Threaten to Undo Us (review)

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Threaten to Undo UsThreaten to Undo Us by Rose Seiler Scott

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

When Churchill, Roosevelt, and Stalin meet in Yalta in 1945 to carve up the WWII German-conquered lands, someone suggests that German-occupied Prussia and Pomerania should be part of the new Poland. While Churchill demurs, fearing that this will lead to more bloodshed, Stalin’s cavalier “Most have fled the region” wins the day. This scene in the Introduction sets the stage for what happens to the main character Liesel Hoffman and her five children in Rose Seilor Scott’s WW II historical, Threaten to Undo Us.

In the book, Scott tells the story of WWII through a German point of view. Liesel and her husband Ernst live peacefully alongside their Polish-speaking neighbors in a village near Lodz, Poland until Hitler begins flexing his muscles. Ernst’s brother Gunter is the first family member to be lured by the spell of Third Reich. He pressures Ernst to join the army, even though Ernst and Liesel are uncomfortable with the expulsion of their Jewish neighbors and the expropriation of Polish properties for the resettlement of German people.

As Scott takes us through the war, we experience the long separations of the family as Ernst goes to the front while Liesel is left to care for their young family of five and her aging parents. After the brutal Russian winter of the German siege when the German army is defeated and forced to retreat, the tide also turns in the village. Poles seeking revenge and retribution for what the Germans have done to them force Liesel and her little ones to flee the family farm. Brutalized by drunken Russian soldiers, Liesel is eventually separated from her children and forced into hard labor in a prison camp. After five years of not hearing from Ernst she fears he too has perished. Is her life even worth living any more?

The telling is not strictly chronological but jumps around in time. However the time shifts are mentioned in the chapter titles so one is never lost. I enjoyed the factual historical touches that head some chapters, like quoted excerpts from treaties, giving a sense of what is happening on the world scene that relates to this area of Europe.

This is a grueling story, realistically yet tastefully told. Though often dark and difficult, it illustrates the strength of the human spirit, the tenacity of a mother’s love, and how faith in God can be an anchor even in the worst situations.

I think this is the first WWII story told from a German point-of-view that I’ve read. Though after the war ended the world vilified Germany and the German people en masse, this tale points to a subtler reality. Thousands, perhaps millions of Germans were victims of Hitler too, conscripted into his army, brainwashed with lies about racial superiority, forced to go along with his treatment of the Jews, and pressured to enroll their children into his youth movement. When the war ended, the tables were turned when Germans outside of Germany were arrested, accused of being war criminals, spies etc., and tortured in the same way the Nazis had tortured them.

I found this a thoroughly engrossing and well-plotted read with my interest high until the last page. I’d recommend it to all lovers of historical fiction and especially those interested in the story of World War II.

I received Threaten to Undo Us as a gift from the author for the purpose of writing a review.

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My Battle Against Hitler (review)

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My Battle Against Hitler: Faith, Truth, and Defiance in the Shadow of the Third ReichMy Battle Against Hitler: Faith, Truth, and Defiance in the Shadow of the Third Reich by Dietrich von Hildebrand

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Dietrich von Hildebrand, a German professor of philosophy in Munich, watched with dismay as Germany fell under the spell of Hitler and the Third Reich. In 1933, at age 43, he and his wife Gretchen left Germany to live in Vienna.

In exile he founded a weekly magazine (Der Christliche Standestaat—The Christian Corporative State) that, for five years (until the spring of 1938 when Hitler took over Austria and the von Hildebrands had to flee), was dedicated to unmasking the nationalism, militarism, collectivism, and anti-Semitism that combined to make up the ideology of National Socialism espoused and enforced by the Nazi party.

My Battle Against Hitler is Dietrich von Hildebrand’s story. The book is made up of two sections. The first part—von Hildebrand’s memoirs—contains selections from the 5000-page memoir he wrote in 1958 for the benefit of his second wife to help this much younger woman understand his life. This section is organized by year.

The second part is fragments of the essays he published in the Vienna magazine from 1933 to 1938.

The whole thing is stitched together by pieces written by John Henry Crosby and John F. Crosby, translators of the memoirs and essays. The book begins with John Henry Crosby’s chapter “The Life of Dietrich von Hildebrand.” Throughout the book pieces written by the Crosby’s connect the dots between journal entries and put the essay fragments into context.

Von Hildebrand’s journals are interesting and colorful. They depict him as an inveterate people-watcher who tended to categorize those he met as black or white depending on how they viewed Bolshevism and National Socialism. Any whiff of sympathy to those movements colored his entire opinion of a person.

He was someone who also seemed readily star-struck with those in power that he admired. His account of meeting the Empress and Emperor Otto of Belgium in 1933 is typical of his reaction:

“The Empress made a very strong impression on me. There was something unbelievably elegant and aristocratic about her face, while her presence as a whole seemed to combine both strength and tenderness. She was immensely attractive. … Afterward I was able to meet Emperor Otto, who also made a very great impression on me. He was then still very young, about nineteen or twenty. …I was amazed how well informed he was about all the problems in Austria and how intelligently he spoke about them” – Kindle Location 1927 & 1934.

As a whole, his memoirs introduce us to the philosophers, thinkers, and politicians of the day with whom he rubbed shoulders in Vienna and other parts of Europe. They are infused with his philosophical idealism which is rooted in his Catholic / Christian worldview. And so he saw Bolshevism and National Socialism as players in the age-old drama that was far bigger than what was being enacted on the stage of Europe at that time:

“In reality, there have been only two fronts in the world for the past two thousand years; the front for Christ and the front against Christ. He is the cornerstone which separates all spirits” – Kindle Location 5012.

Though I found many of his essays hard to follow (he was a deep, philosophical thinker, quoting names of contemporaries as handles of philosophical movements with which I’m unfamiliar), his strong convictions and clear thinking is, as a whole, hard to resist. I couldn’t help but contrast his well-thought-out opposition to Nazism to our popular movements which, herd-like, seem to be fueled by little more than trending tweets and social medial ‘LIKE’s. Von Hildebrand would have been aghast.

In our time when dueling worldviews continue, von Hildbrand stands as a shining example of someone who knew his convictions, was a master at communicating them, and stuck by them no matter how popular opinion shifted. This book is a worthwhile read for his defense of the Jews alone. The journal entries and essays where he decries anti-Semitism could help bolster our own resistance to this movement that is again finding a voice on the streets and university campuses around us.

This book is a treasure for those interested in a close view of pre-World War II Vienna, the political atmosphere and movements of the time, and how one Christian thinker analyzed and evaluated the philosophies that underpinned those movements.

I received My Battle Against Hitler as an e-book download from the publisher for the purpose of writing a review.

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