Book Review: The Nazi Officer’s Wife

The Nazi Officer’s Wife by Edith Hahn Beer
Rating: 5 stars
Published: 9/22/1999
Genre: Non-fiction
Read: 11/8/17

Summary from Goodreads:

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 knew she would become a hunted woman and 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 even 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 of German officials who casually questioned the lineage of her parents; of how, when giving birth to her daughter, she refused all painkillers, afraid that in an altered state of mind she might reveal something of her past; and of how, after her husband was captured by the Soviet army, she was bombed out of her house and had to hide while drunken Russian soldiers raped women on the street.

Yet despite the risk it posed to her life, Edith created a remarkable record of survival. She saved every document and set of papers issued to her, as well as photographs she managed to take 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 volume, form the fabric of a gripping new chapter in the history of the Holocaust — complex, troubling, and ultimately triumphant.

This story is amazing. While reading, I kept forgetting I was reading a true story, not fiction. The story is just so fantastic, has such perfect circumstance, and is so horrifying it’s hard to believe it actually happened. Even with the obvious happy ending (I mean, she wrote the book), I was worried for Edith’s life multiple times.

I’ve read plenty of fictional accounts of this time period (I don’t know why, as horrific as I find the Holocaust, it is just so fascinating), so I’m pretty familiar with this sort of story where the hero/heroine just squeaks by, and this is that. But this is real. I can’t even imagine living through it.

I always forget just how early all the antisemitic stuff started happening and how wide spread it was, so it was a little surprising to me that it going on the the 1930’s in Austria. I was also never really aware of how the rounding up of the Jewish went down outside of Germany (or, again, how early it started), so it was really interesting to read about everything Edith and her family went through to try to avoid it and and their experience once they were caught.

I kind of had a mini freak out when Edith just came out and told Werner that she was Jewish. I know it’s right there in the summary, but this story does a fantastic job of pulling you in and getting across just how scary a situation she was in, and again, making me forget this is already past and she’s clearly came out just fine(ish). Werner actually really surprised me. I mean, he’s a Nazi. And a women just told him she’s Jewish and pretending to be someone else. You wouldn’t expect him to insist that she marry him. It was a bit of a shock, again, even though it’s in the summary. I was so happy that he and Edith seemed so happy together (other than Edith being so terrified all the time), I was wondering how it came about that she wasn’t still married to him. Then when Edith finally can be herself, he becomes the jerk I always expected him to be, so I get it.

Have you read the Nazi Officer’s Wife? What did you think? What are your favorite WWII books? Do you prefer fiction or non-fiction accounts?

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