[Review] A Train in Winter: An Extraordinary Story of Women, Friendship, and Resistance in Occupied France by Caroline Moorehead

Publisher and Publication Date: HarperCollins Publishers. 2011.
Genre: Nonfiction. History. World War II. France. Holocaust. Women and literature.
Pages: 374.
Format: Hardcover.
Source: Public library.
Audience: Readers of history, World War II, French Resistance, and the Holocaust.
Rating: Very good.

Goodreads page for Caroline Moorehead.

Link @ Amazon.

Summary:

A Train in Winter is the story of French women, from all walks of life, who were arrested and jailed in France in 1942 by the work of the Nazis and the French who were collaborators. This is also the year of the Jewish round-up in France. In January 1943, they were sent by train to Auschwitz, Birkenau. Later in the war, the women were split up and sent to other camps. For example, Ravensbruck and Mauthausen.

These women had been a part of the Resistance in France. Many of them were members of the Communist Party. Most of the women had husbands and lovers who were in the Resistance. Some were swept up in the arrests because of their affiliation.

There were 230 French women who arrived at Birkenau. Most of the women died of dysentery, disease, abuse, starvation, and execution.

My Thoughts:

This is the first nonfiction history book I’ve read specifically about the French women involved (in some way) in the Resistance during World War II. They were political prisoners.

An important thing to note about this book is it does not focus on one woman or a few women. It is a broad look at many women. When reading a book with a long list of people, the book can come across as a fact-based book. There are brief personal stories included, not lengthy stories, but brief, and these bring a personal intimate look at several of the women. In some instances, it was a mother and daughter who were arrested. In some instances, the women had young children or were pregnant. In showing a large sweeping group of women, I see a fuller picture of the Nazi’s brutality against not just a few people but a huge group of those who stood in their way. I know this in theory. I realize the depth in a book like this.

One of the women prisoners is a psychiatrist. The area she worked in brought her in to contact with Joseph Mengele, the German physician who did medical experiments at Auschwitz. She gave witness to horrendous acts.

The horrific acts against them are emotional and provocative.

One of the most important chapters is at the end. The after-effects of trauma inflicted on the women. How they were not able to articulate what had happened. Its effect on their personal lives after the war.

There is a follow-up chapter addressing those Nazi’s who brutalized them after the war ended.

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[Review] Half Notes from Berlin by B V Glants

Publisher and Publication Date: Anchor Media. October 4, 2022.
Genre: Historical fiction. Young adult historical fiction.
Pages: 256.
Format: E-book.
Source: I received a complimentary e-book copy from Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours and B. V. Glants. I am not required to write a positive review.
Audience: Historical fiction readers with an interest in Holocaust stories, and those who read young adult fiction.
Rating: Very good.

Link for the book @ Amazon.

Link for the book @ Barnes and Noble.

About the Author:

B.V. Glants was born in Soviet Ukraine and immigrated with his family to suburban New Jersey when he was ten years old. Raised on family stories ranging from his grandparents’ fight for survival in WW2 to his parents’ confrontations with Soviet antisemitism, he now lives in Silicon Valley with his wife and daughter.

B.V. Glants is a lay leader at a Jewish day school, a Wexner Heritage Program member, and a technology entrepreneur, most recently having cofounded Tonic Health (sold to R1, NASDAQ:RCM) and Turnkey Labs. That hasn’t stopped him from earning an MFA at California College of the Arts and attending writers’ conferences at Squaw and Sewanee. He writes historical fiction from a Jewish perspective, focusing on how major historical events challenge and transform the lives of everyday families. Half Notes from Berlin is his first published novel.

Summary:

Berlin, Germany. 1933.

Hans believes he and his family are safe from persecution.

Then, he discovers his family’s dirty secret: his maternal grandparents were Jews who converted to Christianity.

Driven by the desire to understand who he is and whether his mother’s blood is tainted, Hans befriends Rebecca, the only Jewish girl he knows. Perhaps if Jewish blood isn’t evil, his mother will be ok.

To be a Jew in Hitler’s Germany is dangerous.

But to fall in love with one is unthinkable.

Desperate to keep both his family’s true heritage and his love for Rebecca a secret, Hans attempts to navigate this terrifying new world. He’s disconsolate when his Jewish mother is kicked out of the Berlin Conservatory. He’s disgusted by his Aryan father’s aims to acquire a Jewish business on the cheap.

