I have just finished reading two outstanding books – the best books I've read this year. In fact, I don't think that I have read any books that have been so affecting, so thought-provoking and so meticulously researched as these two in many years. They were both written by Elizabeth Wein. They take place during World War II and are companion books. They are being marketed as Young Adult novels, but provide a powerful reading experience for “grown ups”, as well. The first, Code Name Verity, is so full of twists and turns (and questions of what is true and what is not true) that writing very much about it would require many “spoiler alerts”. After finishing that book, I thought about the resilience of the human spirit, the sacrifices called for by the bonds of affection, and the mix of good and evil in one being.
Rose Under Fire is the story of Rose Justice, a pilot with the Air Transport Auxiliary who is captured by the Nazis and sent to Ravensbruck. Ravensbrück was a forced labor camp for women. Prisoners from more than 30 countries worked under brutal conditions in agriculture, local industry, the production of armaments, and camp maintenance. In 1942, the Nazis began a program of medical experiments on young Polish high school and university students imprisoned in Ravensbruck. The inmates called these young women Rabbits. They were subjected to up to six operations each, including having the bones in their legs cut out. Their wounds were deliberately infected with bacteria. Rose was placed with the Rabbits. It is not a spoiler alert to tell you that she survived, but her return to her old life was not easy. This was a part of the book that really resonated with me. My grandfather was in civilian internment camps in the Philippines during World War II. His return to the United States and to his family was hard, and he never really recovered, physically or mentally, from his ordeal. He could not put his experiences behind him as people suggested. He had no one to talk to who would understand what he had gone through. That's the way Rose felt, and her feelings affected her decision as to whether or not she would testify against the Nazis.
You won't find either of these books in the Plymouth Library. The 2013 budget cut out funding for purchases of new books. However, there are many books and DVDs on the Holocaust. I feel that this topic has an important place in a church library. Exploring moral and ethical choices should be a part of every Christian's life of the mind. You can ponder why people turn to evil, how they can justify the choices they make, but you can also look at those who had the courage and humanity to act on the promptings of their conscience. Read these books:
Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy: A Righteous Gentile vs the Third Reich (B BON)
Righteous Gentiles: When Courage was Stronger than Fear (940.5318 HEL)
The Righteous Gentiles of the Holocaust: A Christian Interpretation (231.76 GUG)
Maus: A Survivor's Tale (940.53 SPI)
After a Long Silence: A Memoir (B FRE)
Auschwitz (J940.53 LAW)
Terezin: Voices from the Holocaust (940.53 THO)
Hitler's Forgotten Victims: The Holocaust and the Disabled (940.53 EVA)
Hitler's Willing Executioners: Ordinary Germans and the Holocaust (940.53 GOL)
Searching for God in Godforsaken Times and Places: Reflections on the Holocaust, Racism and Death (231.7 LOC)
There are many more excellent titles in our library. I'm going to check out the DVD on the Nuremberg trials. I will look at the documentary with new eyes after reading about Rose.
In her Afterword, Elizabeth Wein wrote “In the end, like Rose, I am doing what I can to carry out the last instruction of the true witnesses – those who went to their death crying out: Tell the world.” What I am writing today is my little attempt to tell the world, to urge people to think about courage and complacency, empathy and hatred so that, maybe, someday, there will be a better world.