Tag Archives: World War II

The Room on Rue Amelie Book Review

When we make a choice, we never know what the consequences of that decision will be. We can only hope that it will turn out for the best.

In Kristin Harmel‘s 2018 book, The Room on Rue Amelie, Ruby is a young woman in the late 1930’s. Attending college in New York City, she meets and instantly falls in love with Marcel, a Frenchman from Paris. After the wedding, they move to Marcel’s hometown. At first it seems as they are in newlywedded bliss. But then World War II starts and their marriage is forever altered. The man she married and the man who stands in front of her are two different people.

After he is killed, Ruby discovers that her husband was part of the resistance. Picking up where he left off, she hides Allied soldiers who have landed in enemy territory. One of them is a RAF pilot who Ruby immediately connects with. She also takes in Charlotte, the young daughter of her Jewish neighbors who have been arrested. As the war continues on, the level of danger grows tenfold. They know they want to survive, but fate may have other plans.

I really enjoyed this book. Harmel’s story of love, resistance, fate, and hope is emotional and powerful. The relationship that kept me going was the one between Ruby and Charlotte. Their sisterly bond was the strongest among the characters, keeping them both going in a time when their circumstances could have easily broken them.

Do I recommend it? Absolutely.

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Hitler’s Furies: German Women in the Nazi Killing Fields Book Review

The perception of women is that we are caregivers and nurturers. The want or need to kill another person is not in our nature.

Hitler’s Furies: German Women in the Nazi Killing Fields, by Wendy Lower, was published in 2014. In the book, Lower puts the spotlight on a group of women who were responsible for the murder of Jews and other minority groups looked upon as “subhuman”. Some of those profiled worked in clerical positions, others took profound glee in being able to say that they had a direct hand in the killings.

I have to admit that I had trouble reading the book. Not because it is poorly written, but because of the subject matter. It is chilling to think that these women had blood on their hands, but went home to their families and children as if they had ordinary jobs. The reason the Nazis were able to stay in power and do what they did because of ordinary people who supported them. It is a lesson that is as profound today as it was in the 1940’s.

Do I recommend it? Yes.

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The Art of Inventing Hope: Intimate Conversations with Elie Wiesel Book Review

There is something about a shared life experience. Instead of small talking and playing the “getting to know you” game, there is an immediate understanding and shorthand between those who share said experiences.

In 2019, journalist Howard Reich published his memoir about his friendship with the late Holocaust survivor and writer Elie Wiesel. It is entitled The Art of Inventing Hope: Intimate Conversations with Elie Wiesel. Reich, whose parents both survived the Holocaust, sat down with Wiesel for what was supposed to be a standard interview. Instead of it being a one-and-done experience, Reich and Wiesel became friends and were in frequent contact with each other during the latter’s last four years of life.

This book is excellent. Though Reich and Wiesel have an innate grasp of each other, it is not so exclusive the reader cannot feel like they are part of the conversation. What I liked about the memoir is that one does not have to be a 2G or 3G (the children and grandchildren of Holocaust survivors) to understand that trauma can be transferred to younger generations. What is important is that the story is told and spoken of in such a manner that shows that there is light at the end of the tunnel.

Do I recommend it? Yes.

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The Unanswered Letter: One Holocaust Family’s Desperate Plea for Help Book Review

Sometimes, when it seems that all is lost, fate has a way of guiding us to the right path.

In the early 2000’s, writer Faris Cassell received a letter that would change her life and answer decades long questions of a family she had never met. The story of that letter is told in her 2020 book, The Unanswered Letter: One Holocaust Family’s Desperate Plea for Help. In 1939, Alfred Berger was a Jewish man living in Vienna. His once tight knit and happy family has been forced apart due to the Nazi invasion and the threat to lives of the Jews of Europe. With his daughters safely out of the country, Alfred is desperate to find a way out for himself and his wife. Taking a chance, he writes to strangers with the same last name living in California, hoping that they will provide the help that is desperately needed.

Sixty plus years later, this letter is given to Cassell’s husband. It’s contents starts on her on a journey to find Berger’s living descendants. With a dogged persistence and a journalist’s skill, she is finally able to fill in the blanks of what happened to Alfred, his wife, and the rest of the family who were caught in the German crossfire.

The book is fantastic. It was a heart pounding voyage that immediately hooked me and kept me in rapt attention until the final page. It was a powerful story of love, hope, and ultimately survival.

Do I recommend it? Absolutely.

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The Lost Letter: A Novel Book Review

A stamp can be one of two things. It can be the postage on a letter. Or, it can be something more.

Jillian Cantor‘s 2017 book, The Lost Letter: A Novel, takes place in two different time periods. In 1989, in Los Angeles, Katie is dealing with the one-two punch of her broken marriage and putting her Alzheimer’s stricken father into a nursing home. While going through his things, she discovers a World War II era stamp. Taking it to Benjamin, an appraiser, Katie starts on a journey across time and the continents to discover decades old secrets.

Fifty years earlier, Kristoff is a young orphan in Austria. He is apprenticed to a master stamp engraver and in love with Elena, his teacher’s eldest daughter. The master engraver and his family are Jewish, Kristoff is Christian. When the engraver disappears during Kristallnacht, he joins the resistance and makes a promise that he and Elena will somehow survive.

I loved this book. It was engaging and powerful. It was ultimately the story of love. Not just romantic love between Kristoff and Elena, but the love that a daughter feels for her father. If there was one thing that rang true, it was the image of how emotionally destructive Alzheimer’s disease is. The slow and painful process of watching someone you love being replaced by a shell of their former selves is beyond difficult and requires strength that you may not think you have.

