War Diaries: 1939-1945 – Astrid Lindgren

astridWhen I learned that Astrid Lindgren (1907-2002), the author of the fictional character Pippi Longstocking, had kept a diary during World War II, I was instantly intrigued. Like millions of others, I remember Pippi Longstocking and the impact it had on pop culture here in America and abroad. But who would have known that the character she created almost remained hidden from the public? The story behind the character is contained within as well as a different view of the war, from neutral Sweden. When I started the book, I had realized that I had forgotten Sweden’s neutrality. But that is not to say the Swedes did not have an opinion of Adolf Hitler (1889-1945) and the Third Reich. In fact, Lindgren is very vocal about the expanding war and the terrors of the Nazi regime. However, there is also another side to the diaries, and that is her family life, which includes her roles as a mother and wife. Her diaries encompass a range of topics but come together to reveal a woman deeply concerned about society and the effects of warfare.

This is the first book that I have read from the Swedish point of view. In contrast to neighboring countries, Lindgren humbly explains that shortage of food and supplies was not a significant issue in Sweden. There are occasions where the author feels guilt for the excesses they have at home, but the nation’s neutrality undoubtedly affected its ability to remain stable. However, the Swedes were aware of the war’s developments, the plague of the Jewish people attempting to flee Germany, starvation across Europe and the monstrous acts committed on people deemed “undesirable” within Reich territories. Lindgren was deeply affected by what she read and carries a heavy heart from start to finish. At one point she sadly explains that: 

“Poor human race: when I read their letters I’m staggered by the amount of sickness and distress, grief, unemployment, poverty and despair that can be fitted into this wretched earth”

The wave of terror Germany unleashed across Europe led to Lindgren lamenting the human capacity for war. In one entry she questions why England and France were slow to respond to the growing threat from Berlin. Readers interested in the slow response to the Germany arms build-up will find ‘Why England Slept‘ by John F. Kennedy (1917-1963) to be a thorough analysis of the inaction from London. To be fair, outside of Germany, knowledge of internal movement would have had its limits. But Hitler’s actions building up to the invasion of Poland were no secret. And by the time nations realized how far he was willing to go, the world was at war. For Lindgren, every day became another chapter in a brutal war that claimed millions of lives. The author does her best to remain positive and fills the diary with details about Swedish delicacies, holiday traditions and family matters to which we can relate. But above everything, she desired an end to the war that should never have taken place. 

As we move to 1943 in the book, the tide begins to turn in war and a German victory becomes further from reality. The fighting between the Russians and Germans is the focus in this section. And though America had entered the war by this point, the battles across the Soviet Union were of major importance. She clearly wanted the war over, and Germany defeated but she did not ignore the danger posed by the Red Army and wanted no part of Russia’s army in Sweden. And this is a part of World War II often neglected. The Red Army could be as savage as the Germany Army and in some cases, it was far worse when atrocities were committed. Entries in the diaries will clue readers in. The savagery of the war was not lost on anyone in neutral territories, but that neutrality was of the utmost importance as she acknowledges towards the end of the book. 

The section focused on 1944 sees an elated author as the Americans invaded and former Nazi territories were liberated. The Soviets are still battling Hitler’s troops on the eastern front and Germany is in trouble. Step by step the allies push back Germany divisions and as 1945 approaches, hope builds for the war’s end. The suspense can be felt in her words as news of Allied victories filter in. And by the time 1945 arrives, the world is waiting for Germany’s collapse which comes at the end of April. She follows the news from Berlin of Hitler’s defeat and demise but finds herself shocked at the introduction of the atomic bomb. She contemplated what she learned and somberly reflects that: 

“Nineteen forty-five brought two remarkable things. Peace after the Second World War and the atom bomb. I wonder what the future will have to say about the atom bomb, and whether it will mark a whole new era in human existence, or not. The peace is not much to put one’s faith in, with the atom bomb casting such a shadow over it.”

The war ended but the reality of atomic weapons became very real. There are other entries in the diaries about nuclear weapons and her concern about their place in society. But the sense of relief that the war had ended cannot be overstated. Today it may be hard for us to understand how dark the future looked during her time. But her diaries provide a valuable resource to understand a time when the world was at war. Her family survived the war, and she created a character that still entertains children today. But she also carried with her dark memories of the years in which Adolf Hitler embarked on a quest for world domination. Highly recommended. 

ASIN:‎ B01M299IMP

Einstein on the Run: How Britain Saved the World’s Greatest Scientist – Andrew Robinson

einsteinOn January 30, 1933, Adolf Hitler (1889-1945) became Chancellor of Germany and established the Third Reich, formed under the banner of national socialism, as the country’s ruling party. The Sturmabteilung known informally as the “Brown Shirts”, embarked on a campaign of terror across the nation persecuting opponents of the Reich and those determined to be “undesirable” of Aryan citizenship. Millions of Jews had already fled the country, alarmed by the rise of Hitler’s party and the anti-Semitism spreading like wildfire. Among those who left was famed scientist Albert Einstein (1879-1955), who never returned to the nation of his birth after his departure in 1932. And though he had left Germany, he remained on the radar of the Third Reich which moved swiftly to erase his name from Germany literature. After leaving, Einstein moved across Europe before finally settling in the United States. But what is often neglected in discussions of his life and fame is the time he spent in England as the Nazi party gained strength and war with Germany became a reality.

Admittedly, I knew little of Einstein’s life after fleeing Germany. Today he is remembered for the theory of relativity and his equation E=mc2. Both were groundbreaking events in science but while Einstein was making a name for himself in Britain, Hitler was ramping up efforts to eliminate his opponents abroad and those around Einstein remained keenly aware of the threat. Author Andrew Robinson has examined the late scientist’s time on the run and compiled a story that is both unbelievable and tragic. And though it contains biographical information on Einstein, the book was not written as a definitive account. But the information is crucial to understanding Einstein’s motives and his complicated life.

There is an incident revisited in the book that played an integral part in Einstein’s decision to leave. The murder of journalist and government official Walter Rathenau (1867-1922), served as a wake-up call for German Jews indifferent to growing anti-Semitism and a new group of rebels calling themselves National Socialists. Rathenau’s assassination remains one of Germany’s darkest moments and a pivotal moment in resentment towards Jews. Einstein knew Rathenau personally and was disturbed by his murder. The crime removed any illusions that he would be safe in Germany should Hitler gain power and ten years later, Einstein and second wife Else (1876-1936) left for good. Their arrival in England as captured by the author, shows a Britain receptive and in awe of the Germany scientist. And it is here that Einstein accomplishes some of his greatest feats. However, he was still a man without a home and as Robinson shows, no one knew where he would finally end up. The couple moved around quite a bit and, in the book, Einstein reports from multiple locations playing host to the man awarded the Noble Prize in 1921.