Worst, he must watch helplessly as his classmates target Rebecca with increasing violence and malice.

But when his school announces it will expel Jewish students, Hans is determined to fight for Rebecca — and the lives and souls of his family.

“…[a] beautifully written historical debut explores themes of identity and resistance…their gripping stories will stick with readers long after the last page.” –BookLife Reviews – Editors Choice

“A mesmerizing novel, moving and intelligent.”–Kirkus Reviews

This is the link for the Kirkus Review: Half Notes from Berlin.

My Thoughts:

I’m excited to share my thoughts about this story for two reasons:

  1. This is a first published story for Glants. I love to discover new authors. I love to read a first published story.
  2. This is a favorite genre.

I want to first share a few thoughts about the genre and the summary that’s been given. The book is presented as a historical fiction story, and the summary that’s given is brief or vague.

When I am browsing books there are several factors, I want to have clear information about. Half Notes from Berlin is a historical fiction story, but it is also young adult fiction and a coming-of-age story. Not all readers of historical fiction want to read those other two types of books. I happen to love all three genres.

I also enjoy having a strong summary to read. It is the summary that sets the tone as to what I can expect. It is a prompt and a teasing and a setting of the stage for the full story.

Kirkus Reviews gives a strong summary of the book, and you can read it at this link: Kirkus Reviews.

I have come to expect that when I read historical fiction there is almost always a reflecting back from the narrator of the story. Often there are dual time periods. This is a form or structure in a story that I dislike. I don’t mind reflecting back-what I don’t like is the back and forth, and back and forth between the dual time periods. I love it that Half Notes from Berlin stayed in the past (with brief thoughts from the man who is telling the story), AND it stayed in a short period of time, the spring of 1933. This pivotal and significant period of time in the life of a 15-year-old young man. It is during this time period that changed the course of his life.

One of the best points of this story is I felt engaged because of the main character, the 15-year-old young man named Hans. He is exactly how I’d imagine a young man of his age to be. In his interests, vulnerabilities, stubbornness, and rebellion. He has strengths and weaknesses. He has a vision of what his life is and what it can become. He is a lone child of parents who are at odds and unhappy. His parents do not work together as a team. As a result, his grandparents are a source of stability. Yet, all of the adults have failed to be honest with him.

Hans has a group of boys he hangs around with in school. He joins a youth choir with the help of a female classmate who is an assertive kind of girl.

Hitler’s influence and ideology has seeped or poured into the youth groups or movements of Germany. Hans is unsure of the right thing to do.

Meanwhile, he has a building interest in another girl in his class. He is drawn to her, I feel, because she is different. There is something remarkable about her. She is vulnerable; however, she is strong. She is a Jew. The growing hate and abuse escalate among the other classmates towards her.

The story has several inner and outer conflicts that pull me along because I have to know what will happen.

I am glad the story is over a period of several weeks in the spring of 1933. This gave time to examine closely the various events and impact of the people.

I wish the story had allowed Hans’ mother’s character to develop more. She is a character with much more going on in her mind and past life. There is a revealing of some things of her past, but I am left wanting to hear her voice-her thoughts.

[Review] The German War: A Nation Under Arms, 1939-1945, Citizens and Soldiers by Nicholas Stargardt

Publisher and Publication Date: Basic Books. 2015.
Genre: Nonfiction. History. War literature. World War II.
Pages: 704.
Format: Hardcover.
Source: Library copy.
Audience: World War II history readers, especially those with an interest in civilians.
Rating: Excellent.

8 black and white maps.

52 black and white illustrations.

Link for the book at Amazon.

Author page at Goodreads for Nicholas Stargardt.

I recommend a previous book Nicholas Stargardt has written and I’ve read: Witnesses of War: Children’s Lives Under the Nazis.

Summary:

In brief, The German War is a “social history” of the German people, both soldiers and civilians, during World War II.

The German War is a study of German men and women, boys and girls, who lived during pre-World War II, World War II, and post-World War II. It is a thorough exploration showing various points of views of the Nazis, Hitler, the war, and Allies.

Stargardt researched and worked on this book for over 20 years. He was privileged to read private archives and personal letters.