Do I recommend it? Yes.

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Thoughts On Yom HaShoah 2021 and the Escalating Attacks on the AAPI Community

The Holocaust did not start with ghettos, gas chambers, and concentration camps. That was the end of the process. The beginning started with prejudice, lies and dehumanization. Today is Yom HaShoah.

It’s not exactly a secret that the AAPI community has been the target of numerous hate crimes as of late. The difference between the early days World War II and now is that there is hope that we can learn from the past.

During the war, as countries around the world closed their borders, there was one nation that opened her arms to Jewish refugees: China. Though the Shanghai Ghetto was dirty and overcrowded, it saved the lives of those who made it their new home. The documentary, Harbor from the Holocaust, told the story of the Jews who lived there.

It is during times of trouble that our actions reveal our true characters. The Chinese people and her government, only saw that fellow human beings were in trouble. In spite of their own troubles, they opened their collective doors to strangers.

The truth is that we can live with our neighbors who are different. It just takes a heart, a brain, and the want to see past the stereotypes.

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From Sand and Ash Book Review

I would love to say that we live in a world in which we are free to love who we love without prejudice or fear. But I know better.

Amy Harmon‘s 2016 novel, From Sand and Ash, takes place in Italy during World War II. Batsheva “Eva” Rosselli and Angelo Bianco have been best friends since childhood. Now in their early 20’s, they are madly in love with one another. But there are two obstacles to their potential union. The first obstacle is that Eva is Jewish and Angelo is a Catholic priest. The second obstacle is the German invasion and the fact that Eva, like all Jews in Europe, has a target on her back.

Angelo is doing everything he can to keep her alive. The only way he can keep Eva alive to send her to one of the many hiding places in Catholic Churches, Convents, and Monasteries. But she is not one to contently stay hidden until liberation. When they are discovered and forced apart, Eva and Angelo will fight to be reunited and have the life they have always wanted.

I loved this book. I couldn’t put it down. I can only describe as a historical romantic drama with all of the heart racing moments of a thriller. The question of the novel was whether or not Eva and Angelo would end up together. From the first page to the last page, I was waiting on baited breath for the answer.

Do I recommend it? Absolutely.

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My Grandparent’s War Review

The past has much to teach us, if we are willing to listen.

The new four part miniseries, My Grandparent’s War premiered last night on PBS. This four part series follows four prominent British actors as they learn about what their grandparents went through during World War II. In the first episode, Helena Bonham Carter explores wartime experiences of her paternal grandmother Helen Violet Bonham Carter and her maternal grandfather Eduardo Propper de Callejón. The next three episodes tell the family histories of Mark Rylance, Carey Mulligan, and Kristin Scott Thomas.

I truly enjoyed the program. If nothing else, it was just a reminder that that more things change, the more they stay the same. The generation that lived through and survived World War II will soon be gone from this Earth. It is therefore, incumbent upon us to hear their stories in whatever form we can.

Do I recommend it? Absolutely.

My Grandparent’s War airs on Sunday night at 8PM on PBS.

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Atlantic Crossing Review

A mother’s love for her children and a royal’s love of their country is one and the same.

The new PBS/Masterpiece historical drama, Atlantic Crossing, premiered last night. Based on a true story, it starts in 1939. Martha, the Crown Princess of Norway (Sofia Helin) is touring the United States with her husband, Olav, the Crown Prince of Norway (Tobias Santelmann). One of the events on their itinerary is having lunch with the President and First Lady, Franklin Delano and Eleanor Roosevelt (Kyle MacLachlan and Harriet Sansom Harris). FDR seems to be taken by the Princess.

A year later, Martha’s idyllic life ends World War II explodes and the Germans invade Norway. While her husband and father-in-law stay protect the nation, Martha and her children first escape to her native Sweden before traveling to the United States. Taking refuge within the walls of the White house, she start to advocate for her native land. This advocacy could be damaging in two equally important areas: her marriage and the tenuous world politics of the era.

The first episode is absolutely brilliant. Helin is perfectly cast as Martha, who could have easily been a shrinking violet, relying on the men around her. But she is smart, tough, and passionate. I wasn’t sure about the casting of MacLachlan and Sansom Harris (who also played the same role in the Netflix series Hollywood) as FDR and Eleanor. But upon seeing the full scene, the spiritual representations of these giants of American history seem to be so far pretty good.

Do I recommend it? Yes.

Atlantic Crossing airs on PBS Sunday night at 9PM.

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House of Glass: The Story and Secrets of a Twentieth-Century Jewish Family Book Review

Every family has secrets and stories that disappear as the elder members of our families pass on. The question is, what happens when the younger members of our families start to ask questions and there is no around to ask?

Last month, writer Hadley Freeman published a memoir. Entitled House of Glass: The Story and Secrets of a Twentieth-Century Jewish Family, the book tells the story of her father’s maternal line in the 20th century. Her grandmother, Sala (also referred to as Sara) was born in Poland, the youngest child and only daughter in a family of six. After Sala’s father died as a result from his World War I wounds, the Glahs (renamed Glass) moved to Paris to escape poverty and antisemitism. All was well until 1939, when the world flipped on its head once again.

Initially inspired by the contents a shoebox Freeman discovered years after her grandmother’s passing, it took her a decade to put together the pieces of this intricate puzzle together. The final result is a thrilling and emotional narrative that speaks to everyone about the complicated topics of relationships, family, and faith.

Do I recommend it? Yes.

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