Though the threat of assassination is always present and one on occasion, a high possibility, the author provides valuable insight into Einstein the person. I did not know previously, how Einstein felt about Zionism and his Jewish faith. His relationship with Chaim Weizmann (1874-1952), the First President of Israel, is interesting and shows that Einstein was able to view an issue from both sides when necessary. Further, his relationships with both wives, his son Eduard (1910-1965) and stepchildren from Else are complex and reveal his shortcomings. Fans of Einstein will find these parts of the book both shocking and hard to accept but the reality is that despite his brilliance, he struggled in other aspects of his life. Frankly, we see the human side of Einstein and all his faults. But despite his personal life, he remained at the forefront of science and paved the way for nuclear fission. Interestingly, Robinson provides information about the atomic bomb and Einstein’s role that is often misunderstood. Further, the idea of nuclear fission did not belong to Einstein who was quite indifferent to his own successes. However, after the bomb’s development and use against Japan in August 1945, Einstein became an ardent opponent of its use and earned himself a spot on the subversive list of none other than former Federal Bureau of Investigation Director J. Edgar Hoover (1895-1972). I cannot say I was too surprised by this as Hoover was fanatical about “communists” and others he deemed threats to the United States.

Einstein’s stay in England was temporary and the couple eventually settled in Princeton, New Jersey. The author provides plausible explanations for the decision to leave Europe for America and the simplest reason is correct, in that Einstein needed to be far away from the threat of Nazi terror and in a place where he could find peace. America was not perfect, but it was nothing like Europe being forced to confront the growing German menace. Einstein never returned to Europe, remaining in America until his death in 1955. Today his image can be found on posters, t-shirts, websites, and other memorabilia, but there was a time when his image meant persecution and death. Hitler never succeeded in punishing Einstein, but the Nazis did confiscate everything they found belonging to him. Had they succeeded in capturing Einstein before he left, history and World War II might be quite different today. But as the saying goes, everything happens for a reason. Fans of Albert Einstein will appreciate this book.

ASIN:‎ B07XD5QKN5

Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941 – William L. Shirer

Shirer

In December 1941, CBS News Foreign Correspondent William L. Shirer (1904-1993) sailed from Europe for the final time as World War II claimed lives and destroyed cities. At the time of his departure, World War II was heading into its second year but several months ahead of the Japanese attack at Pearl Harbor and the entry of the United States into the conflict. The journalist said goodbye to a continent to which he had devoted fifteen years of his life. Upon his return, he assembled his diary, carefully hidden from the Gestapo and Nazi Germany officials and turned them into this account of what he witnessed as Reich Chancellor Adolf Hitler (1889-1945) embarked on a path of world domination and plunged the world into its deadliest conflict.  And the result is an eye-opening account of life behind the carefully crafted world image that Nazis put forth to keep the prying eyes of powerful nations averted as the Wehrmacht plundered its way across western Europe.

Shirer may be recognized by readers for his other phenomenal work on the Nazi regime, ‘The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich: A History of Nazi Germany‘, a masterpiece of writing that remains on my shelf and list of favorite books to this day. I strongly recommend it to readers in search of a thorough history of Nazi Germany.  Here, the story is focused on life in Germany as the Nazis took hold of the country. At the start of the book, Hitler has already been made Chancellor, so there is little in the journal about the transfer of power from President Paul von Hindenburg (1847-1934) or the Reichstag Fire. The focus is on daily life in Berlin and the sobering Nazi conditions placed on the Reich’s citizens. As an American journalist, Shirer was allowed close access to the notorious figures of the Reich from President and Oberbefehlshaber der Luftwaffe Hermann Göring (1893-1946), Reich Minister of Propaganda Joseph Goebbels (1897-1945) and the notorious Gestapo Chief Heinrich Himmler (1900-1945). Shirer did cross paths with Hitler and witnessed his speeches, but there was no formal interview that Shirer would have referred to had it existed. Regardless of his location and situation within the Reich, he witnesses the truth behind the Reich that contrasted with what Hitler was saying to the German people.

Germany’s rearmament was a direct violation of the Treaty of Versailles, but Hitler had no intentions on adhering to the sanctions and rules placed upon the Fatherland. Western powers were slow to react to the Germany build-up but on the ground, Shirer was able to see how popular Hitler was becoming and the preparations for conflict like no other. He makes notes about German life from the peculiar behavior on the streets and Germans he knows personally. There are bits of humor in the observations yet the dark cloud on the horizon continues to approach. And in the weeks before the Germany invasion of Poland on September 1,1939, the suspense continued to build as Shirer shows in the daily entries. But there are two incidents in the notes that require a comment. The appeasement at Munich, widely seen as the last chance to stop Hitler’s plan is discussed and Shirer’s disbelief at the British actions towards Hitler’s aggression was shared by the author of this post. Former U.S. President John F. Kennedy (1917-1963) once wrote about this in his classic ‘Why England Slept‘, a valuable book about the failure to confront the Austrian menace in Berlin. The other entry in the journal relates to the German advancement on the Rhineland in 1936. What he notes in his journal about the missed opportunity to stop Hitler is one of the war’s most puzzling events. The comments by German officers following the de-escalation on the Rhine highlight the ability of the Germans to bluff their way through as Hitler consolidated power and seized territory.

The journal entries pick up in intensity as the threat of war increases. And like a runaway train, we know that it is coming but nothing can stop it, and the shock felt by Shirer as a correspondent on the ground is captured by his words written after the Germany invasion of Poland. From this point on, the diary takes an entirely different course as the Nazi machine kicks into high gear and then plateaus. England is the “antagonist” in the story according to Hitler, and a sizeable portion of the entries are related to the off and on-again discussions with London about “peace”, though Hitler had no desire to let England survive. The showdown between England and Germany intensifies and soon the Royal Air Force began to hit targets within the Fatherland. Experienced German pilots were aware that England would not be easily defeated, and that Germany had its weaknesses which made winning a world war impossible. As a journalist, Shirer was intent on publishing all news about the German war front both good and bad. However, censorship was in full effect and throughout the story, there are countless battles between the author and German officials who inspected incoming and outgoing communications. The propaganda war waged by the Reich was nothing short of absurd. But it worked within Germany’s borders. Shirer takes note of this and gives insight into German mindset that explains why the people gave Hitler the power he desired. And these observations could have only come from a correspondent in the field watching the events as they happened.

