Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Surviving Hitler

World War II has always been fascinating to me.  As a kid, it was simply the aircraft and other military hardware that intrigued me.  Outside of the big bombers, I especially found half-tracks to be interesting.  Another thing that is interesting about World War II is that the Axis and Allies alliances were clear and were fighting for a clear right and wrong.  It makes it easy to read about the bold heroes that risked their lives, often losing them, fighting for what was right.  The resistance fighters, brave soldiers, everyday people joining the underground, and those who had the physical and mental stamina to survive the truly horrid death camps were heroes to be admired.  Their steadfastness in selflessly choosing the right is to be copied.  I have no question of that today, but sensed it even as a young child.

Book cover.Surviving Hitler: The Unlikely True Story of an SS Soldier and a Jewish Woman by O. Håkan Palm (ISBN: 978-1-60907-847-8) tells the story of two of the everyday people that made it through the horrors of war.  A memoir- or journal-style narrative takes the reader through the lives of the young woman, Agnes Erdös, a Hungarian ethnic Jew, and Gustav Palm, a Norwegian, as World War II placed its heavy imprint on their lives.  The Germans invaded Norway and Gustav joined the German army.  He was a good soldier who had luck on his side a couple times.  Agnes was raised in a well-to-do family, but as Hungary fell to the occupying forces, her life abruptly changed, and she ended up as one of the many in the Nazi concentration camps.  Sheer determination, coupled with a strength fortified by faith in God, got her through that most awful experience.  Through a series of events, both of them found themselves in Scandinavia after the war, trying to put their lives back together.  They met each other, fell in love, and were married.  Part of the healing process was a search for ultimate truth, and they found the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.  There are some reminiscences from the author, the couple’s son that makes it seem that the healing process was a slow and often painful one, but these good people, who had endured much, forged on, helping others throughout the rest of their lives, ultimately conquering the scars of war.

Overall, the book was an enjoyable read, which is probably a little more of an endorsement than I thought I would be giving when I first opened it.  The reason I didn’t think I’d like it when I started is because of the journal-like format where you read a chapter from one person’s point of view, then a chapter from the others, and then back again.  It makes it seem a bit fluffier and not the kind of solid history book I would normally want to read.  I found it an interesting story, though, and maybe a first-hand account isn’t so bad since more thorough and scholarly histories have already been written.  This gives a unique voice to one of the many different aspects of the terrible war.  Notwithstanding my enjoyment of the book, I still think the title is a little sensationalist.  Gustav, the SS soldier in the story, was not a German Nazi bent on the extermination of the Jews or some other hateful ideology.  He was a young man who made what turned out to be an ill-fated decision.  At the time, he made the best decision he could based on what he knew.  It just so happened that he fought for the Germans.  In some notes to the book, someone explained that President Thomas S. Monson had met the couple and encouraged them to turn their story into a book.  I am not sure what he saw in the story, but my guess is that it was something similar to me — a story that makes the power of the atonement and the miracle of forgiveness that much more real.  For a different look at the war and bit of a human interest angle, the book is an interesting and quick read.

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1 comment:

Papa Tom said...

I liked the book as well, probably for the same reasons and also thought that the title was a little misleading.