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review 2017-10-15 23:53
A VIEW OF WOMEN'S ROLES IN WWII GERMANY
World War II German Women's Auxiliary Services - Gordon Williamson

This book provides a comprehensive view of the varieties of uniforms and badges that were worn by German women who served in a variety of roles in the German Army, Navy, Luftwaffe (air force), SS, and civilian sectors during the Second World War.   

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review 2017-10-13 16:17
The Diary of a Young Girl / Anne Frank
The Diary of a Young Girl - B.M. Mooyaart,Eleanor Roosevelt,Anne Frank

I finally got around to reading this heart-warming and heart-wrenching document.  I attempted it as a much younger person and didn’t get very far, perhaps because I was a teenager myself with my own angst to deal with. 

 

There’s no doubt that Anne was right about her own writing abilities.  If she had lived, I think she definitely had a chance to become a significant author.  She could have edited her own diaries to begin with and perhaps written more about the Jewish experience during WWII.

 

I think her father (the only surviving member of those concealed in the Annex) was a brave man to allow her journals to be published.  He and his wife do not always come out of them looking good.  However, we, as readers, are continually reminded that the people confined in this small space are bound to clash with one another repeatedly.  Imagine having no space to truly call your own, having to share cooking & food supplies, not having easy access to a toilet and not being able to flush during certain hours, and having to be quiet during the workday so as not to alert the employees working below them!  Prisoners in jails have better living conditions!

 

I am also impressed by the courageous Dutch folk who hid their Jewish friends and kept them supplied with the necessities of life for so long.  That’s a big commitment and they fulfilled it for two years with very few glitches (health problems for all of them sometimes made for erratic food delivery).  How many of us would have the fortitude and the bravery to attempt such a feat?

 

The saddest part of the book was definitely the afterword—Anne’s last entry is absolutely ordinary (in an extraordinary circumstance) and then they are betrayed and sent to concentration camps.  They had lasted so long and the end of the war was just a year away (although they had no way to know that).  I was left with the melancholy question of what might have been.

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review 2017-10-12 22:01
The Last Veterans of World War II: Portraits and Memories
The Last Veterans of World War II: Portraits and Memories - Richard Bell
This is an amazing book honoring a few of our heroes from World War ll. The diversity inside these pages speaks volumes as we hear from men and women who fought for America in a variety of positions such as officers, nurses, pilots, engineers, technicians, shipfitters and serviceman (just to name a few). I enjoyed how the novel was laid out. Beginning each veteran’s story is a head-shot photograph which is then followed by a short story about that individual and his experience in the war. On the second page is another photograph, a simple and important photo of the veteran’s hand holding his service photograph from the war. I loved looking at these photographs, what a beautiful way to display the element of time and history. As I examined these photographs, their eyes glaring back at me, I thought about the stories those eyes held inside them. For what these individuals experienced and lived, their eyes knew it all.
 
I could tell you about many of the stories that I read but I will just highlight a few that caught my attention. I read about Harlan whose secret mission was to deliver atomic bomb components. After their successful delivery, his unit was hit by torpedo’s and their ship was going down. For four days, Harlan and over three hundred of his men floated in the water, waiting for assistance. Fighting off sharks and staying together to stay alive, they waited. Not everyone made it back safely. Then, there was the story of George who faced his fears in 2000 when he revisited Germany. Battling PTSD, George revisited the places where he had once stood, fighting in the war. George was looking for closure. The story of Ben hit home with me. Ben had been captured and had been forced to march with other prisoners, abuse and death occurring on their way. The Japanese fighters told their prisoners that they were not Prisoners of War but that they were captives. Treated worse than an animal, Ben was a sole survivor when he returned home. Ben also told the story of “The Hell Ships” which was something I hadn’t read about before. There are a few individuals in the novel who didn’t have much to say about their experience. I appreciate their privacy as this war was an emotional and troubling experience to live through.
 
My father-in-law was a POW during WWll and I have listened to many of his stories about this time in his life. He was there in the Battle of the Bulge, he walked many miles to some undetermined destination only to have to turn around and walk back, he ate out of many frozen gardens and the many incidents of what he saw, smelled and heard, I cannot fathom. He was a survivor just like the individuals in this fantastic novel and I thank each one of them for their service. This novel tells the stories of individuals that should be heard and their stories appreciated. I highly recommend this novel and I can’t wait to obtain my own copy.
 
I received a copy of this novel from NetGalley and Schiffer Publishing, Ltd. in exchange for an honest review. Thank you both for sharing this novel with me and thank you to Richard Bell for bringing these veterans stories to others.
 
https://www.facebook.com/richardbellphoto/?hc_ref=ARTDbk6_WzbMIfNFxq5tV38Vqc0In9-f4iTI2EGMnYvNpSXs4xQ7uWiM0KoU0EcqzX4 https://www.facebook.com/schifferpublishing/

 

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review 2017-09-23 03:20
THE WONDERS & PERILS OF BEING A 'NIGHT HAWK' IN WARTIME EUROPE
Enemy in the Dark: The Story of a Luftwaffe Night-fighter Pilot (Fortunes of War) - Peter Spoden

Here, in his own words, Peter Spoden, shares with the reader his experiences as a Luftwaffe night-fighter pilot with the Fifth & Sixth Night Fighter Wings (NJG 5 & NJG 6) in the West between the Spring of 1943 and the end of the war in May 1945. Spoden survived a number of close-calls in his battles against British bombers attacking the Reich and emerged from the war with 24 victories to his credit. 