There are occasions in the book where Shirer leaves Germany and travels to other European nations but most of the entries are from Berlin where the promise of a quick war rings hollow as England puts up more of a fight than expected. And the realization that Germany is not invincible begins to dawn on the German people who create crude jokes to describe Third Reich leadership. In the distance is the looming threat of American involvement, about which Shirer makes a premonitory statement that later came to fruition. Hitler also knew it would happen and pre-emptively signed agreements with Japan and Italy, realizing that America would never surrender to German domination. Nonetheless, Shirer accurately sizes up Germany’s sealed fate and the insanity of Adolf Hitler. The final entry in the book provides a fitting conclusion to an unbelievable story. As Shirer watches Europe fade in the distance aboard the vessel that will begin his journey back to America he remarks:

“For a time I stood against the rail watching the lights recede on a Europe in which I had spent all fifteen of my adult years, which had given me all of my experience and what little knowledge I had. It had been a long time, but they had been happy years, personally, and for all people in Europe they had had meaning and borne hope until the war came and the Nazi blight and the hatred and the fraud and the political gangsterism and the murder and the massacre and the incredible intolerance and all the suffering and the starving and cold and the thud of a bomb blowing the people in a house to pieces, the thud of all the bombs blasting man’s hope and decency.”

A year after Shirer returned to the United States, Japan attacked the Pearl Harbor Naval base bringing America into the deadliest war in history. For the next five years the world remained at war in a conflict between democracy and tyranny. In the end, a dictator lay dead and nations in ruins. The threat of dictatorship will never subside and to protect society from the dangers of tyranny, we must remember how it was done. This is the inside story of the Third Reich and Adolf Hitler’s hold over Germany.

ISBN-10:‎ 0883659220
ISBN-13:‎ 978-0883659229

Unchosen: The Hidden Lives of Hasidic Rebels – Hella Winston

winstonSeveral years ago, I accompanied a friend as she undertook the task of burying her late mother who had passed after several years of ill health. The cemetery is for followers of the Jewish faith and as part of the internment process, I was required to wear a yarmulke and spread dirt over the grave. The rabbi explained the meaning behind the acts, and the presence of others in attendance who did not know her mother but came out after hearing of her death. That day I was a witness to a side of Judaism I was not previously aware of. My friend was not Hasidic but strongly identified with her Jewish roots. Today when I drive through parts of Brooklyn, I take notice of the Hasidic Jewish communities in Crown Heights, Borough Park, and Williamsburg. To the public, the people of these sects are elusive and mysterious. Author Hella Winston stepped into these worlds to learn the truth about those who become unchosen.

It is imperative to recognize that Jewish is not a monolithic term. In fact, the divisions between sects, mainly the Satmar and Lubavitch, should not be overlooked. However, what is uniform is their commitment to preserving their faith and the importance of never forgetting the name of Adolf Hitler (1889-1945). The Third Reich’s determination to exterminate Europe’s Jewish population had an unintended result here in New York as Winston points out. Readers will not be surprised at what they learn but what the author does reveal, will put the Hasidic community’s cohesiveness in a clearer perspective. The horrors of World War II cannot be understated and as Winston notes,

“One of the most striking things I came to understand during the course of this research is the power of the Holocaust, and the history of Jewish suffering in general, both in the actual lives of some Hasidic people and in the imaginations of these communities as a whole. There is, of course, the plain historical fact that the Hasidic communities that exist in America today were started almost entirely by refugees from World War II”.

Of course, the Hasidic culture we see does not exist solely because of the war. The scriptures impact every aspect of daily life and readers familiar with orthodox customs are aware of the restrictions in place around the Sabbath and during holidays. The individuals she became acquainted with revealed deeply personal parts of their lives and provided information that I learned of for the first time. One section that stands out is the view held towards Theodore Herzl (1860-1904), considered to be the father of Zionism. Brooklynites may recall that a street in the Brownsville section of Brooklyn bears his name. The reason for the view of Herzl held by the Hasidim is quite simple and in the overall context of the book, makes sense. But there is far more to the story than just Herzl and the people we are introduced to are anything but orthodox.

Winston picked members of both genders and from various families and each story has similar tones but are in fact different. I did observe that although they wanted a different life, they still loved their families and the communities they grew up in. The struggle with faith is not an easy one. Critics online have blasted the book as a condemnation of the Hasidim. I disagree and did not get that feeling while reading and have no ill will towards them. Admittedly, there were customs that I would not want to adhere to but it is not for me to say they are right or wrong for others. And I feel that anyone reading this book has to do so with an open mind. There are however, parts in the stories of the women that will make you scratch your head and have feelings of disapproval and/or disgust. These are the sections that bring to light the reality for Hasidic women. We pass them on the street, on the subways and maybe even the park, but the truth about their daily lives is carefully guarded. Whether the women are happy with their lives or not is for them to reconcile but if we digest what is contained here, it is apparent that not all are content and the number of women who yearn for more out of life could be higher than we think. The same applies for men due to the number of readers who contacted Winston after the book’s publication.

The book’s star is undoubtedly Yossi, whose story is a roller coaster ride in itself. But for all that we do learn about inside the community, there is a realization to be had for those who venture outside of it; none are prepared for the secular world which might as well be another planet. And this is one the tragedies of the book. The speakers have decided to venture in the secular world but have no real foundation to do so as the majority of their lives was spent inside the community which offered not only the resources they needed but security as well. The streets outside the community are unforgiving and more than one speaker falls victim to its darker elements. Thankfully, none perish but their experiences highlight the unchartered waters that await anyone who decides they no longer believe or wish to be Hasidim.

A common aspect I found in the stories is that they were living double lives. While they believed in the scriptures, they could not reconcile that with the practices they witnessed daily. It is a difficult position to be in and the mind will find itself at war with itself. The stories of Chaim, Yitzchak, Dini, Malkie and Leah are all intense on their own and in each one we see that regardless of location or religion, human nature is strong and cannot always be contained. The quest for freedom led some to take extreme measures as they struggled with choices I have been forced to make. And this is one of the best parts of the book that is possibly overlooked. All isolated communities have their secrets and the Hasidim are no different. But what readers should come away with is that if you are not a part of the community, you have freedoms and liberties that are desired by people within the community. And the reality is that they may never know the world as you do. For them, the scriptures control their lives and those in high positions of power pick up where faith does not. The narratives are controlled but not impervious. Over time, I believe that the Hasidim will also adjust to modern times as the younger generation seeks a new path in a rapidly changing world.

Despite the information revealed in the book, there are positive aspects to the Hasidim way of life and there are followers who are happy in the community. And as Winston points out, they too are human beings. The Hasidim also have fears, concerns, passions and insecurities. Winston’s book is not about which way is right or wrong but provides a window in a world we see only from the outside. In no way is the book a definitive account of the Hasidim nor was it intended to be. But if you can see the value in the stories contained within, then you will appreciate what she has brought to light. And if there are Hasidim who have left their communities and not sure about what to do, the organization Footsteps which was started by Malkie Schwartz, a speaker in the book, provides assistance to those in need.

