(Review) No Woman’s Land: A Holocaust Novel by Ellie Midwood

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Publisher and Publication Date: Independent. May 15, 2019.
Genre: Historical fiction. World War II. Holocaust.
Pages: 314.
Source: I received a complimentary copy from the author, but was not required to give a positive review.
Audience: Readers of World War II, Holocaust, and historical fiction.
Rating: Excellent.

Amazon
The Kindle Unlimited copy is free for members.

“It was very dangerous for him, and he knew it. But his love for me was stronger than fear.” – Ilse Stein

Summary:
This novel is based on the inspiring and moving love story of Ilse Stein, a German Jew, and Willy Schultz, a Luftwaffe Captain in the Minsk ghetto, who risked his life to save the one he loved the most.
When the last of the Jews’ rights are stripped in 1941, Ilse’s family is deported to a Minsk ghetto. Confined to a Sonderghetto and unable to speak the locals’ language, Ilse struggles to support the surviving members of her family. Befriended by a local underground member Rivka, Ilse partakes in small acts of resistance and sabotage to help her fellow Jews escape to the partisans.
A few months later, after losing almost his entire brigade of workers to one of the bloodiest massacres conducted by the SS, a local administrative officer Willy Schultz summons the survivors to form a new brigade. Ilse’s good looks immediately catch his eye, and he makes her a leader of the new unit and later, an office worker. Soon, an unlikely romance blossoms amid death and gore, moving a Nazi officer to go to great risks to protect not only Ilse but as many others as possible and allowing a Jewish girl to open her heart to the former enemy. Knowing that the ghetto would soon be liquidated, Willy Schultz swears to save Ilse, even if the cost would be his own life.
“We live together, or we die together,” – an ultimate oath of love in the most harrowing setting.
Dark, haunting, but full of hope, No Woman’s Land is a testament to the love that is stronger than fear and death itself.

My Thoughts:
I love this story!

Reasons why I gave No Woman’s Land an excellent review:
•Chapter One begins in 1940. World War II is going on, but for Ilse Stein and her family in Frankfurt they do not see the effects of war. The Stein family has experienced the restrictions of Jews in Germany, but Ilse is still able to work. She is still able to rebel a bit. In the first chapter, I’m given a glimpse at the strong and resilient personality of Ilse. She is a teenage girl, but has the heart of a lion. She is a great character. I see her strengths and also see what is going on around her. I feel an investment in her outcome. She is a character that keeps me reading.
•Descriptions are significant to setting the scene and atmosphere of a story. I felt, Midwood did an excellent job at creating the dark despair of the time period.
•An interesting element is shown in the Jewish Ghetto Ilse is sent to. It is how the Soviet and German Jews view one another. This is not something I’d thought of before and I’m glad Midwood brought this to the story.
No Woman’s Land is fiction, but the story is based on fact. The main characters and their stories are true. Many of the things about the story is true or based on fact. I wonder why Midwood chose to write a fiction book and not a biography? The story is wonderful, but I feel if it had been all factual information it would also be wonderful. Either way it is an unusual love story in harrowing surroundings.

About the Author:
Ellie Midwood is a best-selling, award-winning historical fiction writer. She’s a health-obsessed yoga enthusiast, a neat freak, an adventurer, Nazi Germany history expert, polyglot, philosopher, a proud Jew and a doggie mama.
Ellie lives in New York with her fiancé and their Chihuahua named Shark Bait.
Readers’ Favorite – winner in the Historical Fiction category (2016) – “The Girl from Berlin: Standartenfuhrer’s Wife
Readers’ Favorite – winner in the Historical Fiction category (2016) – “The Austrian” (honorable mention)
New Apple – 2016 Award for Excellence in Independent Publishing – “The Austrian” (official selection)
For more information on Ellie and her novels, please visit her website. You can also find her on Facebook, Amazon, and Goodreads.

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I do not host giveaways. This link will take you to the giveaway link: https://gleam.io/Tiz79/no-womans-land

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(Review) Claiming My Place: Coming of Age in the Shadow of the Holocaust by Planaria Price with Helen Reichmann West

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Publisher and Publication Date: Farrar Straus Giroux. March 13, 2018.
Genre: Nonfiction. World War II. Holocaust. Young adult.
Pages: 272.
Source: I received a complimentary copy, but was not required to leave a positive review.
Rating: Excellent.
Audience: For adult and young adult readers who read Holocaust survivor stories.

