Title: The Nazi Officer’s Wife
Author: Edith Hahn Beer with Susan Dworkin
Publisher: William Morrow Paperbacks – HarperCollins Perennial
Release Date: October 24, 2000
Edith Hahn was an outspoken young woman in Vienna when the Gestapo forced her into a ghetto and then into a labor camp. When she returned home months later, she went underground. With the help of a Christian friend, she emerged in Munich as Grete Denner. There she met Werner Vetter, a Nazi Party member who fell in love with her. Despite Edith’s protests and her eventual confession that she was Jewish, he married her and kept her identity a secret.
In wrenching detail, Edith recalls a life of constant, almost paralyzing fear. She tells how German officials causally questioned the lineage of her parents; how during childbirth she refused all painkillers, afraid that in an altered state of mind she might reveal something of her past; and how, after her husband was captured by the Soviets, she was bombed out of her house and had to hide while drunken Russian soldiers raped women on the street.
Despite the risk it posed to her life, Edith created a remarkable record of survival. She saved every document, as well as photographs she took inside labor camps. Now part of the permanent collection at the Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C., these hundreds of documents, several of which are included in this voulme, form the fabric of a gripping new chapter in the history of the Holocaust – complex, troubling, and ultimately triumphant.
This is an amazing story. I personally love biographies and autobiographies, but the best are the ones that are told with the help of a researcher, like this one. With the facts, memories, and details all pieced together, it creates the most powerful impact on the audience of readers. World War II and Holocaust memories are some of the most insightful stories that you can possibly hear, because it brought out the best and the worst in people, as my dad likes to say. Watching movies like Schindler’s List and reading about memoirs like this one just enlightens you to the miracles that happen even in the darkest of times. It is not only inspirational, but gives hope and faith to readers. I, for one, am grateful to Ms. Hahn for sharing her story. I have learned so much, both about life and history, from this book.
My favorite part of the book is the style in which it is written. It is in the first person, from Ms. Hahn’s point of view. It is read as though listening to the story. I could imagine that I was hearing this while sitting at her feet, and even though it is by no means a fairy tale, it is almost magical how lifelike the story of her past became. Because of this, I laughed, I cried, and I wanted to speak to her, so badly. I wanted to ask her questions, and even though she anticipated some and answered them, there are so many more. I wanted to wonder aloud how some things could have possibly happened, and why she did some of the things that she did. I wanted to tell her that she is a miracle, and an inspiration, and a symbol of hope. But most of all I wanted to thank her for sharing her life not only with me, but with the world.
I also loved how books like this one include photos and pictures of documents from real life. It is interesting to see some of the things that you wouldn’t think of, like passports or visas or ID cards, and that she could save some of these documents is yet another miracle. So many people lost everything they had, and came out of the Holocaust with their lives and the clothes on their back and were grateful for that much. It’s truly humbling to recognize the risk that they took, and how much it actually paid off in the future, after the war. I think my favorite picture is the one of her and Christl in Israel, because it shows that they lived, that they survived.
I would definitely recommend this book to any adult or older teen interested in the Holocaust or WWII. It is insightful, and a truly touching retelling. There is also a movie (documentary) based on her life that I am very interested in watching, so I will probably review that after I watch it. Anyway, though, Ms. Hahn has been very successful in sharing her life with us, and I hope that she felt that she acheived something worthwhile through the book, not just through her life, because as many lives as she touched while she lived, her words now live on to touch other people who look back on a time of desolation and can see hope and light burning through it.
**Note: Due to violence, graphic detail, and the content of this book, (think Schindler’s List events but less graphic), I would not recommend this book to anyone under the age of 14.