If you are curious about the Hasidic way of life and what happens to those who leave, this is must-read.

ASIN:‎ B0053CUNJ8

The Plot to Seize the White House: The Shocking True Story of the Conspiracy to Overthrow F.D.R. – Jules Archer & Anne Cipriano Venzon

White houseThe first time I read Charles W. Bailey, II (1929-2012) and Fletcher Knebel’s (1911-1993) ‘Seven Days in May‘, I understood why it was so important and why it was one of President John F. Kennedy’s (1917-1963) favorite books. The plot of the story is simple: a conspiracy is hatched to overthrow the sitting president of the United States. In 1964, Paramount Pictures released the film of the same name starring Burt Lancaster (1913-1994) and Kirk Douglas (1916-2020) with director John Frankenheimer (1930-2002) at the helm. The book and film were works of fiction but thirty years prior to the film’s release, there was a plot to remove the sitting president of seize control of the government. Jules Archer and Anne Cipriano Venzon researched the unbelievable and chilling story in this book that sheds light on a little-known part of American history. And at the center of the story is legendary United States Marine Corps General Smedley D. Butler (1881-1940).

In 1933, German Chancellor Adolf Hitler (1889-1945) tightened his grip over Germany and began to plot its course for world domination. Across the Atlantic few believed that he would ignite a war that remains the deadliest conflict in the history of mankind. As the Third Reich made its presence felt, it soon became clear that the Nazi menace was nothing to ignore. Despite the outbreak of war, the United States held firm on its isolationist stance and the Neutrality Acts passed by Congress limited the president’s ability to send aid to European allies. For President Franklin D. Roosevelt (1882-1945), the Great Depression and European war proved to be the biggest challenges to his time in office. And failing health provided the ammunition needed by his detractors who believed that Roosevelt would not live to finish his time in government. Sadly, they were proven right on April 12, 1945.

The first question I had for myself when I started reading the book was why Butler? I knew he had become anti-war in later years and had even published a book called ‘War is a Racket‘ in which he exposes the monetary interests behind armed conflict. As the book progresses, it becomes clear why Butler was their choice and the biography included by the authors provides a fair amount of information about his life and rise in the military ranks. Further, the respect he earned from current and former soldiers made him the ideal choice. And to understand why Butler was so respected, one only needs to read of his accomplishments which are discussed here. I found myself both in awe and speechless learning of his commitment to the Marines and belief in morale. To be clear, Butler harbored no ill-will towards Roosevelt and was a pacifist by nature. That, however, did not stop him from suiting up when the Marines were needed.

Following his retirement from the Marines, Butler became a sought-after speaker across the country and beloved by the Veterans of Foreign Wars organization. In the story, we soon learn the names of Gerald C. McGuire and Bob Doyle of the American Legion, who approached Butler with incentives to join their plot in taking over the government, but the seasoned marine was suspicious from the start. Having worked for a time in the Department of Public Safety in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Butler was no stranger to criminal activity. Still, without evidence he knew he could not go public with allegations of a plot to attack to the United States Government. Further he knew the people who approached him had powerful backers and could not be trusted. But after a meeting with Philadelphia Record writer Paul Comly French (1890-1956), Butler decided that the plot needed to be exposed and went before the Special Committee on Un-American Activities to tell what he knew. Portions of his testimony (both public and sealed) are included here and reveal how serious the threat was to the democracy of the United States. And though no one was ever prosecuted because of what the committee learned, it did raise awareness of the importance of preserving our democratic institutions.

The list of conspirators revealed as part of the plot is surreal and may have been a case of sensationalism by McGuire. However, the amount of money behind the plot, as Butler learns, could only have come from wealthy figures. Readers will be surprised to learn of the connection between former New York State Governor Alfred E. “Al” Smith (1873-1944), and ring-wing figures, who were opposed to Roosevelt and his New Deal policies. In time America would see the rise of other organizations such as the John Birch Society and the Minutemen, and the contributors to these various ring-wing parties revealed dark truths about power in America. Regarding one group, the authors explain:

“Heavy contributors to the American Liberty League included the Pitcairn family (Pittsburgh Plate Glass), Andrew W. Mellon Associates, Rockefeller Associates, E. F. Hutton Associates, William S. Knudsen (General Motors), and the Pew family (Sun Oil Associates). J. Howard Pew, longtime friend and supporter of Robert Welch, who later founded the John Birch Society, was a generous patron, along with other members of the Pew family, of extremist right-wing causes. Other directors of the league included Al Smith and John J. Raskob.” 

Butler’s refusal to go along with the plot surely led to its demise but had they approached another figure, things may have turned out differently. At the 1930s moved forward, the signs that war would break out became vividly clear and on September 1, 1939, all doubts were removed with the Nazi invasion of Poland. Butler held firm on non-intervention and at the time of his death, the United States had no legal grounds to enter the war. That all changed on December 7, 1941, when the Japanese military attacked Pearl Harbor. Butler did not live to see that attack but if he had, I have no doubt that he would have supported America defending itself from Japanese aggression. His years of service and experiences in combat had left him with dark memories of the horrible injuries sustained by soldiers on the battlefield. He had become anti-war but was never anti-American, and any threat to the democracy of the United States was an attack on the principles he believed in. His courage in exposing what could have been an earth-shattering event, should not be lost to history. In closing out the book, the authors have this to say about Butler:

“If we remember Major General Smedley Darlington Butler for nothing else, we owe him an eternal debt of gratitude for spurning the chance to become dictator of the United States—and for making damned sure no one else did either.”

History is full of untold stories and that is one reason I enjoy it as much as I do. This story may not be well-known nor remembered but it should never be forgotten. Highly recommended.

ASIN:‎ B00VKI49X0

The Accidental President: Harry S. Truman and the Four Months that Changed the World – A.J. Baime

TrumanOn January 15, 1953, President Harry S. Truman (1884-1972) gave his farewell address after serving as the Thirty-Third President of the United States. He had taken office on April 12, 1945, after the death of President Franklin D. Roosevelt (1882-1945). At the time of Roosevelt’s death, allied forces were pushing further into German territory to bring the Third Reich to its knees. In the Pacific, the war against Japan continued to rage but in less than six months, it too surrendered after the devastation left by two atomic bombs. In the first four months that Truman was in office, the entire world changed in ways no one could have imagined. Had Roosevelt lived, the war might have ended differently, and domestically, America might have moved forward at a different pace. He did not live to see his post-war plans come to light and for Truman, the title of president was thrust into his lap. He had never wanted the presidency but due to circumstance, he had become what author A.J. Baime calls the accidental president.