One of the questions he had upon starting this work is when did the German people know about “the murder of the Jews?” The answer is both shocking and disturbing.

Another question is how did they become swept up in believing Hitler was a savior of sorts?

My Thoughts:

It has been a few years ago that I was looking for books to read from the civilian perspective during World War II. I have read a lengthy list of Holocaust and World War II books, but few have been written with a focus on civilians.

I’m reminded of a personal story of my own. In 1999 and 2001, I traveled with family to several European countries. We traveled to several cities in Germany. During the trip, we ate dinner with a family my brother-in-law knew when he was stationed in Germany in the early 1960s. The family owned a pub. They treated him like a son. He has continued to keep in touch with the children (who are all in their senior years). The mother of the family had a tattoo of numbers on her arm. My brother-in-law never asked her about those numbers nor her personal story. Before our dinner together, my brother-in-law asked me and my parents (my dad a World War II veteran), not to bring up the war. And we did not. It was a great meal and visit, despite me not remembering much high school German, my brother-in-law speaks fluent German, and no one else in our party spoke the other’s language. He was the interpreter. Of course, I had many questions I wanted to ask.

It appears the don’t ask questions and the not talking about the war is widespread in that generation and the next. This is one of many things I learned in reading The German War.

The most shocking and disturbing concern is people do not learn from history. The same type of thought patterns and behavior continues on and on. I am referring to control of what is released in the media. I am not referring to one particular group, but this is widespread, and is also displayed on social media. People share what they want the public to know about them. They do not share everything. These things are often released at opportune times to make them look a certain way. Transparency is rare.
Before any of you get your panties in a ruffle, I am not referring necessarily to a political group, but religious, businesses, and individual peoples. I’m reminded of the Hollywood of the early days when press releases about actors were released strategically.

Another interesting thing I learned is the German people have been divided over who were the real victims during the war.

Other reasons why I believe The German War is excellent (I want to clarify, these are not positive as in feel good points, but bring an education for readers).

  1. A broad look at groups of people: Jews, Ethnic Germans, German soldiers, Jehovah Witnesses, Homosexuals, disabled people, children, Polish people, mixed marriages of race, Catholics, and Soviets.
  2. The disturbing, senseless, and barbaric methods of murder of the disabled adults and children.
  3. Large groups of Polish (both Jews and non-Jews) murdered by the Germans that were without “restrictions.”
  4. Food rationing among other factors faced by German civilians.
  5. Women who remained at home while their husbands or boyfriends were fighting.
  6. Rumors of poison gas that would be used by the Allies.
  7. Even in the 1920s, children were taught in German schools that, “France is a hereditary enemy and Hitler is their hero.”
  8. Catholic priests who spoke out against the Nazis.
  9. People’s trust is shown in their government, medical doctors, and those in authority.
  10. A list of countries and the total number of Jews murdered.
  11. Various forms of execution.
  12. Allied bombings of Germany.
  13. Civilian’s experiences during the raids.
  14. Post war Germany. The hunger and lack of food.
  15. Allied soldiers who asked the German people about the war and the limited to no response.

After I read the last page, and I closed the book, I continued to sit in my reading chair pondering what I’d read. I’ve used the word disturbing in this post several times, but it is the best word to describe. Other words are traumatic, visceral, shocking, and memorable.

My God, what humanity does to another.

[Review] The Teacher of Warsaw by Mario Escobar

Publisher and Publication Date: Harper Muse/HarperCollins Publisher. June 7, 2022.
Genre: Historical fiction.
Pages: 368.
Format: NetGalley e-book.
Source: I received a complimentary e-book copy from Harper Muse and NetGalley. I am not required to write a positive review.
Audience: Readers of historical fiction and Holocaust stories.
Rating: Excellent.

Link for the book at Christian Book.

Link at Amazon.

To read more information about The Teacher of Warsaw at Harper Muse. At this link is an author bio and an excerpt.

Further links to read about Janusz Korczak.

  1. United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.
  2. Holocaust Matters.
  3. YadVashem.org
  4. Jewish Virtual Library.
  5. This is a link to read an account from a person who knew Janusz Korczak. It is twenty pages in length write-up.
His birth name was Henryk Goldszmit. In 1899, he changed his name to Janusz Korczak. He was born 1878 and died 1942.

