The Girls in the Attic

Written by Marius Gabriel
Review by Janice Ottersberg

Max Wolff, a staunch Nazi officer, has arrived home on medical leave from the Russian front to discover that his mother, Magda, is hiding two young Jewish women in the attic. Lola and Heidi fled Berlin after losing their parents and home and, with help from strangers, made their way to Kallenheim, where Magda took them in. It is 1944, and over the past four years, Max has proven his loyalty to Hitler and the Third Reich by displaying heroism in battle and earning two Iron Crosses. He is driven to prove himself the opposite of his father, who was hanged for speaking out against Hitler. His arrival creates a lot of conflict in the house. The girls are fearful of him, yet antagonistic when challenging him on his anti-Semitic views. While his mother begs him not to turn them in, he has every intention of doing so to save his reputation, going to the police station then having second thoughts. Gradually, he comes to know Lola and Heidi, and his viewpoint and sympathies change as he recognizes the evil that he has devoted himself to.

Author Gabriel maintains pace and tension throughout the book with the risk of discovery and the brutal events taking place around them. Tension builds when they do what they must to survive with the incessant Allied bombing, then the advancing Russian army. The reader sees what the characters see of an empty, destroyed Cologne during a snowstorm. “The streets of bombed-out buildings had a special silence: they absorbed every sound without an echo. The empty windows did not reflect, the doorways were empty. The only sound was the wind that moaned through the ruins.” This is one of Marius Gabriel’s best, and a stand-out WWII novel.