In contrast to a standard biography, the focus of the book is on the four months between Truman taking office and the surrender of Japan. The story begins with Roosevelt’s last day alive. Following his death, all eyes become fixed on Truman who is largely unknown to the American people. Washington insiders knew of his background but even within those circles, he was somewhat of a mystery. His unassuming look and plain-spoken Midwest nature made him appear as just another person in the room. But little did anyone know that the next president would usher in a new era in warfare and set the course for future domestic programs and U.S. foreign policy.

Before entering the lengthy discussion of the war and Truman’s role in it, Baime provides a short biography about his early life in Independence, Missouri, and his entry into politics that culminates with his arrival in Washington. One aspect that stood out is Truman’s military service in World War I which is often not discussed. I believe his experiences in combat surely helped his ability to make decisions during World War II. After we learn of Truman’s unusual entry into politics and nomination for vice-president, the author shifts gears and takes us right into the war with a heavy focus on Japan where the U.S. Air Force is conducting firebombing raids under the legendary and controversial General Curtis E. LeMay (1906-1990). Despite the fierce allied attacks, Japan would not surrender but in Europe, the Third Reich was on life support. Adolf Hitler’s (1889-1945) dream of a master Aryan nation spread across continents had collapsed and the tyrant himself was hiding in his bunker. The Red Army was closing in and the German people knew that retribution from the Soviets was not something any of them wanted to experience. On April 30, 1945, Hitler met his demise and escaped punishment at Nuremberg. Washington breathed a sigh of relief at the German defeat but knew that Soviet leader Joseph Stalin (1878-1953) could not be fully trusted. The seeds of the Cold War had been firmly planted as World War II reached its shocking and brutal conclusion. With Germany no longer a threat, the story moves to the war in the Pacific where allied forces are determined to crush the Japanese military.

As the book progresses, it really splits into two stories; the race to finish the bomb and the negotiations at the Potsdam, Cecilienhof conference between Truman, Stalin, and British leader Winston Churchill (1874-1965). The debate over whether Truman should have used the bomb will continue but the author does a good job of showing what was being discussed behind the scenes. Truman knew the decision he had to make was unlike anything a president had faced before. He also knew that he would be judged throughout history for it. Baime summarizes Truman’s historical recognition with this accurate statement:

“Truman is remembered first and foremost for his decision to employ atomic weapons—Little Boy and Fat Man, the only two nuclear bombs ever used against human targets. More than seventy years later, this decision remains almost certainly the most controversial that any president has ever made.” 

However, the war with Japan needed a conclusion, and allied forces had already begun to plan the full-scale invasion of the island on November 1, 1945. The bomb was the ace up Truman’s sleeve, but until a test was conducted, questions surrounding its efficacy remained. All of that changed on July 16, 1945, in Los Alamos, New Mexico when the first successful test was conducted and the outcome of World War II began to take shape.

Remarkably, throughout the reports of carnage, the tension surrounding the bomb program, and interactions with the Soviets, Truman always comes across as incredibly calm. And what we see is that for a man who was the accidental president, he rose to the occasion and showed no hesitation when action was required. The power of the bomb was not lost on Truman or others with knowledge of its existence. Lead scientist J. Robert Oppenheimer (1904-1967) also makes an appearance in the story as the full gravity of the bomb’s creation comes down on all of them. No one knows for certain exactly when Truman decided to use the bomb and as Baime explains, there is no written record of it. Eventually, the moment in the book we know is coming arrives on August 6 when the city of Hiroshima receives the first atomic bomb. Three days later, Nagasaki suffered similar devastation which finally convinced the Japanese Emperor Shōwa (Hirohito) (1901-1989) that to continue the war would mean Japan’s ultimate destruction.

Finally, the war was over but the destruction and death that ensued were permanently seared into the memories of all who witnesses man’s savagery. Truman personally observed Berlin for himself and the experience is revisited in the book. Survivors of the nuclear bombs provide additional feedback regarding the immediate impact of the detonation. Their words provided a chilling effect to the introduction of atomic weapons. Back in America, Truman’s popularity soared and the little-known senator from Missouri became an American hero. This stands in stark contrast to his wife Bess (1885-1982) whose disdain and avoidance of the public spotlight are also part of the story. The book concludes after the formal surrender of Japan but Baime provides an epilogue that takes a closer look at Truman’s time in office following the war. He never again reached the level of popularity that he enjoyed during the war era but he remains one of the most important leaders in world history. Few knew who he was when took control of Washington on April 12, 1945, but in just fourth months, he cemented his legacy and showed that even an accident president can be just what the country needs.

 “No President could ever hope to lead our country, or to sustain the burdens of this office, save as the people helped with their support. I have had that help–you have given me that support–on all our great essential undertakings to build the free world’s strength and keep the peace. Those are the big things. Those are the things we have done together. For that I shall be grateful, always.” – Harry S. Truman, January 15, 1953

ASIN: B01MQVT9TG

The Nazi Seizure of Power: The Experience of a Single German Town, 1922-1945 – William Sherian Allen

AllenSeventy-seven years ago, allied forces defeated Adolf Hitler’s (1889-1945) Third Reich and the Axis powers, bringing an end to World War II. In the years following Germany’s defeat, historians have authored books, filmmakers have published documentaries and social media provides endless content about the man who ignited a world conflict. In the wake of the war, outspoken critics of the Third Reich were vindicated in their belief that Hitler would cause Germany’s destruction. He nearly succeeded and following the nation’s surrender on May 7, 1945, the German people faced the cruel reality that their country was in ruins, they were widely despised and faced years of rebuilding, de-Nazification and coming to terms with what had been done in their name. As we have sought to understand the aura of Hitler and his ascension to the position of Chancellor, sharp focus was needed on how and why the Nazis were able to take over Germany. Author William Sherian Allen decided to focus on the town of Northeim to examine the Nazi seizure of power. Northeim lies in the Lower Saxony area of Germany and between the years 1922-1945, the Nazis executed their plan to take over Germany one town at a time. This is the story of how it was done.

