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.
APPLE BOOKS REVIEW
This beautifully crafted, sensitive novel explores life in a World War II concentration camp and the ways in which family secrets reverberate across generations. When historian Trudy—the daughter of a Jewish woman held at Buchenwald—finds a photograph of her mother with a Nazi officer, she embarks on a quest to unearth the truth. Jenna Blum’s experience interviewing Holocaust survivors for Steven Spielberg’s Shoah Foundation lends authenticity to her depiction of the prisoners’ daily fight for survival. Those Who Save Us helps us better understand both the victims and their victimizers.
Blum, who worked for Steven Spielberg's Shoah Foundation, takes a direct, unsentimental look at the Holocaust in her first novel. The narrative alternates between the present-day story of Trudy, a history professor at a Minneapolis university collecting oral histories of WWII survivors (both German and Jewish), and that of her aged but once beautiful German mother, Anna, who left her country when she married an American soldier. Interspersed with Trudy's interviews with German immigrants, many of whom reveal unabashed anti-Semitism, Anna's story flashes back to her hometown of Weimar. As Nazi anti-Jewish edicts intensify in the 1930s, Anna hides her love affair with a Jewish doctor, Max Stern. When Max is interned at nearby Buchenwald and Anna's father dies, Anna, carrying Max's child, goes to live with a baker who smuggles bread to prisoners at the camp. Anna assists with the smuggling after Trudy's birth until the baker is caught and executed. Then Anna catches the eye of the Obersturmf hrer, a high-ranking Nazi officer at Buchenwald, who suspects her of also supplying the inmates with bread. He coerces her into a torrid, abusive affair, in which she remains complicit to ensure her survival and that of her baby daughter. Blum paints a subtle, nuanced portrait of the Obersturmf hrer, complicating his sordid cruelty with more delicate facets of his personality. Ultimately, present and past overlap with a shocking yet believable coincidence. Blum's spare imagery is nightmarish and intimate, imbuing familiar panoramas of Nazi atrocity with stark new power. This is a poised, hair-raising debut.
Well Worth Your Time
Tragic, heartbreaking, brutal, and fantastic. Do yourself a favor. Read this book.
Those who save us
How did this get so many good reviews?
I understand how important it is to portray with brutal honesty what women have to endure in order to protect themselves and their family. However, how many gruesome sex and rape scenes need to be included in a book before it’s too much to handle? An adult man drinking breast milk? I feel like this book gave me PTSD and none of it was from the murder scenes.