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Yet another harrowing read has emerged from the ruins of Nazi Germany: White Rose Black Forest (2018) by Eoin Dempsey. From the first paragraph to the last, high drama ignites questions, teases out near misses, and displays murderous violence. Grave concern for the survival of nurse Franka Berger and John Lynch, a wounded American spy wearing the captain‘s uniform of the Luftwaffe, heightens the suspense.

What gives this novel substance, though, is Dempsey’s incorporation of the White Rose—a 1942 resistance movement made up of University of Munich students and their philosophy professor. For eight months they printed and distributed pamphlets informing the populace of Hitler’s true agenda, until caught and many executed by the Gestapo. Among them was blonde, blue-eyed Franka, only spared because of her Aryan features and the prospects of her birthing children to support the Third Reich’s Thousand Year Millennium.

And the wintry Black Forest, a large mountainous region in southwest Germany, serves as a volatile character: Its blizzards, ice storms, moonlit nights, and freezing temperatures tense the plight of the pursued and their pursuers.

Donovan’s judiciously selected images and terse dialog imprint this riveting story upon his readers. With Franka and John, we identify with their bone-shuddering cold, exhaustion, hunger, and thirst; with them, we recoil from the Gestapo’s cunning.

In my perception, the noteworthy merit of White Rose Black Forest lies in activating psychic wars within our depths, where Gestapo-like insanity lurks, searching for lapses in consciousness.

In my present circumstances, vigilance is key.

 

Diaries, letters, and photos access times past and enable researchers to ferret out their dark secrets. Publication of such materials makes present and up-close experiences of the human family from which we benefit, if we have the courage.

Wearing the Letter P: Polish Women as Forced Laborers in Nazi Germany, 1939-1945 (2016) is one such narrative. Its Polish American author Sophie Hodorowicz Knab undertook this challenge to honor her mother Jozefa, enslaved in 1943 within the munitions factory in Ulmstead, not far from Hanover, until the end of the war. She was thirty-two years old when taken from her Krakow home in her house slippers. Upon the right breast of her clothing was the hated purple P upon a yellow patch, stitched there following the 1939 occupation of Poland; its people were considered racially subhuman and expendable.

Her mother’s reticence to speak of her experiences later prodded Knab to comb the Archives in the United States, Poland, Germany, and England for evidence of the plight of forced civilian women in Nazi Germany: such only appeared in the 1980s. Her research uncovered records of their conscription, their divided families, filthy transit camps and cattle cars, abject poverty, extreme weather conditions, multiple diseases, malnutrition, starvation, forced abortions, crippling humiliations, 12-hour work days in agricultural and industrial settings, and newborns left to starve.

What fueled Knab’s research was the discovery of diaries, letters, and photos taken by these women. Interweaving them with the bitter facts of their enslavement added an indescribable poignancy to this scholarly work.

Indeed, the words and faces of these 105 women still tell their story.

 

 

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