In Our Midst
The internment of German immigrants in America during WWII is not a story often told. In 1941 we meet Otto, Nina, and their two sons Kurt and Gerhard preparing to celebrate St. Nikolas Day at their successful Aust Family Restaurant in Newman, Indiana. The celebration is interrupted by the announcement of the bombing of Pearl Harbor. This sets into play events that devastate and tear apart the Aust family. Even though the Austs were respected in their community, attitudes shift toward them as America enters WWII. The FBI arrests and interrogates Nina. When she is released, she comes home to find the restaurant destroyed and her husband and her sons now arrested and interned as prisoners of war. Jensen tells the story from two perspectives—the Aust men living in harsh conditions in different camps, and Nina left to face the hatred and prejudice of her community while she struggles to locate them and secure their release.
This is a close look at America’s German internment camps, including how the government justified them and the lengths gone to in keeping them secret. In many ways, the conditions in the camps and the treatment of the prisoners can be compared to a Nazi prison camp or a Stalin Gulag. This cruel treatment often tested the American loyalty of prisoners, causing many to join the militant Nazi factions developing within the camps. The Aust men tread a line between compliance with the camp rules and avoiding the bullying Nazi followers in order to survive. Eventually, a policy of uniting families allows Nina to voluntarily enter the camp to join her family. This is a well-written book with important historical details which give readers a lot to think about. Well-developed characters to care and empathize with round out this wonderful novel.