Summary:

Janusz Korczak was a pediatric physician, pioneer of social work with children, teacher, writer, civic leader, radio speaker, war veteran, and director of the orphanage in Warsaw, Poland named, Dom Sierot from 1911 to 1942. Later he took charge of another orphanage in Warsaw.

The Teacher of Warsaw starts at the time when the Germans invaded Poland, September 1, 1939. The story stops in the late summer of 1942 when the Warsaw ghetto had mass deportations of Jews to Treblinka.

Janusz Korczak had a staff of courageous people who dedicated their lives to the welfare of the children. Janusz took care of the children’s basic needs, but he also took care of their educational needs. He strived to teach them how to become healthy functioning and productive citizens. The children had chores, they had a newspaper, and they held a court of their peers.

Stefania “Stefa” Wilczynska was Janusz partner in the orphanage. She was the Deputy Director and House Mother.

The Teacher of Warsaw shares life inside the orphanage among the children and teachers, it shares Janusz story, and it shares the worsening conditions for the Jews that eventually lead to the emptying of the Warsaw ghetto.

My Thoughts:

The first line of the story made an impression on me: “I have heard that when you say the names of the dead, you bring them back to life again.” It is words and phrases like this that held me and impacted me throughout the book.

Several reasons why I love this book-and-why it is so memorable!

1. I believe The Teacher of Warsaw captures the main character, Janusz Korczak. I read the above links for further information about him. The twenty-page memoir written by a person who knew Janusz gave me a solid grasp of his personality. He was socially conscious, especially of children when he was only a young boy. Further personality traits: emotional but in control, intelligent, intellectual, a brilliant and quick mind, astute judge of character, compassionate, dedicated, a communicator, defiant, brave, committed, willing to do labor, and a deep thinker.

2. In The Teacher of Warsaw, I am able to know Janusz’s thoughts because he is the narrator. He is an intellectual and philosophical person, and this came across as an important feature of the book. I’ve read some reviewers remark they don’t like the philosophical thoughts of Janusz. However, this is a strong part of the sharing of his personality and of bringing him to life in the story. It is also those philosophical words that create my favorite quotes in the book.

3. The story shares the spread of anti-Semitism in Europe during Janusz’s lifetime.

4. Janusz is not the norm for a male hero in a book. The book is also not the norm for a love story. I love this! I love Janusz as an older man with health problems. He is honest. Vulnerable and frail. He wrestles with the suffering that he witnesses. His great love is not a romantic interest. His great love is the children that he is willing to lay down his life for. For Janusz, there is no other choice but to remain with his children.

5. The story shares the fears, anxiety, worsening conditions, and panic in the ghetto. The Jews talk of what they hear about the extermination of Jews. Some don’t believe it. Others do believe it. There are several scenes in the book when I just cried. For example, the frozen dead child on the street. Janusz had seen this child begging and now he is dead. When Janusz finds him. He rocks him and recites Kaddish.

6. There are substories of the various secondary characters. For example, Irena Sendler.

Further Thoughts:

I have no idea if Janusz and Stefa were in a physically intimate relationship. I don’t know how they felt about one another in the romantic aspect. What is fact, is they both were very dedicated to the children. They complimented one another in their roles. Where one of them was weak, the other picked up the slack. They were true partners in their love for the children. This point is beautifully depicted.

Janusz was Jewish but not a practicing Jew. In The Teacher of Warsaw, Janusz knew some Bible verses. The verses are sprinkled in a couple of places in the book. But he does not state his belief in Jesus as the Son of God. I do not consider this book to be Christian historical fiction. I don’t believe it is a turn-off for a reader who does not want to read a Christian book.

Historical fiction is heavy with World War II/Holocaust stories. The focus on children in these stories is rarer because it usually features the lead role as a woman who falls in love. The Teacher of Warsaw stands proudly with a few other books featuring love and dedication to children. This is a big reason why this book is a gem!

[Review] We Shall Not Shatter: A World War II Story of Friendship, Family, and Hope Against All Odds by Elaine Stock

Publisher and Publication Date: Amsterdam Publishers. May 15, 2022.
Genre: Historical fiction. World War II literature.
Pages: 398.
Format: E-book.
Source: I received a complimentary e-book from Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours, Elaine Shatter, and Amsterdam Publishers. I am not required to write a positive review.
Audience: Readers of historical fiction who want to read World War II literature.
Rating: Very good.

