Those Who Save Us

Written by Jenna Blum
Review by Lorraine Gelly

Anna Brandt grew up an only child in a privileged household in Weimar, Germany. In 1939, at the age of 18, she falls in love with Max Stern, a Jewish doctor. Anna hides him in her home but her father denounces Max and he is taken to Buchenwald. Anna, pregnant and alone, seeks refuge in a bakery run by a member of the Resistance. Mathilde regularly supplies the laborers at the camp with bread and carries messages for them. Eventually she is discovered and executed. Anna and her daughter Trudie are alone as Anna tries to run the bakery. A German SS officer is attracted to her beauty and soon she becomes his mistress.

In 1993, Trudie attends the funeral of her step-father in Minnesota. Anna has spent most of her years in the US aloof and introspective. Trudie knows little about her mother’s past, and Anna refuses to answer questions about their lives prior to relocating in the US. When Trudie, a professor of German history, gets involved in an interview project with Germans who survived the war, she hopes in some way to connect with her own past and that of her mother.

The author, who worked for four years interviewing Holocaust survivors, has written an evocative story of the life of an ordinary woman in extraordinary circumstances. How do any of us know what we would do to save our lives and the lives of our children? The two women at the center of the novel are difficult to know and to understand, yet well worth the effort. This is a fascinating story from an unusual point of view.