It’s World War II and Ludwika Gierz, a young Polish woman, is forced to leave her family and go to Nazi Germany to work for an SS officer. There, she must walk a tightrope, learning to live as a second-class citizen in a world where one wrong word could spell disaster and every day could be her last. Based on real events, this is a story of hope amid despair, of love amid loss . . . ultimately, it’s one woman’s story of survival.
Editorial Review: “This is the best kind of fiction—it’s based on the real life. Ludwika’s story highlights the magnitude of human suffering caused by WWII, transcending multiple generations and many nations. WWII left no one unscarred, and Ludwika’s life illustrates this tragic fact. But she also reminds us how bright the human spirit can shine when darkness falls in that unrelenting way it does during wartime. This book was a rollercoaster ride of action and emotion, skilfully told by Mr. Fischer, who brought something fresh and new to a topic about which thousands of stories have already been told.” ****************************************************************
Reviewed by Thomas Jerome Baker
I was fortunate to obtain a free copy of Ludwika: A Polish Woman’s Struggle to Survive in Nazi Germany, by Mr. Christoph Fischer. It was on promotion at Amazon recently until January 22nd, when the promotion ended. Fischer’s book was very interesting to me because my book also deals with the Holocaust. Incidentally, January 27th is the International Day of Commemoration in Memory of the Victims of the Holocaust.
My book deals with an area of the Holocaust that has received little attention from historians, namely, collaboration with the Nazis. In the opening three chapters, Fischer touches on this same theme explicitly and implicitly. Several characters think and speak and act in a manner that makes it clear they are aware of the consequences of collaborating with the Nazis. We see the mechanism responsible for creating a collaborator, namely self-interest.
It is a common mistake, made by Jew and Gentile during World War II, to assume that survival, to save one’s life, or the lives of family members, was a legally sanctioned, justifiable ground to become a Nazi collaborator. I can anticipate the question in your mind. You might say, “But what if there is coercion, obligation, force? If you don’t cooperate, you and your family will be killed. There is no choice. It is a question of life or death.”
It is a dilemma, yes, but there is a correct answer: non-cooperation. Again and again, the wrong choice was made. The Nazis perfected mass punishment, overwhelming use of force, mayhem, murder, massacre, and even complete and total annihilation. FEAR, paralyzing fear, made people collaborate even in their own death. Kristallnacht, the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, and Lidice (Operation Reinhard) are three examples of massive and murderous reprisals for those who would not cooperate or dared raise their hand against the Nazis.
Death and destruction, fear, self-interest, and coercion are powerful tools. However, I must repeat, the correct answer to the dilemma, collaborate or non-collaboration, the correct answer is always ==> non-cooperation. Don’t become a collaborator with your enemy. Yes, even if it costs you, and your family, your lives. Post World War II, in trial after trial, at Nuremberg, at Hamburg, at Frankfurt, in Warsaw, in Moscow, in Tel Aviv, punishment ranging from the death penalty to significant prison sentences were handed down by the judges to Nazi collaborators.
What I liked most about Ludwika is the way the author almost criminally goes about using narrative structure, language, and logic. He abuses the principle of suspension of disbelief, that tacit agreement between reader and author that you will go along with the story, accept it as it is told, regardless of its credibility, regardless of whether or not the story is plausible.
For example, you must accept that the protagonist is 22 and her baby is 5 years old as the story begins. That means she was 16 years and 3 months old when she got pregnant. 9 months later, at age 17, she had her baby. 5 years later, she is 22. It seems Ludwika was at a fun fare (?) or a fun fair (?) when she got pregnant by a fair worker who she never saw again.
No effort is made to give this incident more credibility by explaining how a 16 year old farm girl was able to extract herself from her family (surely she was not alone at the fair) long enough to have sexual intercourse with a man who worked at the fair. I honestly would have appreciated something more plausible here. As a good reader, however, I suspended disbelief and accepted the story as it was being narrated.
The protagonist is a clever girl. Although Nazi soldiers are swarming all over the countryside, she and her sister are working in the field. These are men who have not seen a woman since who knows when, and yet two girls are working in a field, not hiding.
The clever protagonist decides she and her sister can work more efficiently if she goes and gets a tractor. The Nazi soldiers surely won’t be alerted by the noise of the tractor.
And finally, the clever protagonist is able to start, and operate the tractor because she has observed her brother operate the tractor in the past. Yes, this is her first time operating the tractor.
I honestly would have appreciated something more plausible here. As a good reader, however, I suspended disbelief and accepted the story as it was being narrated.
Narration? We have an omniscient narrator who can let the reader know what people are thinking. That usually lets you get closer to characters, reduces the emotional distance between reader and character, and allows you to become intimately bonded, to even personally identify with the people and events going on in the story. However, the author’s choice of words to express the thoughts and actions of the protagonist are those of a university graduate, not a farm girl.
Let me give two vocabulary examples: 1. “commodity that could be traded“, 2. “deliberate error of translation“. These phrases express the thoughts of the farm girl. I honestly would have appreciated something more plausible here.
As a good reader, however, I suspended disbelief and accepted the story as it was being narrated.
Suspension of disbelief finds its maximum expression when the protagonist must decide to leave her 5 year old baby. The decision is rational. It is made by examining the facts. In Germany, she won’t have much time to see her baby. In Germany, she won’t be able to care for her baby properly. The racial heritage of the baby’s father is unknown. The baby will be better off at home with her aunt and grandmother. If the protagonist is working for the German Army, the family will be safe and secure.
I honestly would have appreciated something more plausible here. More emotional. More soul searching. Unwillingness to separate from your child. Something like this:
“We are a package deal. Take us both. We both go to Germany or nobody goes to Germany! You can not love me if you do not love my child too!”
Something totally irrational, completely illogical, stubborn, an uncompromising togetherness, infinite mother-daughter love and affection. Something more credible. Something more human…
Something more than what was written on the pages of the first three chapters. It was too neat, too orderly, too efficient. However, as a good reader, I suspended disbelief and accepted the story as it was being narrated.
Let me stop here. If it sounds like I hated this book, you are mistaken. On the contrary, I loved this book, and recommend it highly.
Let me repeat what I just said: This is an extraordinary book. I honestly loved it.
Everything about the Nazis and the Holocaust defies logic. They called it the “crime without a name.” Crimes against humanity, genocide, state sanctioned and state administration of the extermination of human beings, defies logic.
Yes, there were Germans who opposed Hitler, yes, even would not salute him! German opposition and resistance to Hitler, individual or collective, defies logic. It would mean choosing death over life, to die, to sacrifice one’s life in favor of a higher principle of morality and ethical behaviour.
Some Germans tried to assassinate Hitler on more than one occasion.
Yes, I insist, sometimes a German would stand in the middle of a multitude of Germans who were saluting Hitler: “Heil Hitler!” and refuse to salute Hitler. You will agree with me that August Friedrich Landmesser, the man in the circle above, is choosing not to collaborate with Adolf Hitler. (The picture is in the public domain)
Yes, there were people who opted to go along with Hitler in their own self-interest. You can see them saluting Hitler in the picture above: “Heil Hitler!”
Yes, there were people who refused to live while others died.
In sum, Mr. Christoph Fischer, himself the son of a Sudeten-German father and a Bavarian mother, is to be commended for this book. It shows us the complexity and multiplicity of options that humans are faced with in extreme conditions. The dilemma of choosing between life or death is a moral, ethical, and legal one that has no easy answers, and, sooner or later, judges our actions harshly. This book, most importantly, makes a positive contribution to our collective remembrance of the victims of the Holocaust. If we are to honor them, we must never forget.