[Review] What Did You Do In The War Sister?: Catholic Sisters in the World War II Nazi Resistance by Dennis J. Turner

Publisher and Publication Date: Published by the author, Dennis J. Turner. February 27th 2020.
Genre: Historical fiction.
Pages: 320.
Format: Kindle e-book edition.
Source: Kindle Unlimited e-book choice.
Audience: World War II readers. Readers who want to read about Catholic nuns who were apart of the Resistance.
Rating: Very good to excellent.

Link at Amazon

Link at Barnes and Noble

I have been curious about what role the Catholic Church had during World War II. I’ve read articles about their inaction in helping the Jews; but I wanted to read true stories or at least stories based on historical truth about those who did work against the Nazi pogrom during World War II. I am especially referring to priests and nuns. This book, What Did You Do In The War Sister? is a very good choice.
I have another book that I’ve not read: Church of Spies: The Pope’s Secret War Against Hitler by Mark Riebling.

Link at Goodreads

Summary:

The book is dedicated to the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur.

The summary of the book at Goodreads doesn’t give much info.

The narrator of the story is a nun, Sister Christina, who is from Ohio. She has a degree and certificate to teach secondary education. She teaches French and German. Despite the building war in Europe, she travels to Belgium to be a nun at a boarding school for girls. The time period is the late 1930s. Through this Sister’s experiences, the daily activities of a Sister and teacher is shown, as well as their work to care for and hide Jews and service men.

Through true letters and diaries of Sisters who wrote about their experiences during World War II, Turner has written a solid historical fiction story.

My Thoughts:

There are things I love about this book and things I dislike:

What I love:
1. I love learning about the Sister’s daily routine duties. Their daily schedule: when they awakened, when they went to bed at night, and everything in-between. The prayer times during the day. Everyone has responsibilities whether it is cooking, laundry, or teaching. And some duties are for all of them.
2. I love the sub-story about a young girl who lives at the school. I wish there had been more individual stories. In sharing their stories, I learn about their lives, their viewpoint about where they reside, and the Sisters who are their teachers and caregivers; plus their circumstances in how they came to live there. Another words, the main voice of the story is from this particular Sister. I’d like to have heard from other voices to fully round out the story. This also makes the story larger-epic.
3. I love the main character, Sister Christina. She is a woman of gusto. She is talented, intelligent, wise, a leader, compassionate, persuasive, adaptable, formidable, and courageous. She is a little too perfect. I am not saying that to be all these positive traits is impossible or wrong. I am saying that as a book character there must be a little imperfectness shown to be believable and approachable. If not, then the character is unapproachable, unknowable, and is seen more as someone who cannot be truly known or even become invested in their outcome.
4. I love the descriptive and graphic accounts of the bombings and its destruction of Belgium. This sets the serious tone of the whole of the story. Nazi Germany is the enemy who has brought war to Belgium. At first the Nazi’s occupy the area. Later, the allied soldiers and the Nazis fight the war in the front yards of the nation.
5. The story has a good pace. It is told in linear-chronological order with the exception of Sister Christina sharing about her background and how she became a Sister.
6. I love the Sister’s ingenuity and tactics in hiding those who the Nazis were looking for. This is an important aspect showing the work they did for those who were in harm’s way.
7. The displacement of the Sisters, children, and community at large are displaced at times because of the war. The Sisters were at risk of homelessness and murder just as all the community was at risk. This is a another strength of the story.
8. I love the tiny historical mentions. For example: the bells from church steeples that were removed by the Germans for war use. The bells had a grade system defined by their age.
9. I love how the story stayed with Sister Christina to show the impact of the war on her health.

A few things I do not like:

1. A few things I noted in the above portion.
2. I don’t like the title. I believe a better title should be short and precise. No question mark.
3. I believe a more enticing summary should be written for Goodreads, etc.
4. I’d like to hear more voices narrating the story. A favorite voice could be from a few of the young girls who lived in the school.

