Gone to Soldiers: My Review

Gone to Soldiers Book CoverI have read many novels of World War II, but none like Gone to Soldiers by Marge Piercy. Ambitious in scope, this sweeping epic not only immerses the reader into the events that took place during these tumultuous years, but connects them emotionally with the pain, suffering, tragedies and triumphs of ordinary people. Her lens into the horrors of this monumental conflict is unique. Told from a woman’s perspective, it emphasizes the struggles of the Jewish people and their resilience. In passages that are heartbreaking, compelling, and unsparing in their detail, she describes the horrors of the concentration camps… Hitler’s Final Solution. With the rise of antisemitism some seventy-five years after Germany’s surrender to Allied forces, it is both a somber reflection on the Holocaust and the survival of the human spirit in spite of man’s inhumanity to his fellow man, as well as a sobering reminder that such discrimination and persecution continue today.

But Piercy goes way beyond the stories of those who perished or inexplicably survived the death camps, to give voice to those who waited for word of their loved ones. It took resilience to continue living without any information about fathers and mothers, brothers and sisters, friends and lovers who were either fighting the Nazis across Europe or the Japanese in the South Pacific, or who found themselves caught in the middle between opposing armies. Piercy gives us flesh and blood characters whose strengths and flaws are given equal shrift, and whose hopes and dreams and daily realities mirror our own.

Just as life is not straight forward, Piercy’s story involves multiple characters whose different stories and experiences all converge or overlap in a sprawling 769 page narrative. It definitely took me awhile to wade through this voluminous novel, but I was engaged throughout and totally engrossed in the fate of each and every person regardless of how vile or good, their occupation or social status, wealth or impoverishment, ambitions or insecurities, race, religion, gender or sexual orientation.  I was emotionally involved and genuinely cared about them.

Such a response to the written word is a testament to Marge Piercy’s ability as an author. Her strong female characters challenge traditional gender roles yet Gone to Soldiers is not just geared towards a female audience. The women give voice and unique perspective to World War II that isn’t found in other literary works.

These were extraordinary times experienced by extraordinary people, many of them women. Their stories are just as relevant as the men’s, and Piercy captures both.

 

 

 

Killing the SS – The Hunt for the Worst War Criminals in History: My Review

Killing the SS Book CoverThis is the eighth book in the Killing Series by Bill O’Reilly and Martin Dugard. Regardless of whether you are an avid history buff or simply interested in a particular era, circumstance, or individual from history, each entry into the series has been both educational and insightful. It also should not matter whether you are a fan of the famous journalist and cable news personality or agree with his political opinions, his historical perspective and writing style provide rare insights into each place, person, and event.

Most readers will be all too familiar with the Holocaust and the scale of man’s inhumanity to man; the barbarity of Hitler’s Final Solution is well documented. What the reader may not realize is the complicity of the U.S. Government, the International Red Cross, and the Catholic Church in spiriting known war criminals out of Germany after the war, hiding their atrocities, and settling them in the United States and South America. In 1947 alone, an estimated eight thousand members of the SS safely travel to Canada and the United States using false documents. Secret German support groups such as the Kamaradenwerk, ODESSA, and Die Spinne also smuggle eight-to-ten thousand Nazi fugitives into Brazil, Bolivia, Argentina and Paraguay.

Killing the SS focuses on the hunt for the four most wanted Nazis –  Adolf Eichmann, the mastermind behind the deportation of Jews to ghettos and concentration camps in Eastern Europe, Joseph Mengele, the “Angel of Death,” who carried out horrific experiments on detainees at Auschwitz, Klaus Barbie, the “Butcher of Lyon,” who tortured and killed countless victims in German-occupied France, and Martin Bormann, Hitler’s personal secretary, who signed the decree condemning all Jews to death.

It also looks at those dedicated to bringing these war criminals to justice – Zvi Aharoni, who led the Mossad team that kidnapped Adolf Eichmann, Serge and Beate Karsfeld, who relentlessly led the quest to bring Klaus Barbie to trial, and Simon Wiesenthal, the most famous of all the investigators who dedicated his life to solving the disappearance of Nazi fugitives, most notably Joseph Mengele and Martin Bormann.