Landing page for the tour at Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours

Amazon link

About the author:
After graduating from Berkeley and earning a Master’s Degree in English Literature from UCLA, Planaria Price began her career teaching English to adult immigrants in Los Angeles. She has written several textbooks for University of Michigan Press and has lectured at over 75 conferences. In addition to her passion for teaching and writing, Planaria has worked with her husband to save and restore over 30 Victorian and Craftsman homes in her historic Los Angeles neighborhood. Claiming My Place is her first book for young adults.
Website for Planaria Price
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Praise:
“Price has boldly elected to tell the story in Basia’s own first-person, present-tense voice. The result is a dramatic, suspenseful account of survival in extremis, told in collaboration with Basia’s American daughter.” ―Booklist
“Price’s rendering of West’s mother’s early life reads like suspenseful historical fiction, telling a rarely heard side of the Jewish experience during WWII . . . Family, friendships, and romance give poignancy to this unique coming-of-age story, which is further enhanced by maps, a glossary, and an afterword.” ―Publishers Weekly
“A rich exploration of a Holocaust survivor’s sheltered childhood, the atrocity that failed to destroy her, and her later life as an immigrant.” ―Kirkus Reviews
“I was completely engrossed by this drama of survival. Barbara Reichmann’s story is quite extraordinary. It is sad, and terrible, and yet somehow captivating. The whole story of those who survived the Shoah by passing as Christians and working in Nazi Germany is an often forgotten part of the historical record.” ―Kai Bird, Executive Director, Leon Levy Center for Biography at CUNY Graduate Center, and co-author of the Pulitzer Prize–winning American Prometheus: The Triumph and Tragedy of J. Robert Oppenheimer
“As occurs with The Diary of Anne Frank, this book merges the dire circumstances of the Holocaust with the tenuousness of being a teenager. But Claiming My Place expands the view provided in the diary for one critical reason. Anne Frank’s story is told within an isolated cocoon. In Barbara’s story, however, the Holocaust is in full view as her experiences unfold.” ―David H. Lindquist, Ph.D., IPFW College of Education and Public Policy / Regional Museum Educator, United States Holocaust Memorial Museum
“This frightening true story of a young Jewish girl’s flight from the deadly grip of the Nazis celebrates the surprising ingenuity and raw courage found only in the depths of the human spirit. Risking what few others dared, Barbara Reichmann, née Gucia Gomolinska, speaks with wisdom and uncommon self-awareness through her detailed, colorful, and evocative recollections from earliest childhood. In the final portion of this book, her daughter, Helen West, continues Barbara’s journey in an insightful and loving overview of Barbara’s life from the family’s arrival in New Orleans in 1951 until her death in 2007. This is a great read with the suspenseful, inspiring and uplifting appeal of a novel, about a character who will capture the reader’s heart.” ―Allan Holzman, Peabody and Emmy Award-winning director and editor (Steven Spielberg’s Survivors of the Holocaust, Old Man River, The Native Americans)
“Thanks to the detailed memories and the conversational tone, this book provides an engaging and informative reading experience with as much appeal as a fiction title. Recommended for most YA nonfiction collections.” ―Magdalena Teske, West Chicago Public Library District School Library Journal
“This book was truly a celebration of the human spirit. What a gift she has for putting you in the story. Her way with words, plus her weaving of the actual events recounted to her by the unbelievably courageous Basia and her daughter Helen, was nothing short of magical. The included photographs and epilogue served to fully round out this amazing tale. I never wanted this book to end!” ―Rabbi Lynn Brody Slome

Summary:
Claiming My Place is the true story of a young Jewish woman who survived the Holocaust by escaping to Nazi Germany and hiding in plain sight.
Meet Gucia Gomolinska: smart, determined, independent, and steadfast in the face of injustice. A Jew growing up in predominantly Catholic Poland during the 1920s and ’30s, Gucia studies hard, makes friends, falls in love, and dreams of a bright future. Her world is turned upside down when Nazis invade Poland and establish the first Jewish ghetto of World War II in her town of Piotrkow Trybunalski. As the war escalates, Gucia and her family, friends, and neighbors suffer starvation, disease, and worse. She knows her blond hair and fair skin give her an advantage, and eventually she faces a harrowing choice: risk either the uncertain horrors of deportation to a concentration camp, or certain death if she is caught resisting. She decides to hide her identity as a Jew and adopts the gentile name Danuta Barbara Tanska. Barbara, nicknamed Basia, leaves behind everything and everyone she has ever known in order to claim a new life for herself.
Writing in the first person, author Planaria Price brings the immediacy of Barbara’s voice to this true account of a young woman whose unlikely survival hinges upon the same determination and defiant spirit already evident in the six-year-old girl we meet as this story begins. The final portion of this narrative, written by Barbara’s daughter, Helen Reichmann West, completes Barbara’s journey from her immigration to America until her natural, timely death.
The book includes three maps and 41 photographs in black and white.