Themes in the story: war, peace, courage, suffering, heroism, honor, death and dying, sacrifice, resistance, trust, hope, grief, bravery, hospitality, survival, and wisdom.

I want to mention my dad was in World War II. He was in Belgium during the winter of 1944-1945. He fought in the Battle of the Bulge. He share several stories about his memories of that time. One of those stories is he too saw Marlene Dietrich in a show. He remarked it was odd she played a saw. I think he missed the point about her showing off her legs during this act.



(Review) The Last Train to London by Meg Waite Clayton

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.

Link @ Amazon

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.

(Review) A Woman in Berlin: Eight Weeks in the Conquered City by Anonymous

Publisher and Publication Date: Picador. 1953. My eBook Kindle copy, 2017.
Genre: Memoir. World War II. Germany. Post World War II. Women and Literature.
Pages: 300.
Source: Self-purchase.
Audience: Readers of World War II memoirs.
Rating: Excellent.

The translator of the diary is Philip Boehm.

Amazon link
The Kindle price is $2.69 today.

Summary:
A Woman in Berlin is a diary (kept in 3 notebooks) by a 34 year old German woman during the final weeks of World War II and the first few weeks of post war Germany.
She had worked as a journalist. She’d traveled in Europe before the war.
The diary began April 20, 1945. The diary ends June 22, 1945.

Two important points:
~This is a diary and not a complete historical record of World War II. It is the personal life and private thoughts of this German woman.
~The memoir is a trigger for people who have been sexually abused.

Warning! The memoir depicts graphic rape scenes.
In other books I’ve read, the rape scenes are not described in detail like this book. This memoir is the before, during, and afterwards of rape. Nothing in this memoir is romantic and beautiful. It is heart-wrenching, sad, and painful.

My Thoughts:
~I am a survivor of sexual abuse. This book triggered my difficulty in sleeping, flashbacks, and an overall uneasiness.
~I saw through her eyes the German soldiers as they retreated. In addition, she provided a surreal and disturbing account of the bombings, basement sheltering, scarcity of food and water, starvation, the violence of the Soviet soldiers, and civilian death and burial.
She acknowledges the harsh bitterness against the Nazi’s who caused this.
She confesses: “We’ve been led by criminals and gamblers, and we’ve let them lead us, like sheep to the slaughter.” Page 129.
~The 100,000 German women who were raped by Soviets were of all ages. The Soviet Army did not always discriminate who they plundered. German women who had babies might be ignored. Girl children might be ignored. Teenage girls were vulnerable because they were thought to be virgins. Elderly women were plunder. Females were considered war plunder with no rights and they were to accept this behavior!

Other Thoughts:
~In Berlin, at the end of the war, there were women, children, and old men.
~Women began to have a different attitude towards men. They were surviving (or not) without the men who had led them astray. They had a bitter attitude towards men. They had a pitiful attitude towards men.
~After the war is over information came to her and others about the Holocaust.

Final Thought:
The diary doesn’t reveal what she knew about the Holocaust before the war ended. I don’t know what she knew or what she thought. When she heard about the crematory in the camps it was one more thing to add to her oppressed soul.

I searched online to find who was the anonymous woman author. Her name was Marta Hillers (1911-2001).

(Review) Hitler’s Furies: German Women in the Nazi Killing Fields by Wendy Lower

Publisher and Publication Date: Mariner Books/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 2013.
Genre: Nonfiction. World War II history. German history. Nazi Germany.
Pages: 288.
Source: Borrowed eBook, library copy.
Audience: Readers of World War II, Nazi Germany, and the Holocaust. This book is specific to German women involved in the Nazi pogrom.
Rating: Very good.

