Today my Dad would have been 82, so I got choked up thinking about him. It’s funny that since he passed last summer, my memories of him have shifted from thinking of him as he was at the end—shriveled, old, sick to when he was active, vibrant, and helpful. My dreams have also helped: A couple weeks ago I had a dream where my Dad was helping me fix something, and he was loving and healthy! In honor of my Dad, here are two book reviews of books set during World War II that I highly recommend reading. My Dad loved books about World War II, and he would have loved reading them.
This winter I read two books about World War II: One fiction and the other nonfiction. One focuses on England, one on Germany, but both about people grappling with war and all the transition and change that it brings.
I have been thinking about the transition of gaining the strength to stand up for what is right instead of letting things slide and enabling evil to grow…
Have you wondered how the people of Germany reached the point where their leaders were commanding them to kill thousands of Jewish people, people with disabilities, and many other people in concentration camps? I have, but I never read about how the German people let this happen until now when I read: Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy. This book is about Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a German theologian, pastor, author, and professor who stood up to the Nazi party and aided in an attempt to try and assassinate Hitler.
Eric Metaxas crafted this 500 plus page book in a way that never gets dry, is a page-turner, and shows the background of the country and people of Germany in a way I have never read before. Metaxas explains the factors that built up in Germany after the defeat of World War I so that the people wanted a strong leader, and eventually they were willing to have Hitler fill that role.
Metaxas shows how the deterioration of the conscience of the German people did not happen in one year or one decade…it started years before and the Nazi party manipulated the people’s desire for leadership and a strong Germany in order gain power. The steps to the Holocaust were slow, but many people didn’t want to see it or stand up to what they saw was wrong. When people saw how wrong the Nazi party was, it had gained so much power that people who stood up to it alone usually were killed.
Many of the people of Germany did not know of the evil that Hitler and the Nazi party were acting out in the early years (the 1930s), but Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s high class family did hear of what was happening. After a hard mental struggle, Dietrich chose to stay in Germany; he had a chance to work in the United States before the War broke out, but he felt his place was to serve in Germany, where he became a double-agent, working for the Nazi party in order to bring it down.
This books shows how troubled the leaders of Germany (who were not in the Nazi party) were about what Hitler was leading their country into; the German people have a great loyalty to their leaders and culture, so it took years for people to see the destruction going on and for them to try and stop it.
I had wondered how a whole country could let a deplorable thing like the Holocaust happen, and this book shows the desensitization of the German people. It’s like the evil grew too big before most people saw that it was evil, so they served in the army and did as they were told to keep their own lives. However, people like Dietrich Bonhoeffer stood up for the truth, for the Jewish people, and gave his life for what he believed in. This book is a gem!
Bonhoeffer wrote these gorgeous lines on the topic of death: “Why are we so afraid when we think about death? … Death is only dreadful for those who live in dread and fear of it. Death is not wild and terrible, if only we can be still and hold fast to God’s Word. Death is not bitter, if we have not become bitter ourselves. Death is grace, the greatest gift of grace that God gives to people who believe in him. Death is mild, death is sweet and gentle; it beckons to us with heavenly power, if only we realize that it is the gateway to our homeland, the tabernacle of joy, the everlasting kingdom of peace.” P. 531 of Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy. We tend to not to think of death this way, but when a person knows Jesus as her Savior, knows that what is on this earth isn’t it, and knows that heaven will be better than earth, we can look at death as just a passageway to a bright, new home.
The combination of history book with theological book mixed into an amazing story makes me want to read this book again.
“From the very moment one feels called to act is born the strength to bear whatever horror one will feel or see. In some inexplicable way, terror loses its overwhelming power when it becomes a task that must be faced.” –Emmi Bonhoeffer in Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy
Another book that I read recently, was a fiction book set across the channel in England, The Secret Keeper by Kate Morton. The time frame jumped from present day with many flashbacks to World War II. This is a fiction book that grapples with the life-altering transitions that people go through during war: many kinds of loss, even death.
The title, The Secret Keeper, gives you a big hint that there’s a mystery to unravel throughout this coming of age, love story (with a dark thread winding through it…) The book starts out with a teenage girl, hiding in the treehouse, who sees her mother murder a man with the Birthday knife… and then it takes the rest of the book to figure out the story of why this mother did this, and how that secret influenced her family.
The Secret Keeper pulled me in, so I read it in less than a week! If you like the kind of book that makes you obsessed with reading it, this is one of those amazing books.
War forces many transitions on people that they don’t want to have to take, but they have to: Growing up quicker than normal, saying good-bye to people before their time, even having homes and cities destroyed…both of these books clearly show this hard truth. It reminds me to have compassion on those going through war in their country. Pastor Bonhoeffer reminds me that sometimes we just have to act to stop evil from spreading. He received the strength to stand up to the Nazi party through his relationship with God. Here’s one more quote from Dietrich Bonhoeffer: “Silence in the face of evil is itself evil: God will not hold us guiltless. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.” God will give us strength to face and journey through agonizing transitions—we just need to ask Him for help.
P.S. The last two months have been full of moving to a new home, settling in, connecting to new neighbors, and more; I’m glad to be back to writing again!
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