The story begins in Amsterdam, the Netherlands. 1943.
Marijke de Graaf, and her husband, Theo, are both arrested by the Gestapo and sent to camps. Marijke is at Ravensbruck. Her husband is sent to another camp. Marijke is singled out with other attractive young women for a chance to survive in another type of “climate.” They are given the opportunity to work in a brothel as prostitutes in a different camp. They will be housed in a better place. They will be given better food with more portions. They will be regularly checked by camp doctors. They will be asked to perform as prostitutes for the camp inmates. Marijke wants to find Theo. They are a young married couple. They are in love. Marijke accepts this job. She tells herself it is to survive and find Theo. After Marijke’s arrival at the camp, she is given a few days to settle. Meanwhile, a new commander arrives at the camp. His name is Karl Muller. He is young and handsome. He is a staunch believer in Nazism. Muller is immediately attracted to Marijke. They have a pseudo relationship. Added to the book is another time period and another story. It is the story of Luciano Wagner. He lives in Argentina in the late 1970s.
*Possibly giving away too much about the story. Forgive me.
There are more things I dislike about the book than like. 1. I dislike the dual time period. I am seeing this too much in historical fiction and it has become boring. 2. I dislike the addition to the book of Luciano Wagner. He is introduced in chapter three. I spent most of the book wondering why he is in the book? What is the purpose? Does he matter to the whole of the story? Do I care? 3. In other books with a woman who becomes involved with a Nazi, the Nazi is almost always a reluctant Nazi. There is something in his behavior that gives him attributes of compassion, tenderness, and a willingness to help. Karl Muller is not this kind of person. As a result, there are several disadvantages given to Karl and Marijke’s relationship. One of them is their relationship is a fake. I feel no pull to read their storyline. When they are together it doesn’t hold my attention. 4. Theo is at the beginning of the story, but then he is gone, except in Marijke’s memories. If he had been more in the development of the story (his plight), I might have become invested in their outcome. After-all, Theo is the motivator for Marijke. 5. I feel the plot/storyline is a difficult one to engage the reader. A group of women who are prostitutes for the camp inmates, and because of their job their sexual acts are just acts. The women stare off into space-they check out. Some make a joke about it. Others are sickened. Their attitude and behavior is mechanical which makes their story feel mechanical. It doesn’t come across on page well. The one point that impacted me is the soreness of Marijke. Her private area is sore from having had so many clients-up to 8 per night. I want to have empathy and become invested (swept-away) in the story, but it comes across as a mechanic representation.
What I like about the story is the style of writing. I noticed instead of lengthy pages with descriptive writing, there is condensed, strong, and vivid sentences.
Publisher and Publication Date: Bookouture. November 18, 2020. Genre: Historical fiction. World War II. Holocaust. Pages: 356. Format: Kindle edition e-book. Source: NetGalley. I received a complimentary e-book copy, but was not required to write a positive review. Audience: Readers of Holocaust stories. Rating: Excellent.
Summary: The prologue starts the story creating a fear of what might happen.
The year is 1943. Alma Rosé is a well-known virtuoso violinist. She’s played in Holland, Austria, Germany, and other countries on the continent of Europe. She has family members who are well-known musicians and composers. They are Jewish.
Alma and her father make it safely to England, but she returns to Holland to continue performing. She is arrested and sent to Drancy, France. From there she is sent to Auschwitz.
After arriving at Auschwitz she is sent to the experimental block. She plays the violin in a concert. She is recognized as the famous violinist Alma Rosé. She is moved to the female orchestra block. Alma becomes the conductor of the female orchestra. Her position makes is possible to save other females in the camp if they are able to play a musical instrument.
Alma meets Miklos a pianist and composer. It is an instant connection and attraction.
My Thoughts: It’s interesting the story starts with a foreshadowing of the ending. Since I had not read the true story of Alma Rosé, I read the story fresh and without knowing the events in her life.
The Violinist of Auschwitz is an emotional story. The name and setting of the story is immediate at causing an anguish in my spirit.
The story is a reminder of the harsh and stressful daily survival for the prisoners. But, the story is a reminder of the bond and unity of the prisoners. Their quiet defiance against the Nazis and their devotion to help one another.
The writing style and tone expresses the serious and somber story. Yet, there is beauty in certain scenes. For example, a stolen and tender moment between a couple. There is also sarcasm. Alma is a person who has a strong personality. It is difficult for her to remain quiet and stoic. Her feelings are often expressed as sarcasm. However, she has moments that are emotionally overwhelming and she is stunned.
The Violinist of Auschwitz has external conflicts, but there is internal conflicts with the prisoners who are confronted with gut-wrenching type decisions.
Themes in the story: courage, death, bravery, loyalty, love, passion, kindness, compassion, and perseverance.
I’m thankful Ellie Midwood wrote this important story. It is a strong testament of Alma Rosé.
Publisher and Publication Date: Scholastic Focus. February 4, 2020. Genre: Nonfiction. History. World War II. Holocaust. Pages: 368. Format: E-book. Source: Library copy. Audience: Middle school readers or any age above middle school with an interest in World War II and Holocaust history. At the publisher, the age range is 8-12. I feel the age is closer to 10 to 12. Rating: Very good.
Recently I read and reviewed a historical fiction book, The Last Train to London. I’ve also watched at least one documentary on Prime Video on this history. It is the history of Kindertransport. Kindertransport was an organized effort to rescue Jewish children during pre-World War II. Most of the children were rescued from 1938-1939. To read more information about Kindertransport: Jewish Virtual Library Encyclopedia.ushmm There are several YouTube videos on the Kindertransport.
