Sunday, July 4, 2021

Review: The Nine: The True Story of a Band of Women Who Survived the Worst of Nazi Germany by Gwen Strauss

by Gwen Strauss
Release Date: May 4th 2021
2021 St. Martin's Press
Kindle & Audiobook Editions; 336 Pages
ISBN: 978-1250239297
Audiobook: B08KSJRXYR
Genre: Non-Fiction / WWII
Source: Review copy from publisher

The Nine follows the true story of the author’s great aunt Hélène Podliasky, who led a band of nine female resistance fighters as they escaped a German forced labor camp and made a ten-day journey across the front lines of WWII from Germany back to Paris.

The nine women were all under thirty when they joined the resistance. They smuggled arms through Europe, harbored parachuting agents, coordinated communications between regional sectors, trekked escape routes to Spain and hid Jewish children in scattered apartments. They were arrested by French police, interrogated and tortured by the Gestapo. They were subjected to a series of French prisons and deported to Germany. The group formed along the way, meeting at different points, in prison, in transit, and at Ravensbrück. By the time they were enslaved at the labor camp in Leipzig, they were a close-knit group of friends. During the final days of the war, forced onto a death march, the nine chose their moment and made a daring escape.

Drawing on incredible research, this powerful, heart-stopping narrative from Gwen Strauss is a moving tribute to the power of humanity and friendship in the darkest of times.
My Thoughts
The Nine: The True Story of a Band of Women Who Survived the Worst of Nazi Germany was an emotional and haunting book about the lives of a group of women during World War II and their fight to survive. Told through the women's individual stories, it captures the hardships and suffering as the women were captured, tortured, sent to Ravensbruck, sent to Leipziz, and finally, their harrowing tale of escape during the death march.  A lot of research went into the book, and the tales were interspersed with many facts about the camps and some of the terrible things that happened.
I have read many books about the Holocaust, and I teach about it as well,  and while some books are definitely better than others, what always captures my interest is the strength and courage of these men and women during a shocking time of history.  The inhumane way people were treated and the abuse they suffered shocks me every time.  And while the author was quite frank in her telling, there were a lot of things that were not explained simply because it was too difficult for the women to go back and remember.  This is not a criticism, but one of the things I found quite compelling was the insistence of people during this time period to want to hide their experiences during the war; it was not necessarily the men and women who suffered who wanted to hide them, but those who were left behind who seemed to not want to hear about it.  The criticisms and the rebukes if men and women wrote about their stories were quite strong in the aftermath, and makes me wonder if a lot of that was guilt: guilt because they didn't suffer the same way these men and women suffered, especially as more and more information, and horrors, became known to the world.  
The author, a great-niece of one of the women in the book, writes about these women with compassion, but also highlights their courage and their fighting spirit.  And while some of the descriptions don't go into great detail, you get enough to understand the suffering and the misery these women experienced and how terrible it must have been.  You also understand how important these friendships were to their survival.  The author also includes many facts about life in the camps and these facts truly show the horror of what the women would have suffered, explaining things about rape, birth, treatment of children and babies, and so on.  Even though I know a lot about the Holocaust and am widely read, reading about it again doesn't ever get easy or less shocking, nor should it.  
One of the things I liked about this book was the aftermath, although I don't like using the word 'liked' because how do you like something about women who suffered so terribly?  In some of the fiction stories I have read, the characters emerge from their experiences and have fulfilling lives afterwards; they rarely mention how the war has impacted them, and I have always thought something was wrong with these types of books.  This book does not fairy tale the aftermath: many of these women suffered from depression and other health issues for the rest of their lives.   Furthermore, their children suffered as well, and the author does a great job explaining the impact and why this happens.  I found this quite poignant, and it made me look at the aftermath of the Holocaust in a new light.  

The Nine: The True Story of a Band of Women who Survived the Worst of Nazi Germany was a well-written book about women who were courageous and who stuck together during a terrible time in their lives. The author writes about brutal subjects with great delicacy, but doesn't mince her words either, something I appreciated as I despise it when brutal and shocking things are sugar-coated and glossed over.  I highly recommend this book to anyone who is interested in reading more about the Holocaust and learning about the resistance in France.  Yes, there are some brutal sections, but the Holocaust was brutal and horrible things were done.  I, for one, am glad these stories continue to be written.