My Thoughts:
Several reasons led me to award this book an excellent rating:
•A detailed account of Barbara Reichmann, from age 6 until post World War II. The book encompasses her home life, parents, siblings, neighborhood, hometown, schools, and university life. In addition, her plight of survival during the war. And, post World War II life: displacement.
•A strong teaching on the Jewish traditions, religion, holidays, and festivals. I enjoyed reading about the foods eaten during Passover, as well as the reasons behind the types of food eaten. During Passover, they sing songs and read from the Haggadah.
•Another point related to the previous. At the Seder meal, an empty chair is left for Elijah, even a cup of wine is left for him. I’d not heard of this custom before, and I loved hearing about the details of several other Jewish customs.
•Through Barbara’s voice, I became swept up in her story. I’ve read a long list of Holocaust stories. Barbara’s story is unique. The story of her survival is the expected reading, but I did not expect to learn about her life as a Jew. I feel this is an excellent teaching tool for students to learn about both the Holocaust and the Jewish religion.
•Barbara gave me a background on anti-Semitism in Europe. What the Jews had been accused of throughout the centuries. And, she gave an interesting perspective by stating it is what they’d come to expect. “Jews have learned to accept and endure the persecution off an on.”
•On September 1, 1939, Nazi Germany invaded Poland. This begins a thirteen day account of Barbara’s memories of this history. It gave me an overall picture of those first days.
•A horrifying life after Nazi Germany invaded Poland. The new laws, abuse, starvation, and murder. In one scene, Barbara and her family are eating dinner when they hear German voices outside their door shouting, “Schnell! Schnell!” The men come in their home going through the house and stealing, while the family still sits at their dinner table not wanting to take a breath.

Claiming My Place is described as a young adult book. Through most of the story, Barbara is in her twenties. The book is not descriptive about the death camps. I wanted to mention this last statement for a parent who may be thinking of this book for their child. I plan to pass this book along to my teenage granddaughter. However, she too has read extensively Holocaust stories.

(Review) The German Girl by Lucas Correa

The German Girl

Publisher and Publication Date: Washington Square Press. August 8, 2017.
Genre: Historical Fiction. Holocaust. World War II.
Source: Self-purchase.
Rating: Recommend. Very good.

Amazon

Summary:
Two young girls. Two time periods. Two lives who have been shattered by tragedy. Both girls are related. Their lives will intersect.
Hannah lives in Berlin in 1939. She is the only child of a wealthy Jewish family.
Anna lives in New York City post 9/11. The year is 2014. She is the only child of a widow. Anna’s father died before she was born.

My Thoughts:
•A clincher of an opening line. The narrator, Hannah, is talking about killing her parents. It is obvious from the start of the story she is a person under deep stress and anguish. Berlin is a powder keg. The fuse has been lit by Nazi Germany. The Jews are the target of the fuse.
•The setting of both stories, and the emotion of the stories, is the biggest aspect of the book. Both girls are pushed from a young age to become adults. They are heavily burdened by their circumstances. They are at times alone in their minds. They scramble for an answer to their plight.  The German Girl is heart-wrenching at times, because I felt strongly about the outcome of the two young girls.
•Both of the mothers of the two girls are lost in their own “place.” Anna’s mother is lost in the past, and in her grief and depression. Hannah’s mother is lost in the refinement and wealth of her material possessions.
•Anna is a compassionate person. She often looks away from her own situation and is focused on others-their sadness is a heavy weight in her heart. It is so “different” to read about a person who is not selfish and self-entitled. I read about and see so many people focused on their selves that Anna stands in stark contrast.
The German Girl gave me a riveting view of living under the grim conditions as a Jew in Berlin in 1939.
•I’d heard about the ship carrying Jews headed to Cuba. This is the first (fictional) story I’ve read about this history.
•Several photographs are in the back of the book of passengers on the ship, St. Louis. In addition, eight pages of signatures from the passengers.

(Review) Irena’s Children: The Extraordinary Story of the Woman Who Saved 2,500 Children From The Warsaw Ghetto by Tilar J. Mazzeo

Irena's Children

Publisher and Publication Date: Simon and Schuster/Gallery Books paperback. 2017.
Genre: Nonfiction, Poland, World War II, Holocaust.
Pages: 352.
Source: Self-purchase.
Rating: Excellent.

I’d first heard of Irena Sendler after watching a film titled, The Courageous Heart of Irena Sendler.