Page for the Book Tour which runs May 15-31 @ Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours.

AMAZON | BARNES & NOBLE

LOOK FOR THE AUDIO BOOK OF ALL 3 BOOKS OF THE RESILIENT WOMEN OF WWII TRILOGY TO BE RELEASED BY TANTOR MEDIA, PART OF RECORDED BOOKS. THEY WILL BE SOLD IN BOTH DOWNLOADABLE DIGITAL FORMATS, AS WELL AS CD AUDIOBOOKS AND WILL BE SOLD ON AMAZON, BARNES AND NOBLE, INDEPENDENT BOOKSTORES, AND MOST ANY OTHER OF YOUR FAVORITE VENUES.

Praise:

“For anyone who loved ‘All the Light We Cannot See’ by Anthony Doerr, this is another beautiful journey of not just one woman’s story through the turbulent times of Nazi Germany, but two. A story which will touch your heart, and perhaps bring a few tears to wipe away, showing how love does indeed break barriers and sees beyond human labels and disabilities. You will absolutely fall in love with Zofia and Aanya, and how strong friendships were forged in the heat of oppression from Hitler’s Germany despite their different faiths.”
— Historical Fiction Company

“Drawing from her own family’s history, author Elaine Stock has created a compelling story of enduring friendship, heart wrenching sacrifice, and resilient strength. While set during one of the darkest moments on history’s stage, We Shall Not Shatter’s themes—conveyed through characters who will inhabit your heart—have much to say to readers in today’s world, too.”
— Carrie Schmidt, ReadingIsMySuperPower.org

“Elaine Stock’s novel, We Shall Not Shatter, the first of a promised trilogy, Resilient Women of WWII, is a poignant and heartfelt tale of perseverance, of friendship across boundaries, of making families in different ways, of horror and of healing. In the characters of Zofia and Aanya, and the families they make and lose in their native Poland, the barbarities of war, the added peril of Aanya’s deafness, and their harrowing escape, the story is offset by the plot strands of Christians helping Jews, Germans helping Poles, hearing people cherishing the strength of the deaf, and the deaf healing others. This is a story not only of resilience, but of the victory of love and friendship over pain and suffering.”
— Barbara Stark-Nemon, author of the award-winning novels, Even in Darkness and Hard Cider, Speech-language therapist and Teacher Consultant for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing

“We Shall Not Shatter is a compelling novel, inspired by real-life events in Brzeziny, Poland that so dramatically changed the fortunes of both a close-knit Jewish family and a Catholic family during the Hitler years. Elaine Stock’s poignant narrative charts the despair, confusion and sheer will to survive during this terrible period in modern European history. This is a story that oozes tragedy, hope, love and courage in the face of adversity.”
— Ron Vincent, author of The House on Thrömerstrasse: A Story of Rebirth and Renewal in the Wake of the Holocaust

“The story and its characters will linger in the reader’s heart for days… perhaps forever.”
— Patricia Bradley, Author of the Logan Point Series, Memphis Cold Case Novels, Natchez Trace Park Ranger Series

“We Shall Not Shatter takes readers on a rare journey of life-tested relationships and uncompromising courage. Stock brilliantly creates a time and place that is terrible and heartbreaking only to reveal the beauty that awaits on the other side of devastation. This story will stay with you long after the last page is turned.”
— London Clarke, #1 Amazon bestselling author of Wildfell and The Meadows

About the Author:

Elaine Stock writes Historical Fiction, exploring home, family and friendships throughout time. She enjoys creating stories showing how all faiths, races, and belief systems are interconnected and need each other.

Elaine’s grandparents, on both sides of her family, narrowly escaped World War II by immigrating from Poland and Austria to the US. Fascinated by the strong will of people to overcome the horrors from this era, she wrote We Shall Not Shatter, book 1 of the Resilient Women of WWII Trilogy inspired by her deaf great aunt who was left behind as a teenager in Poland and perished in the Holocaust, while her other deaf siblings were permitted to enter the US when their young ages helped them to circumvent medically revealing exams. Other extended family members also remained in Poland to lose their lives in the Holocaust.