Summary: We Had to Be Brave begins by sharing a brief bio of Adolf Hitler, and when he and the Nazis came to power. The year is 1933. It was at that time, the persecution of the Jews began escalating. In 1935, the Jews citizenship was taken away. The Nazis also persecuted people of political beliefs contrary to Nazis. They persecuted people with disabilities, the Romany or Gypsy, and LGBTQ. Most of the children who survived because of the Kindertransport were from Germany and Austria but also Poland and Czechoslovakia. The story mainly centers on three children who were apart of the Kindertransport. 1. Leslie Brent. 2. Marianne Elsley. 3. Ruth Oppenheimer David.
My Thoughts: I love several things about this book but was left wanting a bit more. I believe it helps to have personal lives shared in a history book to create an strong effect. The book mainly shares the lives of three children. I feel my response is because of my age, and, because I’ve read a lengthy list of Holocaust and World War II books. I want more illustrations of personal lives. We Had to Be Brave shares other people who were apart of the movement to try and stop Hitler and Nazi power. These people I’ve read about in other books: Dietrich Bonhoeffer and the White Rose students. I feel We Had to Be Brave is a solid first book for a young student to learn about this period in history. Additional reasons why I enjoyed reading this book: 1. Other rescue groups involved in helping the Jews are noted in the book. 2. I learned about the network and steps involved in rescuing the children. 3. I learned about the faithful and dedicated work of those involved in the rescue of children. 4. In chapter seven, a story is shared about one particular family’s abuse by the Nazis. It is their story shared that represents so many others. 5. The book encourages young adults to tell trusted adults when they hear anti-Semitism.
Publisher and Publication Date: HarperCollins. 2019. Genre: Historical fiction. Format: Paperback. Pages: 480. Source: Self-purchase. Audience: Historical fiction readers of World War II and Holocaust. Rating: Very good.
Summary: The Last Train to London is the story of a Dutch woman, Truus Wijsmuller, who escorted Jewish children to a safe country away from the Nazis. The rescue operation was called Kindertransport. The children called her Tante Truus. The Last Train to London is based on the real story of the Vienna Kindertransport operation. The person who led this was Geertruida Wijsmuller-Meijer (1896-1978) of Amsterdam. Two other characters in the story are Stephan Neuman and Zofie-Helene. They are teenagers from different cultures, but are close friends. The book is in 3 parts: 1936 1938 1939
My Thoughts: I watched a documentary on Prime Video about a Kindertransport operation. When I saw this book at Target I had to read it.
My first thought is I am amazed at the courage and tenacity of Truus Wijsmuller. She is skillful at acting a part for the benefit of saving children. She can weave a fictitious story with charm in order to save a life. She has the ingenuity to change a plan in a moments notice. I love her character. I love this story because of her. Other reasons why this story is important and why I love it. 1. Even though Truus is courageous and brave, I see her weaknesses. I see her fears. I see her vulnerable side. 2. Newspaper clippings are included in the book (every so many pages). I feel this helps the story with a historical realness. 3. The story shows the venom and brutality of the Nazis against the Jews. This makes the story raw and believable. It shows the heightened suspense that children must be helped. It gave the story an edge of my seat feeling. 4. When a person is the caregiver of children the person must be prepared for surprise interruptions that might change plans. Clayton showed several examples in the story. 5. I liked reading about Christians who were living out their beliefs by helping those suffering. 6. I was pleasantly surprised to read Bible verses in the book. 7. I feel the characters are fleshed out in a way that made them breathe with life. This is just one of the reasons why I became apart of the story.
Something I am puzzled about in the book. Some of the chapters are only 1 page long. Why? This is interrupting in the story to have breaks like this. I do not like it. The 2 other characters are Zofie-Helene and Stephan. If they were not in the story I would not miss them. I’d like the emphasis to be on Truus. She is a huge character. Any other characters paired in a story next to her are pale.
Publisher and Publication Date: Open Road Media. 2016. First published 1978. Genre: Nonfiction. Memoir. World War II. Holocaust. Pages: 94. Format: Kindle Unlimited eBook. Originally the eBook was obtained by me through NetGalley and I deleted it by accident. Source: I am a paid member of the Kindle Unlimited program. Audience: Readers of Holocaust memoirs. Rating: Excellent.
The YouTube is an audio (only) recording in English of Isabella Leitner telling her story.
Summary: May 1944. Isabella Leitner (age 23) began her brief memoir with the day of deportation. She and her family live in Kisvárda, Hungary. They are Jews. Their father is already in America and working to get their immigration papers. After arrival at Auschwitz, Isabella and her three sisters survive the first point of selection to live. It was Mengele who selected them, but other family members were murdered. Fragments of Isabella is a deeply emotional, compelling, and harrowing account of the “struggle to survive.”
My Thoughts: From the first sentence, I became consumed in the pages of the personal, horrific, and raw account. I believe it might have been too much, to read a lengthy story. I read the book cover to cover in 1 sitting.
On the day of deportation, Isabella is having her period. I want you to imagine what that must have been like. The experience of being packed in a train car with 74 other humans. There isn’t a bathroom. There isn’t a place to clean-up. There isn’t a place to sit. There isn’t a place to hide. This experience alone is suffering.
Several reasons why this memoir is excellent. 1. The memoir captures the horror and despair of Auschwitz. 2. It is an eyewitness account. 3. The story is told in a chronological order of events with personal feelings and thoughts added. 4. The story highlights and documents the evil acts of Nazi brutality and murder. 5. The story explains post traumatic stress that continued to impact life.