Lesser known Nazis, Mossad intelligence agents, investigators and lawyers are woven into the narrative to illuminate the scope of the atrocities committed by the SS, the Gestapo, and the Sicherheitsdienst (SD) and just how difficult it was to hold these criminal organizations accountable. Of the 9,600,000 Jews who lived in Nazi-dominated Europe, 60 percent are authoritatively estimated to have perished. Five million seven hundred thousand Jews are missing from countries in which they formally lived, and over 4,500,000 cannot be accounted for by the normal death rate nor by immigration; nor are they included among displaced persons. 

The term coined for these atrocities is genocide. Yet few receive justice and none ever express remorse for their actions. Benjamin Ferencz, chief prosecutor at the Nuremberg trials, best sums up the frustration felt by both the survivors and their advocates. I had 3,000 Einsatzgruppen members who everyday went out and shot as many Jews as they could and Gypsies as well. I tried twenty-two, I convicted twenty-two, thirteen were sentenced to death, four were actually executed, the rest of them got out after a few years. The other 3,000 – nothing ever happened to them.

Killing the SS is an important addition to the volume of work documenting the Holocaust and a chilling reminder of the consequences of  anti-Semitism and extreme right-wing ideology, both of which are once again on the ascendancy today. It is also one of the more readable accounts of this horrific period in history.

 

 

 

 

In the Blood of the Greeks: My Review

In The Blood of The Greeks Book CoverAuthor Mary D. Brooks’ novel looks into the “katochi,” the occupation of Greece by the Nazis during World War II. It pays homage to the Greek Resistance movement as well as the efforts of local priests and citizens to save Greek Jews from the horrors of Hitler’s final solution, and it tells the story of two women, one Greek, one German, who not only survived the war, but found both love and hope in the process.

Zoe Lambros is fourteen, headstrong, outspoken, and openly defiant towards the Germans who have occupied Larissa, Greece. Eva Muller is eighteen, the daughter of the German commander whose troops now enslave the local Greek population, and reviled by Zoe. Crippled in a bombing of her home while her father was stationed in Paris, she is recovering not only from physical wounds, but emotional scars suffered during aversion therapy. Eva’s attraction to other women has been brutally repressed by shock treatment and chemical injections.

Unbeknownst to Zoe, Eva is secretly working with the Greek Resistance through the local priest, Father Haralambros, providing forged travel documents to Jewish families so they can escape imprisonment and almost certain death in Nazi concentration camps. Their relationship also goes well beyond priest and collaborator, but Zoe is unaware of their secret connection.

When the Resistance’s activities against their German oppressors result in the deaths of German soldiers, the attacks are met with swift and brutal retribution. Major Hans Muller not only orders the execution of captured Greek fighters but local villagers. Cruel and sadistic, he takes pleasure in personally selecting and shooting the victims.  When he kills Zoe’s beloved mother, she swears revenge.

Zoe’s plans focus on killing Eva Muller whom she mistakenly believes laughed while Zoe held her dying mother in her arms. She doesn’t care whether she dies in the attempt as long as Eva dies along with her. She struggles with her faith knowing that suicide and murder are wrong. She denies God’s existence and questions how He could possibly allow the German occupation of her country and the atrocities committed against her family and her people.

Divine intervention intercedes when Father Haralambros arranges for Zoe to actually work in the Muller household as a caretaker to Eva. At first she can’t believe the irony,  but her hatred will eventually transform as she discovers who Eva really is, the physical and psychological trauma she has also endured at the hands of the Nazis, the courage it takes for her to defy them, her true relationship with Father Haralambros, and the emerging affection they both feel toward one another!

The title of the book comes from the Greek national anthem: And we saw thee sad-eyed, The tears on thy cheeks, While thy raiment was dyed In the Blood of the Greeks. It is the first in a series by Mary Brooks on Eva Muller and Zoe Lambros.

Readers, who enjoy strong female protagonists and an unlikely romance set against the backdrop of WWII and a part of that monumental struggle that isn’t often the focus of historical books, will enjoy this opening novel while looking forward to the continuing adventures of Eva and Zoe.