There is a project and film about Irena’s life: Life in a Jar

Summary:

Preface: Page xii. But while Irena Sendler was undeniably a heroine-a woman of immense, almost unfathomable moral and physical courage-she was not a saint either. To make her a saint in the telling of her story is, in the end, to do a kind of dishonor to the true complexity and difficulty of her very human choices…She was at once a heroine-although she disdained that word, too-and a flawed and average person.

All humans are “flawed and average.” A hero is someone who is ordinary in every way yet rises to the challenges set before them. The challenges set before Irena were immense. She was given an opportunity, and because of her career, to make a difference in the lives of children. Some people would have said no. Irena said yes.

Irena Sendler was age 29 when Nazi Germany attacked Poland in 1939. She was married and had a boyfriend. Irena was not Jewish. She had grown up with Jewish friends and neighbors. Most of her friends were not religious. They were educated leftist thinkers. She was a social worker. During the war she became involved in the underground network of helping Jews survive. Irena specifically worked to help Jewish children escape and survive the Holocaust.

My Thoughts:
One of the few things I disliked about the book was Mazzeo’s direct quote I gave. I don’t believe it was necessary to state Irena was a “flawed and average person.” However, I believe this was stated to show one of the elements of the book: Irena was a normal person who became a heroine by rescuing Jewish children during the Holocaust. I believe the story itself showed me the kind of person and character of Irena.
What I loved about the book:
1. I was given a broad and detailed view of the city of Warsaw-it’s people specifically.
2. The book gave me a view of the Jewish people I’d not seen before in other stories. For example, the Jews are not a 1 type people. They are as varied as any other people group. Some Jews are orthodox, some are educated, some had businesses, some were intellectuals; and some had Jewish blood in their ancestry but did not consider their religion to be Jewish. Some of the Jewish people were not religious at all, and were leftist thinkers leaning towards communism.
3. The events leading up to and during the invasion of Poland by Nazi Germany.
4. The network system of getting children out of the Warsaw Ghetto.
5. The individual stories of those children Irena helped.
6. Irena’s story showed me the immense task, suffering, brutality, fear, and betrayal of what she endured, as well as the other people who worked to save the Jews.
7. The after affects of surviving the Holocaust is looked at in brief. The two stories shared gave a great impact on this aspect.

 

 

(Review) The Good At Heart by Ursula Werner

The Good at Heart

Publisher and Publication Date: Touchstone. February 21, 2017.
Genre: Historical fiction, World War II, family, Germany.
Pages: 320.
Source: Complimentary hardcover copy from Touchstone. I was not required to leave a positive review.
Rating: Very good.

Amazon

Ursula Werner’s website. Please scroll down at Werner’s website to read a tribute to her great-grandfather, and the reason behind writing The Good at Heart.

Summary:
Oskar and Edith Eberhardt had built a vacation dream home in the town of Blumental, Germany. Their home has a lovely view of the Alps of Switzerland. During the war, they relocated to this home in order to move away from Berlin. Their daughter, Marina, and her three daughters live with them. Oskar is apart of Hitler’s cabinet. He is away from home often. Marina’s husband, Franz, is in Hitler’s army. Marina hates Hitler and Nazism. Despite her husband being in the military and her father’s work, Marina became involved with helping Jewish people escape. Marina also has a lover who is involved in the Nazi government. Marina helps shelter Jews until they can move to the next safe place. During the arrival of one of her “packages,” Hitler came to visit her parents home.

The story’s timeline is over a three day period: July 18, 19, and 20, 1944.

My Thoughts:
I loved the story taking place over a three day period. By slowing down the timeline of days, the story had a pace I could keep up with, and understand the details of each day.
When the story began, I had no idea the attention each character would have in the story. One of Marina’s daughters has a strong role. She is a child, but the full scope of her purpose will become apparent at conclusion.
Marina and her father, Oskar, are at enmity. However, Oskar is adored by his wife and grandchildren. He is a quiet man. There is a gentle quality in his personality. This is a sharp comparison to his role alongside Hitler.
Marina is a sad character. She represents women who married the wrong person. I don’t know how else to express this predicament she’s in. She did not marry the person she loved, but the person who was available…she settled. I watched her story unfold. On one hand, she could have stayed at home and cared for her daughters in quiet duty and stoicism. Instead, she joined a movement to rescue the oppressed. This task took her out of her melancholy life and gave a new focus.
At times, I thought Edith was thin-skinned and unready for her new situation away from her beloved Oskar. But, her character showed me differently.
The Good At Heart is a very good character study. I loved this aspect more than the story itself. The story is good, but watching the characters move through the three hard days was the reason I could not lay the book down.