Amazon link

Ilse Koch
Irma Grese
Female SS German camp guards at Bergen-Belsen Concentration Camp

Summary:
Hitler’s Furies is an analysis of German women who were actively involved in the Nazi genocide during the Holocaust.
These women worked in several different areas: nursing, secretary, guards, and teaching. Also, these women were often the wives of Nazi soldiers (especially wives of high ranking officers).
Hitler’s Furies explores several German women who were known perpetrators. Their personal stories are brief. Their atrocities are examined in detail.
One of the last chapters in the book explores why these women committed such horrific crimes?

My Thoughts:
The main reason I was drawn to this book is its subject. I’d not read a book in particular about female German Nazi criminals. Another book came close to this subject: Ravensbruck by Sarah Helm.

In my mind, women are more apt to be maternal, compassionate, settled, and domestic. Most of the women I’ve known have had these traits to some degree. I know of one family where it was the husband/father who has been the primary childcaring parent. Hitler’s Furies has ended my naivete.

In every case, the female perpetrators became monsters. They were vicious, vile, despicable people. It’s difficult to rationalize (wrap my mind around) their behavior. It’s difficult to believe this behavior didn’t continue after the war.

This is a hard read because of the subject. But if you are a reader of World War II and the Holocaust, this book is important.

Some of the women published their stories many years later, but were selective in what they revealed. Their motive was to share what had happened, but they did not want to be faulted and condemned. In Lower’s research, she had to be acutely aware of who to trust in their personal reflections.

~I feel Hitler’s Furies is thorough in its research and text.
~The dryness of the details is offset by illustrations from the perpetrator’s stories.
~I believe it is impossible to read this type of book and not judge. I have a heart and it has been pricked by the evil actions of these women.



(Review) Api’s Berlin Diaries: My Quest To Understand My Grandfather’s Nazi Past by Gabrielle Robinson

Publisher and Publication Date: She Writes Press. September 15, 2020.
Genre: Nonfiction. Memoir. World War II. Nazi Germany.
Pages: 329.
Source: I received a complimentary paperback (advanced reader copy) from She Writes Press. I was not required to write a positive review.
Audience: Readers of World War II stories, Nazi Germany, and memoirs.
Rating: Very good.

Amazon link

A Books Forward campaign.

GABRIELLE ROBINSON tells stories about people that reveal their personal situation within its historical context. One reason for her fascination with the intersection of the personal and historical stems from her own experience. Born in Berlin in 1942, her father’s fighter plane was shot down over England in 1943; after her family was bombed out twice, they fled Berlin in 1945, the beginning of a string of migrations that ended in the US. Gabrielle holds an MA from Columbia University and a PhD from the University of London. She has taught at the University of Illinois, at Indiana University South Bend, and abroad, and has won a number of awards for her writing and community engagement. Gabrielle is now settled in South Bend, Indiana, with her husband Mike Keen, a sociologist turned sustainable neighborhood developer, and their cat Max. Her favorite leisure time reading is about animals and trees. Learn more about Gabrielle and Api’s Berlin Diaries at https://www.gabriellerobinson.com/.

Summary:
Imagine if you found out that someone you loved had a dark past. That happened to author Gabrielle Robinson, as she tried to reconcile the grandfather she knew with his complex past in her memoir Api’s Berlin Diaries (She Writes Press, September 15, 2020). 
After her mother’s death, Robinson found two diaries her grandfather had kept while serving as doctor during the fall of Berlin 1945. He recorded his daily struggle to survive in the ruined city and attempted to do what little he could for the wounded and dying without water, light, and medications. But then the diaries revealed something that had never been mentioned in her family, and it hit Robinson like a punch to the gut: Api, her beloved grandfather, had been a Nazi. 
In this clear-eyed memoir, Robinson juxtaposes her grandfather’s harrowing account of his experiences during the war with her memories of his loving protection years afterward, and raises thoughtful questions about the political responsibility we all carry as individuals. Moving and provocative, Api’s Berlin Diaries offers a firsthand and personal perspective on the far-reaching aftershocks of the Third Reich — and the author’s own inconvenient past.

