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Those Who Save Us [Paperback]

Jenna Blum
4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (51 customer reviews)
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Book Description

April 18 2005
For fifty years, Anna Schlemmer has refused to talk about her life in Germany during World War II. Her daughter, Trudy, was only three when she and her mother were liberated by an American soldier and went to live with him in Minnesota. Trudy's sole evidence of the past is an old photograph: a family portrait showing Anna, Trudy, and a Nazi officer, the Obersturmfuhrer of Buchenwald.

Driven by the guilt of her heritage, Trudy, now a professor of German history, begins investigating the past and finally unearths the dramatic and heartbreaking truth of her mother's life.

Combining a passionate, doomed love story, a vivid evocation of life during the war, and a poignant mother/daughter drama, Those Who Save Us is a profound exploration of what we endure to survive and the legacy of shame.

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Product Description

From Publishers Weekly

Blum, who worked for Steven Spielberg's Shoah Foundation, takes a direct, unsentimental look at the Holocaust in her first novel. The narrative alternates between the present-day story of Trudy, a history professor at a Minneapolis university collecting oral histories of WWII survivors (both German and Jewish), and that of her aged but once beautiful German mother, Anna, who left her country when she married an American soldier. Interspersed with Trudy's interviews with German immigrants, many of whom reveal unabashed anti-Semitism, Anna's story flashes back to her hometown of Weimar. As Nazi anti-Jewish edicts intensify in the 1930s, Anna hides her love affair with a Jewish doctor, Max Stern. When Max is interned at nearby Buchenwald and Anna's father dies, Anna, carrying Max's child, goes to live with a baker who smuggles bread to prisoners at the camp. Anna assists with the smuggling after Trudy's birth until the baker is caught and executed. Then Anna catches the eye of the Obersturmführer, a high-ranking Nazi officer at Buchenwald, who suspects her of also supplying the inmates with bread. He coerces her into a torrid, abusive affair, in which she remains complicit to ensure her survival and that of her baby daughter. Blum paints a subtle, nuanced portrait of the Obersturmführer, complicating his sordid cruelty with more delicate facets of his personality. Ultimately, present and past overlap with a shocking yet believable coincidence. Blum's spare imagery is nightmarish and intimate, imbuing familiar panoramas of Nazi atrocity with stark new power. This is a poised, hair-raising debut.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Booklist

Family secrets of Nazi Germany are at the core of this powerful first novel told in two narratives that alternate between New Heidelberg, Minnesota, in the present, and the small town of Weimar near Buchenwald during World War II. Trudy is a professor of German history in Minnesota, where she's teaching a seminar on women's roles in Nazi Germany and conducting interviews with Germans about how they're dealing with what they did during the war. But her mother, Anna, won't talk about it, not even to her own daughter. Trudy knows, she remembers, that Anna was mistress to a big Nazi camp officer. Why did she do it? Was he Trudy's father? The interviews are a plot contrivance to introduce a range of attitudes, from blatant racism to crippling survivor guilt. But the characters, then and now, are drawn with rare complexity, including a brave, gloomy, unlucky rescuer and a wheeler-dealer survivor. Anna's story is a gripping mystery in a page-turner that raises universal questions of shame, guilt, and personal responsibility. Hazel Rochman
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

