My Enemy’s Cradle
Cyrla, child of a Polish Jewish father and a Dutch mother, is sent to live with her late mother’s family in Holland on the eve of World War II. It is hoped her Germanic blondness will be enough to keep her safe. She forms a close bond with her cousin, Anneke, who is in love with Karl, a German soldier. Cyrla has the opportunity to assume Anneke’s identity and escape immediate danger by entering a Lebensborn home for unwed mothers in Germany. In these homes, racially “pure” young women receive shelter and fulfill the exalted role of breeders for the master race. Of course Cyrla is not pregnant, but she remedies that with lightning speed, though it is left unclear whether the child’s father is Isaak, her Jewish lover, or a German soldier who rapes her.
At times, the plot relies too much on fortuitous twists. Anneke’s Karl appears at the home, expecting to find her there and instead finding Cyrla. Karl and Cyrla swiftly discover that they love, not, respectively, Anneke and Isaac, but each other. It was easier to believe that Karl was deeply attracted to Cyrla even while he was involved with Anneke than that Cyrla’s feelings would change so quickly. Cyrla’s first-person voice, that of a survivor recounting her tale, often seems absolutely authentic, but she never confronts her feelings about her child’s doubtful paternity in a way that rings emotionally true. However, the chilling depiction of Hitler’s attempt to recreate the world in his own demonic image through selective breeding, and the constant sense of Cyrla’s peril, make this a gripping novel.