Those Who Save us By Jenna Blum

(No Series)

For fifty years, Anna Schlemmer has refused to talk about her life in Germany during World War II. Her daughter, Trudy, was only three when she and her mother were liberated by an American soldier and went to live with him in Minnesota. Trudy's sole evidence of the past is an old photograph: a family portrait showing Anna, Trudy, and a Nazi officer, the Obersturmfuhrer of Buchenwald.

Driven by the guilt of her heritage, Trudy, now a professor of German history, begins investigating the past and finally unearths the dramatic and heartbreaking truth of her mother's life.

Combining a passionate, doomed love story, a vivid evocation of life during the war, and a poignant mother/daughter drama, Those Who Save Us is a profound exploration of what we endure to survive and the legacy of shame.

 “How could she tell him that we come to love those who save us?”

For some reason I keep stumbling on movies and books about Nazis or the World War. All of them are serious and of course distressing – Those Who Save Us tells a different viewpoint. The point of view for those in the towns who weren’t Jewish, who were Germans who had to do what they could to survive the times.

The story is told between two time periods – between modern times in Minnesota and the years of WWII in Weimar, Germany. Half of the book is told through the POV of the mother, Anna, where the book flashes back often to her as a young woman enduring all sorts of horrors. The modern day story is told only through the POV of her daughter, Trudy, who is in America and makes her living as a professor of history.

The daughter is frustrated with her mother and never had a close relationship with the woman. She’s convinced her father was a WWII soldier who worked in the camps and feels a sense of guilt about this. Her mother will never discuss with her the picture where she, as a small child, is with the man in his uniform and her mother. The mother is silent about all and refuses to speak the truth.

The book is through the daughter asking questions for a study she’s doing – from people who lived during these times. The stories are dreadfully disturbing and all different. How terrible of a time! Most of these stories I won’t be forgetting. Really, this is a book that’s hard to forget, even if part of me would like to with details.

The mother fascinated me. I find it interesting I didn’t like Trudy OR Anna much when they came on stage. Anna before the war was bitter toward her father, for a good reason (the horrible man), but kept trying to kill off her father’s dog because she disliked him. To me she seems cold at first but later I warmed up her as she went through her trials. What she had to do to survive for her and her daughter was unique because of her looks, those who rescued her, and her own personal upbringing/status before the war began.

Trudy also wasn’t likeable at first – I thought she was far too eager and accepting of putting her mother in a home and not wanting to deal with her. She seems lifeless to me. Slowly, through stories of others and finally seeing all her flaws, I started liking her and seeing what she was made of.

By the end of the story I did like Anna and Trudy both. Strange how that works.

It’s a slow, seeping story that’s filled with horror and despair – obviously this never lets up considering the content. The ending is on a peaceful enough note. Some called it a little unrealistic and perhaps it was, but I dug it because of it tying with her finally being acknowledged for her risk and sacrifice. Also finding out who killed a certain person was a slap in the face as the reader knows the mother will never find it out.

It was the author’s debut novel; overall I think she did an admirable job, but I do think she struggled a bit with some awkward phrasing and especially strange similes. Dialogue was strange because no quotations were ever used, which took a long while to get used to.

The book takes a while to get into because of the strange dialogue and the slow pace – also the unwilling move between one time period and the next. Thankfully the story starts picking up and by the second half I was completely hooked. I become misty-eyed on several occasions.

There’s some unique sexual issues in this book as well with flashbacks during a particularly disturbing relationship that actually stands as the more interesting relationship in the book. Some argue if she really loved him or not – I don’t think she was “in love” with him, that’s not possible with the power difference, control and fear. I think she loathed him. But she said we love those who save us, so perhaps a small part of her… I don’t know. The book isn’t black and white with characters or their actions.

Overall it’s an excellent, moving book that is different for wanting to show viewpoints that aren’t always considered for this war.

   Book Quotes:

“We are all ashamed in one way or another. Who among us is not stained by the past?” 

“Life is so often unfair and painful and love is hard to find and you have to take it whenever and wherever you can get it, no matter how brief it is or how it ends.” 

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