Wednesday, May 23, 2007

The Nazi Officer's Wife by Edith Hahn Beer

The Nazi Officer’s Wife by Edith Hahn Beer with Susan Dworkin
Perennial, 1999
Nonfiction; 305 pgs

Started: 05/20/2007
Completed: 05/21/2007
Rating: * (Very Good)

First Sentence: After a while, there were no more onions.

Reason for Reading: This was my first selection for Joy's Nonfiction Five Challenge, and my sixth selection for the Spring Reading Thing.

Comments: It is impossible to put into words the emotions a person may feel when reading a book like this--that nightmares as terrible as those experienced by the Jewish people and other targeted groups in Europe during the Holocaust could be real. The most frightening part is that they are very real. What makes it even more sad is that the world’s people have not learned the lessons taught from that experience. Violence, persecution, oppression and genocide continue to this day. The only things that have changed are the faces and names of the victims.

The Nazi Officer’s Wife is a different kind of story from the usual Holocaust Survivor story. Edith never faced the horrors of the concentration camps perhaps, but she faced other hardships and horrors that cannot be discounted. Edith and her family led a good life in Vienna before the Jewish persecution began. She was one exam away from achieving her academic goal and she was in love. Up to that point, the political climate in Vienna had slowly begun to change. During those early years there was an undercurrent of fear of what was to come, but many people doubted it would last and never imagined the horrors that would await them. The war on the horizon would be quickly quashed, surely. But that was not to be.

Piece by piece the Jews were striped of their livelihoods, their property and possessions, and their identities. It was a process of dehumanization. The spreading of fear and hate through propaganda assured the process would succeed. Edith held on for as long as she could to her life in Vienna. She watched as family and friends fled the country. Her own fate would take her to the fields and a factory where she was forced to labor, in every sense a slave. Food was scarce and the conditions unfathomable. Only seeking to survive and in hopes of escape from the Nazi occupied countries, Edith took to hiding, assuming the identity of an Aryan Christian. She eventually married a member of the Nazi Party. She constantly lived in fear that she would be arrested and sent to a concentration camps. She feared that those who helped her escape and helped hide her, including her husband, would be persecuted as well. It wasn’t until later that Edith would learn the truth about what being sent to Poland meant for her friends and family. So many like Edith were cut off from any real and honest news reports. They had no idea of the horrors the Nazis’ chosen enemies faced nor the status of the war.

The author made sure to document the times she was helped along the way, whether it is something as simple as a shared food to those who risked their lives to save hers. She wanted to be sure to acknowledge their sacrifices. In many ways it was moments like these that offered a glimmer of hope, however tiny, during such a tragic time in the world’s history.

Edith Hahn Beer captures life before, during and after the war, documenting the difficulties she and others faced, the ignorance and fear that so many at that time lived in. The Nazi Officer’s Wife is a powerful account of one woman’s survival during a turbulent time in our history.

Miscellaneous: I was finishing up my lunch and packing away my book yesterday afternoon before returning to my desk at work, when a man I didn't recognize heading out at the same time asked, "How is that damsel in distress?" When I looked at him blankly, he quickly went on, "And how are the two men she's trying to decide between?" He said something about a husband and a handsome stranger. I gave a little burst of laughter and explained, "Well, I don't know. I'm reading about an ATF agent who is chasing down a gun runner." I wish I had a more witty comeback, but I'm not very quick on my feet in the spur of the moment and the better responses came to mind much later. (My sincere apologies to Jim for simplifying his book in such a way as that isn't a very accurate description. It was all I could think of to say in the moment.)


  1. You did such a good review - so thorough and thoughtful. I reviewed it a few months ago, and the best I could do was become incoherent - here -

    Tea Reads

  2. I read this some years ago and really enjoyed this book - thanks for your articulate review of it. So, is your coworker thinking women are only reading romance novels?? - that was my impression of his comment. Hmmmmm.

  3. What a wonderful review.

    I don't read enough non-fiction, and this one sounds great, so I want to give it a try.

  4. I'm looking forward to this one. Glad you gave it 4 stars! :)

  5. I haven't heard of this book--you give a very good review. Thanks.

  6. Well, I'm curious! Another to go on my TBR list. It sounds challenging and informative. I look forward to it.

  7. Melanie - Thank you. Your review is very powerful, not incoherent at all. I wish I had been able to get across such feeling as you were able to in your review.

    Tara - Thanks. That was my impression of my coworker's comments too. There's nothing wrong with reading a romance novel, but I found his assumption that I must be reading one quite amusing.

    Nymeth - Thanks! I do not read enough nonfiction either and can be really picky about the nonfiction I do decide to read. I'm glad for Joy's Nonfiction challenge because it's finally getting me to pick up some of those NF books I've been putting off reading.

    Joy - I do hope you find it as good as I did. I'm grateful to you for hosting the Nonfiction Five Challenge. :-)

    Sage - Thank you. And thank you for stopping by.

    Carrie - It was quite informative and well worth reading. I hope you will find it so if you read it. Thank you for visiting!

  8. I have this on my list as a historical fiction. Better fix that. It's so nice to read a review from a real person and yours helped move the book up the list.

  9. Wow, this sounds like an amazing book - thanks for the great review!

    And I think your comeback was pretty good! What a jackass that man was.

  10. Framed - I actually had trouble remembering if it was nonfiction or historical fiction when I first stumbled across it to consider for the challenge. I do hope you will like it when you get to it.

    Lesley - Thanks, Lesley. It was an amazing story.

    I haven't run into that man again. Maybe he's feeling embarrassed, but more than likely he's forgotten all about it.

  11. Wonderful review. I already have this on my TBR list, but I'm going to add your name as someone who recommends it.

  12. Thanks, Booklogged! I do hope you will like it when you get to it.

  13. I read this one a few years back and thought it was well done, too!

  14. i read your great review a little while back and i immediately put it on my tbr list. and now i am taking the opportunity to read it for the saturday book review challenge. thanks!

  15. Danielle - I let it linger on my shelf for awhile there, but am so glad I decided to read it. It was such a good book.

    Soleil - I hope you find it as worthwhile as I did. :-)

  16. I read your review on Semicolon's blog and added it to my Saturday Review of Books challenge list. Thanks so much--this was an excellent book. Smallworld


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