Prior to reading this book I did not know the story of Northeim but there are countless stories from the war that have yet to be told or discovered. World War II will continue to produce more material even as it fades further into the past. This story of Northeim helps capture the rise and fall of the Third Reich. After World War I, the Treaty of Versailles had forced Germany to relinquish territory, recognize Poland as an independent nation and crippled the country with brutal financial penalties, the result of which was widespread poverty and anger. Northeimers were not immune to this, and its residents wanted a better life but as we see in the book, it was not at first a Nazi stronghold, but the Third Reich was determined to leave no stone unturned. Hitler knew that touching on German resentment towards the treaty’s penalties would play into Nazification efforts. The signatories of the first treaty could not have known that twenty years later Germany would once again destabilize the world. As I read the book, I noticed that Northeim was not the prime territory for indoctrination yet the resistance to Nazism was non-existent. And as for any resistance that did exist, the Nazis had tools at their disposal to eliminate all opposition.

The most interesting part of the story is that the Nazi takeover was not as violent as one would expect. In fact, subversion and deception were the primary tools employed. But the Nazis did break down critical social institutions that obstructed their path of total domination. The suppression of free speech, free press and religion are on full display. However, the Nazis could have not succeeded without local help. And this is where the story becomes even more interesting, and it features two central figures, Wilhelm Spannaus and Ernst Girmann (1896-1969). Spannaus was a bookstore owner who had aligned himself with the N.S.D.A.P. but never comes across as a hardcore Nazi. In fact, the undesirable aspects of the Third Reich would not have earned his approval. Officials knew Spannaus would never conduct their plan to the satisfaction needed and turned to Girmann who took his fanaticism to astonishing heights. Girmann was more than willing to carry out the Nazi ideology and bring Northeim under the grip of Berlin. The step-by-step seizure by the Third Reich took time but was successful and as Allen remarks:

“The single biggest factor in this process was the destruction of formal society in Northeim. What social cohesion there was in the town existed in the club life, and this was destroyed in the early months of Nazi rule.”

By 1933, Hitler had become Chancellor and anyone who second guessed the outspoken Austrian, paid full attention to the recent changes in Germany society. The old way of life for Germans and the democracy they believed existed, vanished instantly. Once the Nazi propaganda and dictatorial machine started, there was no turning back and Northeim soon found himself under the boot of Nazism. The process of indoctrination kicks into high gear and the Nazis begin to target the areas that need it the most. Sherian captures the impact of the changes with this observation:

“More than any other institution in Northeim, the schools became active instruments of Nazism.”

The Nazis attacked every segment of society and with Girmann in control, Northeim was doomed from the start. Early in the war, Germans were optimistic that the war would be short but in June 1942, that all changed with Hitler’s decision to invade the Soviet Union which helped seal Germany’s fate. By 1944, the Allied effort had touched Northeim directly resulting in death and destruction. Readers will find themselves in disbelief at Girmann’s actions as defeat is imminent. His actions call into question the ideas of honor and courage in Nazi Germany. Northeim was eventually liberated, and the town began to repair itself and purge the remnants of the Nazi menace. And one of the people they turned to is Spannaus. Northeim comes full circle at this point in the book.

I should point out that the story here is not about the Final Solution or why Germany lost the war. Allen’s focus is on the Third Reich’s control of Northeim and its existence as a Nazi stronghold. Undoubtedly similar methods were employed across Germany as Hitler turned up the heat domestically and abroad. And had he not been defeated, what we see in Northeim might have taken place in parts unknown. Students of World War II and history buffs will find this to be an interesting account of Northeim’s experience during the war and life in the Third Reich. It is also a blueprint for how to resist future dictators from executing the same. Highly recommended.

“What was needed in Northeim to stop the Nazis was a political coalition of the decent people, regardless of party, to recognize that—whatever it promised—Nazism was an indecent thing. That such a coalition never developed was the main reason the Nazis got into power.”

ASIN: B09NN71DC8

Orderly and Humane: The Expulsion of the Germans after the Second World War – R.M. Douglas

humaneMore than seventy years have passed since the end of World War II, yet it still fascinates historians and students.  The number of books written about Adolf Hitler (1889-1945) and the Third SS Reich are perhaps the most written about any conflict and leader in history.  The former Austrian vagabond rose to power in Germany and plunged the entire world into the deadliest conflict in the history of mankind.  The emergence and use of the atomic bomb by American forces ushered in the nuclear age and set the stage for the Cold-War which lasted until the dissolution of the Soviet Union in December 1991. In my list of recommendations, I saw this title regarding the expulsion of Germans following the war.  At first, I was not sure which expulsion was being referred to but quickly realized that it was pertaining to the Germans that were living in Nazi occupied territories outside of Germany.  During the war, many of them enjoyed security and a stable life but in the wake of Germany’s defeat, nationalist governments came to power in former occupied territories, and they turned their wrath towards the German people that had been living within their borders.  A staggering number of Germans were forced from their homes and sent back to Germany with no clear or concise plan for reintegrating them into a Germany struggling to recover and rebuild.  And this is one part of the war that is often not discussed but a topic that should be known. 

The title of the book removes all doubt that the story is a “happy” one.  In fact, I believe that it is not for the faint at heart.  Although the book is not rife with gratuitous violence, the actions taken towards German nationals living abroad are both shocking and repulsive.  However, it could be argued that they are no more repulsive than what was done to the Jewish people during the Holocaust.  In the book, this is implied in actions and statements taken by foreign leaders eager to rid their countries of anything connected to Nazi Germany.  Regrettably, the operation to relocate German nationals was plagued by disorganization and confusion, leading to mass confusion the deaths of those being removed.  The author points out that: 

“Calculating the scale of the mortality remains a source of great controversy today, but estimates of 500,000 deaths at the lower end of the spectrum, and as many as 1.5 million at the higher, are consistent with the evidence as it exists at present.” 

We may never know the true number of those who perished during the expulsion program but the numbers we do know of are nothing short of mind-boggling.  Further, it removes any illusion of a “glorious” end to the war where things were made right again. In fact, the book shows that even with Germany and Japan defeated, chaos and confusion continued to be a problem for quite some time as the Allied forces struggled with former camp prisoners, German military prisoners and the German people who were left destitute as their nation crumbled around them.  Hitler had committed suicide and his act left the people without a leader and at the full mercy of Germany’s many enemies.  Berlin became the battleground between the east and west and remained so until the fall of the Berlin wall in 1989.  Today, Germany is one of the most successful nations in the world and far removed from its post-World War II state.  But the question remains, how and why did the expulsion happen and develop in the way that it did? Further, were there no protections against such a thing?  Some readers will immediately think of the Hague Conventions, but the author anticipates this and explains that: 

“The Hague Conventions were by no means perfect. They bound only those countries that were signatories. They contained few protections for civilians—a crucial omission that in the future would hamstring the work of humanitarian agencies like the Red Cross. They were silent in circumstances in which a government maltreated its own citizens, rather than the inhabitants of foreign lands its armies were occupying. They applied only to conflicts in which a state of formal war existed, rather than in “undeclared wars” or in peacetime. They provided no means of individual redress, nor any mechanism for enforcement.”