"ENEMY IN THE DARK" is a sobering memoir of both the wonders and perils of wartime combat flying by night.

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review 2017-09-13 13:57
Suite Française by Irène Némirovski
Suite Française - Irène Némirovsky,Sandra Smith

"War … yes, everyone knows what war is like. But occupation is more terrible because people get used to one another. We tell ourselves, 'They’re people just like us after all,' but they’re not at all the same."

 

Irène Némirovski — famed writer, Russian emigre, and woman of Jewish ancestry — in the midst of World War II, and in the hands of the third Reich, began writing a novel. She did not live to see the end of the war or the end of the novel, but what she did write of that novel is what we have here under the title Suite FrançaiseNémirovski's work stands out from World War II stories I have read throughout my life, in particular those popular in America: It is not about America and it is not about the fighting of the war. The focus here is on the French civilians living in the shadow of war, people trying to survive and continue their lives in a world turned upside down.

 

Némirovski planned to write five parts for her novel, but only produced the first two before she was captured. The story starts in (free) Paris as news arrives that the French army is in retreat and the war is coming. We follow a handful of French citizens trying evacuate the city — specifically the wealthy Péricand family, working class Jeanne and Maurice Michaud, their son Jean-Marie, the author Gabriel Corte, and the rich Charles Langelet. 

 

Suite Française contains a very human story about the common choices we rarely hear about in the accounts of war. The characters of this book are neither heroic nor villainous in any grand sense. They make small choices that can have big consequences. they are sometimes brave, sometimes cowardly, sometimes decent, often petty. In many cases there is no easy answer at all. The good guys don't always act good and the bad guys aren't always terrible.

 

In this way, Suite Française feels immediate in a way few war narratives do. The horror of the story is not how alien this world is, but how familiar. Their choices are our choices but heightened. What do you do when you see someone in need? What would you do to others to protect your family? Or just yourself? You wouldn't have to kill someone, just steal gas, or pack your fine linens and drive past a line of people fleeing on foot. And on the other side, acts of kindness like caring for a wounded soldier in your home or helping reconnect children and parents after a bombing. There are many common decisions that suddenly hold the power of life and death in wartime and Némirovski never lets us forget that imperfect humans are the ones having to make these decisions. 

 

When we move into the second part, "Dolce," things get even more confusing. Invasion has given way to occupation and we get a look through the experiences of two households, each forced to house a German officer. "Dolce" takes place mostly in the summer two years after the invasion. Life is not back to normal, but it looks much more like it. Old grievances are renewed, people bicker and gossip, and we are told, despite numerous proclamations of French solidarity, that the townsfolk were reporting their neighbors to the Germans from the very start. "If we'd taken them all seriously, everyone in the region would be in prison," the German officer says.

 

Meanwhile, the officers are gentlemanly, polite, kind even and they live in these homes for months, and politeness in return is compulsory. Over months grudge melts into kindness, respect and even affection (thus the epigraph to this essay). We know what the Nazis (as a whole) stood for, what they perpetrated against Jews and other minorities, but one person can be complicated, a soldier, we are reminded several times, does not set the policies. As an abstraction, years later, Nazi's appear as pure evil, but as individuals, in the houses of the protagonists, the image is less clear. In fact, Germans in this town act much like American soldiers later in the war. They give sweets to the kids, offer to help carry groceries, and pay well at the local shops. In this way, Suite Française reveals our humanity both in the capacity to transcend, and our weakness to, the worst parts of ourselves, and in this book it is hard to even know which parts those are.

 

The tension in "Dolce" seems to pull tighter and tighter until you can't stop reading. The friendship between Lucile and a German officer seems to draw inexorably toward disaster. Némirovski writes at her best at these moments when her characters are torn between what they want and what they know is right and even possible. Quiet, impossible feelings spring up between people despite themselves. It's not a naughty affair, but a tragic affection expressed through a song on the piano, a look at a ring, blanched faces, or a startle when the real world reinserts itself into a quiet moment on the lawn.

 

Suite Française feels defined almost as much by what is included as by what is not. Hitler is not mentioned at all until very near the end. Jews and concentration camps aren't mentioned at all. This feels very strange if you do not read the appendix that is included with Némirovski's diary entries about the book. I have often skipped afterwords and appendices in recent years, but since this novel was so conspicuously unfinished I decided to read them. Now I wonder at what more this book could have become. Némirovski kept the horrors to the margins while she told us when it must have seem that way to citizens. She invites us to feel as conflicted as many may have felt at the time — and from her notes it appears she too was sympathetic to individual soldiers — before dropping hard truths in the next sections. The reality of the Nazi rule would intrude disastrously on our protagonists and they would find themselves colliding in different ways, trying to survive the new, even more insidious threat of occupation. The final two sections of the novel she never even outlined; they would depend on the outcome of the war.

 

Unfortunately, Némirovski, and her story, in Auschwitz on August 17, 1942. What remains is written with a rare heart and clarity, untainted by nostalgia, parades, or narratives of heroes and villains. It's a story of ordinary people living in turbulent, dangerous times, and Suite Française is especially charming, and haunting, for that reason. 

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