“The boy is my greatest joy. We strengthen each other. We are one, inseparable.”
This is probably one of the most incredible WWII stories I’ve ever read. I’ll admit, I was hesitant to pick this up – not because I didn’t want to read it, but because life is weird and difficult right now and I wasn’t sure I wanted to dive into something so heartbreaking. This book is nonfiction, but it reads like fiction most of the time – the writing flows easily and the people Dronfield writes about leap off of the page. I loved reading about each family member – while the story is primarily about Gustav and his son Fritz, we do get a glimpse into what life during the war was like for the rest of the family. They all end up on different paths, and some endings are horrific.
“It took strength and character to share and love in a world where selfishness and hate were common currency.”
I was right, this book is incredibly heartbreaking. But it’s also joyful. And hopeful. The love between Gustav and Fritz kept them going. Their resilience is inspiring and, at times, it’s almost unbelievable. Their bravery was just one small factor in their eventual survival – they also experienced incredible luck (which is so hard to say, given the circumstances) and they ended up building a small community of friends within the camps who lifted them up and pushed them through. This book examines the absolute worst of humanity but also highlights some of the best. The sacrifices people made (and were willing to make) for the good of the cause. The danger they put themselves in to save others.
“No matter what occurred in the world, no matter how near danger might be, life went on, and what could one do but live it?”
Something that I feel is glossed over sometimes when it comes to WWII books – nonfiction and fiction alike – is what the survivors experience once they are back home and safe. Even though Gustav and Fritz survived many years in unimaginable, cruel conditions, they still struggled when it came time to rejoin society and get “back to normal.” There truly was no normal after WWII for many survivors, and the trauma and pain of those years in the camps impacted the rest of their lives.
Thank you Harper Perennial/Harper Books for the ARC!