Frankly, the Germans being expelled were on their own at times and could expect little to no help from those their country had been recently fighting against.  Readers may find themselves torn as the fate of German nationals is discussed.  And it may lead some to ask the age-old question of whether two wrongs make a right.   We do know that many Germans did not support Hitler, but millions of others did and opposing forces during the war were not eager to distinguish between the two.  During the expulsion, the feelings held by victors was even more direct according to the author: 

“After the Nazis’ defeat, the new regimes of central and eastern Europe were in no humor to try to distinguish between culpable and innocent Germans. This uncompromising attitude extended to German children, for whom in practice few exceptions were made.” 

Of all the things the book shows, one of the most striking is that war truly is hell, and the concept of victory can change depending on the situation that arises.  Some readers who decided to read this book may feel that the Germans brought it upon themselves. Others may be filled with sympathy for expulsion that took place.  Regardless of which side of the argument we fall on, I think we can all agree that the relocation of Germans after the war, is on the conflicts rarely discussed matters that does not put anyone in a positive light.  Fault lies at the feet of many and even during the operation, governments in high positions of power, rarely discussed matters and continued to shuffle the people around like pawns on a chess board. 

Admittedly, I cannot say that I was completely shocked at what I learned in the book.   Germany’s defeat was a concern for many Germans as it became clear that a quick victory would not take place. The entry of the United States into the war and the decision to invade the Soviet Union, showed that Germany had bitten off more than it could chew.  And it also showed that Hitler had gone completely mad.  As I read through the book and learned just how dreadful the expulsion were, I came to see that this was the hand that Hitler had dealt this people.  They would soon learn that national socialism was not all that they thought it would be. 

World War II permanently altered world’s political landscape and the horrors of the war remain with us to this day.  The Holocaust will always be a case study with regards to the dangers of racial ideology supported by government policy. And the dropping of the atomic bombs still sends chills down the spine of many, in particular, those still alive who lived through it.  For the millions of German nationals living outside of the fatherland’s borders, the war upended their lives, and they were forced to leave their long-term homes and return to a nation in ruins. They too can be added to the long list of victims of a senseless war that could have very well been mankind’s destruction.  This is the story of the plight and what really happened to them after the war ended.  Highly recommended. 

ASIN : B008740OQQ

Letters and Dispatches 1924-1944: The Man Who Saved Over 100,000 Jews, Centennial Edition – Wallenberg, Raoul

WellenbergI am always on the lookout for stories that I have not yet heard and names of people I am not yet familiar with.  When I saw the cover of this book, I tried to jog my memory with regards to the name of the author.  I finally realized that I did not know of Raoul Wallenberg (1912 -1947?) but I knew instantly that I had to read this book.  Admittedly, I am always interested in the personal correspondence of figures from the distant past to see how information was shared in the years before E-mails, SMS and social media.  The cover of the book directly describes what is contained within which is a collection of the letters between Raoul, his grandfather Gustaf Wallenberg (1863-1937) and Raoul’s mother Maj von Dardel (1891-1979) whose replies to her son are not included. The bulk of the letters are between grandfather and grandson and what is truly remarkable about them, is the amount of knowledge that is shared between the two.  Raoul embarks on a long journey and I found myself glued to the book. But aside from that, there are other things in the book that make it an enjoyable read.  

Gustaf is the undoubtedly the domineering force in the family structure.   He is Raoul’s guiding light in the absence of Gustaf’s son and Raoul’s father Raoul Oscar Wallenberg (1888-1912) who died of cancer before his son’s birth.  Raoul finds himself blessed to have a very supportive family and his grandfather both encourages and finances his studies abroad.  America is the destination of choice for young Raoul.  Gustaf himself had visited America and explains to Raoul why he feels so strongly about studying in the United States: 

“It is because of what both my father and I found in America that makes me so eager for you to get your direction in life there. No one has ever understood as well as I have, because I saw it in my youth, how decisive his time there was for my father…. I use the expression direction in life and not “education” on purpose. ” 

The first stop for Raoul is Ann Arbor, Michigan where he enrolls in college to earn an advanced degree.  But, it is only the first stop and the young Swede would take advantage of being a young bachelor to travel across the United States meeting people from all walks of life while Gustaf continues to send words of encouragement and enlightenment. I do want to comment on Gustaf’s views on women which might cause consternation in some readers.  I think today we would call him misogynistic but in that era, he would most likely have not received any reprimand.  His comments to Raoul about romance are both interesting and quite blunt.  And while he truly wanted the best for his grandson, I believe that some readers may take some offense to the words he writes.  However, Gustaf is incredibly brilliant and refined in regards to world affairs.  The knowledge contained in his letters can be of value to both men and women. Further, Gustaf’s command of words gives his letters a more potent affect and I found myself amazed at his sentence structure and grammar which is nothing short of clear and concise. 

Raoul comes across as a competent writer himself and relays to his grandfather, plenty of anecdotes from his travels abroad.  The journey goes from America, Central America, Africa and back to Europe.  Along the way, the young student learns valuable lessons about life and as I read his letters I could see his level of maturity increase with each destination.  The insight with which Raoul writes provides food for thought regarding America and other countries seen through the eyes of the traveling student.  And throughout his travels, Raoul remains firmly in awe of Gustaf, whom he looks up to with unconditional admiration.  Their relationship reminded me of the bond between my myself and my great-grandfather William, who was similar in nature to Gustaf and equally as frank in his choice of words.  Putting aside his bluntness, we all loved and respected him deeply because we knew that he loved us in return and never hesitated to show it. 

After graduating, Raoul made his way back to Europe and through a series of events, was introduced to Kàlmàn Lauer, a Hungarian Jew who was the director of the Central European Trading Company, Inc, a business that specialized in exports. This encounter changed his life permanently and as a result of it, Wallenberg accepted a post with the War Refugee Board through the invitation of Iver Olsen, a representative with the board. His new destination was Hungary which had become the target of the Germany army and a hotbed of anti-Semitism. 

