith, because Edith is a Jew.  After slowly watching life get harder and harder for her friends and neighbors, her turn to be forced to leave finally comes and she is sent to a labor camp.  When she manages to return to Vienna, she makes a choice: to save her life, she will bury the intelligent and capable Edith and become someone new.  She becomes the meek and docile Grete, German and Christian. Terrified but determined, Grete creates a new life, eventually becoming, yes, the wife of a Nazi officer.

This is an absolutely amazing story - I am so glad that Edith Hahn took the time to write it down so the rest of us could appreciate both the horror those in hiding experienced as well as the resourcefulness that individuals are capable of.  It's also a testament to those non-Jews in Nazi Germany/Austria that DID help, that sacrificed for Edith and literally risked their lives to help her in her new identity.  I like Edith's tone - I felt like I got to know her and her conversational way of telling the story made me feel like I was in her living room with her, just listening to her reminisce without pretense or a desire for glory.  Her thoughts about how she was feeling at the time were especially poignant, I can only imagine how hard it was for her to put herself back into that time and even her sometimes contradictory emotions regarding men that she loved felt very real and understandable. She's honest about why she made her choices without trying to justify anything, although she hardly needs justifying.  I sometimes forget, especially, about what life in Germany must've been like right after the war was over - when everything's been destroyed and the Russians are ruling with their own kind of iron fist.  I like that this story didn't end right when she was "liberated" but that we lived those dark days with her as she figured out who she was after all those years being Grete.

I know I have read hundred of books about surviving World War II and every one teaches me something different - I really enjoyed this perspective and I feel like my knowledge of history and the human spirit has definitely expanded.

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