Friday, March 24, 2006

Those Who Save Us, By Jenna Blum

By Christina VanGinkel

Those Who Save Us, by Jenna Blum, tells the story of Anna Schlemmer's life over the span of over five decades, beginning as a teenager in Germany during World War II. Told from different times, the book itself begins in the year 1993, in the rural town of New Heidelburg, Minnesota, where Anna has lived for near on fifty years. Arriving there decades before, with her then three-year-old daughter, Gertrud Charlotte Brandt, known to all by the name of Trudy, and the American soldier, Jack Swenson, who called the town home, and who claimed her as his wife when Germany was liberated, the story takes a sweeping look into her past and the future.

The very first chapter though, portrays the funeral of Jack, and how all the townsfolk show up for his funeral, but do not do his wife of all these years, the courtesy to show her their sympathy, paints a vivid picture of how long hates can last.

The story continues, by delving into her past, before Jack became a part of it, and brilliantly portrays what it might have been like, to fall in love with someone who was perceived by many to be the wrong person. Hearts do not always know the difference, nor do people always care what others may think, not especially when love is at stake. When Anna's own father betrays her, she flees from their family home, and goes to the local pastry woman, who runs the bakery in town, for help. Anna knows her from her time spent hiding her love, Max, a Jewish doctor who was being searched for by the SS. Having made a deal with the local SS to provide them with bread and pastries, she is not on their side, and little do they know, but she is also taking this opportunity to leave food for many of the camp's inmates, who might otherwise starve to death quicker than they already are.

The story sweeps back and forth across time, but in a way that is easily followed. Soon, you are taken back to Minnesota, where Trudy, now a Doctor herself, of History, is having to deal with what she had first perceived to be an accident. She receives a phone call telling her she should come to the hospital where her mother has been taken after a fire in the home where she had lived all those years with Jack. Something tells Trudy though that it might not have been an accident. She decides to put her mother into a home, and close up the house herself, listing it for sale. She tells the listing agent to auction off the contents of the house, except for some personal effects she herself takes from the house for her mother. Mostly clothes, and a few personal belongings, she also takes from the back of the dresser where she had discovered it many years before, the picture of her Mother with a German officer.

If Trudy believes that this picture will tell her about her past, she might be right, but it is most likely not the past she believes it to be. When she thinks life cannot get any more complicated, a fellow professor at the college where she teaches asks her to participate as an interviewer of former Holocaust survivors. She first replies with a firm no, but then reconsiders.

This story is one that will make you smile, make you weep, make you laugh, just a little, and then roll you through all of the emotions again. It is a tale of the horrors of a war that is to this day hard to come to terms with for so many. Yet it has accomplished what many other fictionalized books on such a non-fiction subject have not, and that is to make you aware that things really did happen, even unspeakable things, all in the name of an evil figure by the name of Hitler.

If you want to read a book that, many would consider being an eye opening look at the horrors of World War II, told through the eyes of two women from two different times, but just as equally affected by the horrors, then pick up a copy of Those Who Save Us, By Jenna Blum today.

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