Although multi-published in award-winning Inspirational Fiction, and a past blogger and online magazine contributor, Elaine now pens novels for the General reading audience. She is a member of Women’s Fiction Writers Association and The Historical Novel Society. Born in Brooklyn, New York, she has now been living in upstate, rural New York with her husband for more years than her stint as a city gal. She enjoys long walks down country roads, visiting New England towns, and of course, a good book.

WEBSITE | FACEBOOK | TWITTER | GOODREADS | 

BOOKBUB | AMAZON

Summary:

An unforgettable story of friendship, family and hope as two courageous young women face one of history’s most horrific tragedies.

Brzeziny, Poland, 1939 Zofia’s comfortable-lifestyle overturns when her husband, Jabez, who monitors Nazi activity, has gone missing. Rather than fleeing the country with her young son, as she had promised Jabez who is fearing retaliation, she decides to stay. She cannot possibly leave her friend, Aanya. Since their childhood they have amazed fellow Brzeziners that it does not matter that Aanya is Jewish and deaf, and that Zofia is Catholic and hearing. Now, more than ever with war looming, Zofia will do whatever is necessary to protect her family and Aanya.

As both love and war approach their Polish town, Zofia and Aanya must make choices that will change the meaning of family, home, and their precious friendship. The journey, decisions and the no-going-back consequences the women face will either help them to survive—or not—as Hitler’s Third Reich revs up its control of the world.

Inspired by the author’s paternal heritage from Brzeziny, this is a heartbreaking yet beautiful story of two women who are determined to remain united in friendship and to live freely despite the odds.

My Thoughts:

World War II literature is the most widely read books I read. It does not matter whether it is fiction or nonfiction. I first began reading books in this realm because my dad was an American soldier during World War II and overseas in Europe. He was a D-Day Veteran. A Veteran of the Battle of the Bulge. He shared many stories of what he witnessed and experienced. As I grew older, Dad told the stories he did not tell me when I was young. Some of these stories are what he witnessed during the liberation of a concentration camp in Czechoslovakia. It was through dad’s stories that piqued my interest in reading more stories of this history.

One of the first things I love about We Shall Not Shatter is it is exactly what I have been asking for in a story. I have expressed in some reviews how I’d like to read stories showing other types of love, not just romantic love. Some examples of what I’d like to read are the love between friends, and the love between children and their parents. We Shall Not Shatter is the story of two women who have been best friends since they were young children. Despite the differences in religion and culture, they have persevered and strengthened the bond of friendship. They love each other dearly. They would sacrifice for one another.

Other reasons why I love this story:

1. The story has a character who has a disability. It is very rare to read a story that has a person who is disabled. It seems that most book characters are near perfect. This includes the front cover of a person who is beautiful-handsome-an airbrushed model. This is not real life. I prefer characters to reflect reality. I want to read about their story that reflects what and how they are living.

2. I love it that Elaine Stock has based this story on some of her relatives. It is a memorial and testament.

3. I love the organized and interesting book selection for further reading. These are books that the publisher also has on this subject. This section is located in the back of the book.

4. We Shall Not Shatter shows the days before and during the German occupation. In addition, the horrors at Brzeziny, and the tightening of restrictions on the Jews.

5. The story is strong in showing love, compassion, kindness, and charity between the family members and friends.

Some things I have trouble with:

1. There are areas where the story drags and other areas where it feels rushed.

2. Aanya’s husband has a more prominent role in the story. Whereas Zofia’s husband has a more interesting storyline, yet he is in the background (thought of and wondered about.) And this point is related to number 3.

3. Zofia’s husband is involved in resistance work. I’d rather have his story more pronounced because this is important. He represents a group of people resistant to the German invasion and their genocide of the Jews. Until later in the book, I am finally educated about what he has been doing. Whereas before I had limited information.

4. In a sea of World War II type books, I believe it is important to try and tell a story that has not been told. For example, Aanya’s story. She is deaf. I want to know what she is thinking. I want to know what it is like to be her. I want to become lost in her story of living with a disability during the Holocaust. I wish the book had focused the most on Aanya.

Themes: suffering, war, power of love, courage, bravery, kindness, hope, injustice, resistance, survival, romance, sacrifice, and good and evil.