The implementation of the “Final Solution” by Adolf Hitler’s (1889-1945) Third Reich, sent chills across Europe and removed any doubt that there existed a “safe haven” for Jews.  During his time in Budapest, Wallenberg committed himself to saving as many Jews as possible.  In the final part of the book, we are allowed to see his dispatches regarding efforts to deport Hungarian Jews and his willingness to confront both German officials and the Arrow Cross Party, led by despot Ferenc Szálasi (1897-1946).  He was relentless in his efforts and through them, it is estimated that he saved the lives of at least 100,000 Jewish people.  When a friend asked about his determination to save everyone he remarked: ““I’d never be able to go back to Stockholm without knowing that I’d done all a man could do to save as many Jews as possible.”  The exact number of Jews that he saved may never be known but what is certain, is that Wallenberg did prevent thousands from being deported before he was detained by the Soviet Army.   And this is what we learn in the book about his final moments in Budapest: 

“[The Soviet Army’s siege of Budapest began on December 8, 1944, the day this letter was written. Soviet authorities took RW into their ‘protective custody” and sent him to Lubyanka Prison in Moscow on January 17, 1945. He was never heard from again. The Soviets denied any knowledge of his whereabouts until 1957, when Andrei Gromyko, then foreign minister, announced that RW had died of a heart attack in 1947, in Lubyanka. There is ample but inconclusive evidence that this was not the case, and efforts to determine his fate continue.]” 

The truth regarding Wallenberg’s fate remains a mystery as explained in this article in the Israeli journal Haaretz.  The date of his death most likely remains a carefully guarded Russian secret.  Officially, it is believed that he disappeared into the Soviet gulag system in January, 1945 and was never heard from again.  His disappearance adds even more confusion to his story as he was a liberator and should have been seen as such by the invading Red Army.  The reasons for his detainment and subsequent imprisonment are not exactly clear.  And this adds a tragic ending to a remarkable story that should be part of any discussion about World War II and the Holocaust. 

“Across the United States and throughout the world there are Raoul Wallenberg committees and individuals who work tirelessly to educate the public about this compassionate and nonviolent hero, and to assist in solving the mystery of his fate. By introducing the man behind the cause, Letters and Dispatches will help us all remember.” – Rachel Oestreicher Haspel, President of the Raoul Wallenberg Committee of the United States

ASIN : B006OALKJK

 

My Family’s Survival: The true story of how the Shwartz family escaped the Nazis and survived the Holocaust – Aviva Gat

gat

The rise of anti-Semitism that is occurring across parts of Europe and here in the United States is both troubling and disheartening.  Throughout history, the Jewish people have been persecuted on the basis of their faith and during World War II, they were subjected to systematic extermination fueled by racist ideology and pseudo-science.  Adolf Hitler’s quest for power and dominance brought death and destruction across Europe and nearly brought Germany to its knees before Allied forces.   To this day, World War II is seen by many as the worst conflict mankind has ever fought.  As the German Army rolled across Europe taking control of cities, towns and razing small villages, Jews were forced to flee for their lives or risk being sent to ghettos and concentration camps through the Third Reich’s “Final Solution”.  Among the Jews that did flee was the Shwartz family which resided in Butla, Poland. This book is their story of their survival as they fled their home and traveled across Europe to escape the looming Nazi threat to everything deemed to be “Juden”.  

Aviva Gat is a descendant of the Shwartz family and through a series of interviews regarding the family history, she was able to compose this inspiration story of survival during a very dark time in world history.  By her own admission some of the story is fictionalize and I am inclined to believe that this in fact refers to some of the dialogue that may have taken place between the central characters. Regardless she does affirm that the experiences described in the book did in fact take place as the family moved from Poland, to Hungary and Romania where the book ends.  And while the story does provide the typical “happy ending”,  it does not end on a tragic note. 

The story begins in the small village of Butla which remains largely shielded from the events taking place inside of Germany.  They are aware of Hitler but have yet to see first hand the effects of the war.  But when Hitler invaded Poland on September 1, 1939, their lives changed forever and Poland was never the same again. The first visitors to Butla are Russian soldiers who make make themselves at home. But they are gone as fast as they came leaving the people of Butla wondering what will come next.  They did not have to wait long as Ukranian soldiers arrive and commit an act of violence that brings home the reality of what is taking place.  It becomes clear to the Shwartz family that their time in Butla is limited.  The family is led by the patriarch who dies early in the story.  Their mother is already deceased and is mentioned only briefly.  The responsibility to care for the family falls on David, who leaves the town with wife Hinda, children Abi and Sarah, and younger sister Rachel.   The other brothers Shlomo, Meir, Itzik, Zelig and Chaim had previously left the town.  This small group embarked on a journey that is simply unbelievable and highlights just how dangerous it was to be Jewish in Eastern Europe during World War II.  

As the book progresses, we are introduced to numerous characters who play crucial roles in the story.  What I found to be very interesting is the sense of unity that exists among the Jewish characters in the story and it also shows that without this hidden network, many of them would have perished. And while the journey was not easy,  there are moments in the book where the kindness of others shines brilliantly.  But sadly, as refugees from Poland, they were subject to discrimination both in Hungary and Romania. And some of the discrimination was at the hands of other Jews.  Those parts of the book were hard to read and the scene in which Abi finds a Synagogue might resonate with and infuriate readers who are Jewish. I personally stared in disbelief at what transpires between him and the Rabbis.   

Because the book is centered around the family and their journey across three countries there is very little mention of what is taking place in the actual war. The main characters in the story do relay some things they learned as they were fleeing for their lives. Hitler’s name does come up but only a few occasions and none of the other notorious figures in the Reich make an appearance. This book is strictly the Shwartz story.  However, towards the end of the book the war does become a bigger part of the story, in particular when Allied bombing raids come too close for comfort. The scene in which David is in the hospital shows how a moment’s notice and sheer luck sometimes meant the difference between life and death. The story is full of close calls, some of which will make the hair on the back of your neck stand up.  Many guardian angels appear in the story at just the right moment, preventing certain death and a far more tragic outcome.  Some characters in the story are cruel and take advantage of the Jews’ plight.  However, the are far and few in between and unable to overcome the vast network of support that the Shwartzs and others have available to them.  It is a classic example of how unity overcomes adversity.  

The final act in the act occurs through the actions of Abi who grows up quickly during the war.  His decision to reach Palestina as they know it, changes the lives of all for good.  That part of the book is a story all in itself and the journey is one that many Jews were forced to take as they escaped the growing Nazi menace.  Back in Eastern Europe, David makes the decision that he and Hinda will also go to Palestina while Rachel’s like takes a slightly different path albeit with the same destination.  Victor emerges as a critical part of the story’s finale and helps to bring their struggle full circle. However in the epilogue, we learn some dark facts about the fates of the other members in the Shwartz family.  I will not go into it here but will say that we all know what happened to many Jews who did not flee Europe.  Their fates and that of the other Shwartz brothers provide the dark cloud that hangs over the story because of the subject matter. Further, the extermination of the Jews is a topic for another discussion at another time. But if you are in search of a good book about the costs that were paid to endure the nightmare that was World War II, this book is a good addition to anyone’s library.

ASIN : B07MZ2ZL56