Most helpful customer reviews
49 of 49 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fantastic read May 21 2004
By A Customer
Those Who Save Us was one of the most riveting books I've ever read. The characters are vividly drawn, believable, and most of all, compelling. For those who haven't read the novel yet, its cover illustration and blurb might lend one to suspect that it's a book about the holocaust. For me, the holocaust was incidental and a mere backdrop to what unfolded as a story about shame. As a physician, I understand how devastating the feeling of shame can be for a person, and through Ms. Jenna Blum's heart-wrenching and beautifully written prose, I have gained a deeper appreciation for its tragic consequences to the human soul. I couldn't put it down. In addition to friends and family, I am highly recommending Those Who Save Us for my colleagues in medicine, who will be reminded that humans are more than just two-dimensional beings, and until one's skin is peeled layer by layer, the guilt and shame that rest deep within the heart may remain forever hidden.
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71 of 72 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Literature That Saves Us April 28 2004
Review of THOSE WHO SAVE US, by Jenna Blum
It's been quite some time since I've read a novel that I had difficulty putting down, and I read a lot of contemporary fiction. Perhaps the toughest criticism Jenna Blum will face is that her readers will complain they couldn't get anything else done until the book was finished. Of course, the story is compelling all on its own--the German/German-American take on Nazi brutality and the whole experience of guilt and shame as survivors in their own right--BUT, there are many compelling stories and not all of them make a reader hunger for the next intelligent, unusual turn of phrase. The experience of reading such rich, vivid language--words that have the power to create a certain tangibility in place and character--is what distinguishes her novel from others I might also say are "page-turners." The prose is lush, here, palpable in a way that brought me inside each and every scene.
Given her topic, readers will do a significant amount of hand-wringing until the last page is turned (crying, gasping, cringing at the brutality). There's Horst's sexual shenanigans and then the violence aimed at children (Rainer's brother's murder and Trudy's German subject with the eye patch). Within my Jewish community I know many, many Holocaust survivors, their children and also their grandchildren; while all support the idea of keeping this kind of history alive through well-researched fiction and non-fiction, some shy away from actually reading about such things (too painful, especially for those who survived the conflagration themselves or who, like my husband, listened to parents crying out in their sleep with nightmares).
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28 of 28 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Those Who Save Us May 18 2004
This is a truly terrific novel, one that weaves new definitions of victim and guilt into the familiarly horrific landscape of Nazi Germany.
Alternating between Weimar, Germany in the early days of World War II and the present day mid-American panorama of Minnesota, Jenna Blum gives us a vivid, though tortuous picture of the conflicts presented to Anna as she struggles to make sense of Third Reich atrocities against the Jews, and their insensitivity to the everyday hardships of non-Jewish German civilians.
As difficult a time as this is for Anna, a young woman who finds dangerous love in the person of Max, a Jewish veternarian, whom she hides from the SS in the home that she shares with her father, her situation is complicated by the discovery and incarceration of Max in the Buchenwald concentration camp, and the subsequent birth of Trudie, her daughter with Max.
The devasting emotional consequences that arise from Anna's having to choose between the safety of herself and her daughter, and the acquiesance to the constant, and often brutal, advances of the Obersturmfuher of Buchenwald are detailed with frightening detail that ultimately leads Anna, many years later, to conclude that "we come to love those who save us". Equally striking is the eventual realization by Trudie, through a combination of years spent doggedly pursuing the truths of this era and plain luck, of the true nature of her monthers distant deportment over the years since their migration to America.
This is a novel that reads like reality, and a "must read".
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
By A Customer
I had promised myself that after completing a dissertation that required me to unearth awful narratives of torture and pain from the Holocaust and apartheid South Africa that I would not pick up another book about these subjects again. It was simply too painful. But Ms. Blum's novel broke the silence for me.
I could not stop turning the pages, wanting more and more of her painful, poignant insights into the complexities of human survival, guilt, and love. This story of two women who go to EXTREMES to survive SIMPLY is riveting. The way in which Ms. Blum delves into their psyches, their need for human contact in times of duress, the complicated decisions they have to make in order to survive, and their uncompromising wills is so compelling, so truly human, that I overcame my fears of engaging in another difficult story of WWII. I was, instead, transported by the universality of their stories in the specifics of their situation, the human within inhuman circumstances. Never once did Ms. Blum fall into sentimenalism or try to shock for shock's sake. Every scene, every moment, was carefully written, painted in its truth and density with masterful language and a keen eye and ear for her characters. This book was a profound, beautiful exploration of humanity. I reccommend it with passion. Kudos on a brilliant first novel, Ms. Blum!
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Most recent customer reviews
3.0 out of 5 stars Three Stars
no comment
Published 2 months ago by Suzie whent
5.0 out of 5 stars wonderful read
wonderful read - one of those books you start and can't put down.....
sad and real at the same time
Published 5 months ago by kime dutkiewicz collver
4.0 out of 5 stars Those Who Save us
This is a well written book dealing Germans now living in America and how they deal with the tremendous guilt they feel from being German during WW!!. Read more
Published 9 months ago by Janice Darlington
4.0 out of 5 stars A Great Story
Wow - a great story about human life! I will read this again soon. A reminder that we really need to love each other!
Published 10 months ago by Eleanor Snyders
5.0 out of 5 stars what a great book, couldn't put it down!
I enjoyed this book immensely. It was very well written, exciting and tragic at the same time. Made me also realise that many Germans were also victims and heros in WW2.
Published 10 months ago by Kiralee Pendlebury
5.0 out of 5 stars Awesome
This book really lets you feel the effects of the war on civilians. Not only does it let you know how it would feel to be a Jewish person during the time of Hitler; it also tells... Read more
Published 12 months ago by Jill
4.0 out of 5 stars .
It took be a while to warm up to the characters (not sure that I ever really did to the mother) but it was a pretty good novel in the end. Read more
Published 12 months ago by Molly Gladwell
5.0 out of 5 stars Wow... so insightful.
A difficult story to read but Jenna Blum is an amazing storyteller; I believe that this story needed to be told.
Published 13 months ago by Brenda
5.0 out of 5 stars Very touching
This novel, about life during the Holocaust, is extremely powerful. What people had to do to survive, and what they do to forget about those situations afterward, is incredible... Read more
Published 14 months ago by Dorothy Morgan Matula
4.0 out of 5 stars Enjoyable
I am just finishing the book now. I qite enjoyed it.Very interesting stories of two lives in 1997 and 1841-45.
Published 15 months ago by raebrister
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