My Thoughts:
I’ve read a long list of World War II books. These books are about the Holocaust, German children’s experiences, Army nurses, American soldiers, Adolf Hitler, the Nuremberg trials, the Pacific War, nurses and civilians in Japanese prison camps, Japan’s invasion of China, the rape and slaughter of Nanking, the war in Europe, civilians, the bombing of Pearl Harbor, D-Day Omaha Beach, Jewish women who married Nazi Germans, Christians who rescued Jews, Christians who wrote pamphlets against Nazi Germany, Christian pastors and priests who preached against Nazi Germany, the rebuilding of Germany post war, the Resistance, spying and espionage during the war, and how the next generation of Germans have come to terms with the war.
In an account like Api’s Berlin Diaries, the author is sharing their personal and private family history in print. And, during the course of the memoir, the reader is given the author’s thoughts, feelings, realizations, insights, and wrestling with making peace with each new discovery.
Gabrielle Robinson wants to discover her parents and grandparent’s history during World War II. What was their experiences? What was their role in the war? To what extent did they know about the Holocaust?
Robinson was a small child during the war. Her memories are brief. One memory is she and her mother are at a Berlin train station that is crowded with people.
Robinson’s family didn’t talk about the war except in whispers.
The title of the book and the synopsis gave me the understanding it was about Robinson’s search for who her grandfather was during the war. But, I knew in my heart this was a book about self-discovery. It is a book about understanding where Robinson had come from (family lineage)? Who her family was outside of their family roles? And lastly, how does Robinson deal with the heavy weight of guilt and shame?
Api’s Berlin Diaries covers about 6 months at the end of the war and the summer after its end. Api was in Berlin at the end of the war. He was a physician in the military.
Excerpts from the diary are included in the book.
Black and white photographs are included in the book.

Several reasons I love this story:
~The author and her family traveled to the places mentioned by her grandfather in his diary. I saw through her eyes these places plus her thoughts about what she viewed. I felt as if I traveled along side her.
~The book is more than just about her grandfather. It is a book about the other members in her family.
~The book is a way for Robinson to unpack memories and come to terms in someway. She is trying to make peace with her past which is something many of us do when we get older.
~A personal and harrowing account of Berlin at the end of the war.
~I love how Robinson paired her grandfather’s memories to the documented history of those events.
~I love Robinson’s reading and research of World War II and Nazi Germany.
~Robinson gave other examples of people who will not talk about their feelings or role during the war.

Final Thoughts:
Robinson included some of her grandfather’s prayers. I felt this was especially heart-wrenching and touching.
Robinson’s grandfather was in the German military and was a member of the Nazi Party. He was an eye surgeon. He was not in combat. He did not take an active part in the murder of Jews. But, he was a member of the people group who did these atrocities.
To an extent Robinson answered many of the questions that began her journey of discovery. What I have learned as I’ve grown older is some questions can not be answered. This life is messy and complicated. And, sometimes we will not have an answer to the why.

It’s been 21 years ago that my family and I traveled to Europe. It was a trip of a life time. We visited many of the places my dad had been because he was in the American Army during World War II. Dad was a D-Day Veteran. He was a Veteran of the Battle of the Bulge. He was even captured by Germans and was a POW. My brother-in-law had met friends when he was in the Army and stationed in Germany, 1960-1964. These friends were a family that treated him like family. It was arranged for us to meet together at a restaurant for dinner. They didn’t speak English. My brother-in-law was the only one of us who spoke German. I understood a few words because I took German in high school. If you can imagine the mixed assortment of our group. An older woman who was a German citizen during the war. Her adult children. My dad an American Veteran. And, the rest of our group. We wanted desperately to communicate with one another, but the language gap and the uncertainty of what to say hung about our heads like bulging cartoon captions. Yet, we all eventually settled down to a delicious meal and an interpreted conversation. My dad told me later he didn’t have hard feelings against those people. He told me not to judge. He said, “Annette, you don’t know their personal stories or what they endured. You don’t know the memories they live with.”