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This story about the Holocaust is told from the perspective of a preteen!

The German Girl: A Novel - Armando Lucas Correa

The German Girl by Armando Lucas Correo, author, Joy Osmanski, narrator This novel is narrated by the character called Hannah. It travels through 75 years as it illustrates courage and endurance in the face of hopelessness, but, unfortunately, at some points in the narrative, it descended into the realm of a romance novel. Never-the-less, it told the story of German Jews who tried to escape from an untenable situation, even prior to the official outbreak of World War II. Many were unsuccessful, but millions died in the aftermath. The story the author related is about the Rosenthal family. They lived in Berlin, Germany. They were very wealthy and were part of the elite German society until Hitler rose to power. His election brought monumental changes to Germany and other European countries. If you were not pure-blooded and German, you were disposable. Physical characteristics defined those who were true Germans and those who were not. Adolf Hitler wanted to establish a perfectly pure Aryan race in Germany, and he set about removing all elements of society that did not fit in with his idealized version of the Fatherland. German Jews were, at first, unable to accept the fact that although they had been heroes in the first war and were upstanding professionals, although they were respected citizens, they would still be systematically removed from their homes, systematically removed from society, systematically be robbed of their possessions and treasures. Too late, many understood that they had to leave Germany. How, though, could anyone have imagined what fate awaited them? The Rosenthal’s fell into the category of those who waited in disbelief as events continued to evolve that dashed their hopes of a Germany that would soon come to its senses. Surely, they believed, Hitler would be recognized for the tyrant he was; surely their friends and colleagues would not support him and turn against them. Yet, that is what happened. The world of the Jew began to shrink. Public transportation was denied. Education was limited. Access to most public spaces was forbidden. People disappeared. They were beaten, shamed, tortured, robbed, and removed from the rolls of the living. Jews were not Aryans, and they were not welcome. Jews grew very afraid. When the Rosenthal family finally decided it was time to leave, exit documents were very hard to come by. Alma Rosenthal and her daughter Hannah had excellent documents but Mr. Rosenthal, Max, did not. Alma, who had been a shrinking violet for much of the time that Hitler rose to power, became strong when the need arose. She acquired new documents for all of them. They were not the same as the ones she had originally secured for herself and Hannah, though, but she was led to believe that they were good enough to get passage for all of them on the SS St. Louis which would take them out of Germany and into Cuba. From there, they hoped to go to New York where they had already purchased an apartment in the hope that they could build a new life. Finally, they set sail for Havana, Cuba, in first class accommodations on the ship. The atmosphere was far different from the horrific conditions already being witnessed on the streets of Germany where Jews were indiscriminately arrested for non-crimes, beaten, humiliated and even murdered without fear of recrimination by authorities; some were never heard from again. Their businesses, fortunes and homes were stolen from them, and those that moved into their homes to steal their lives, claimed, falsely, to be blind to what was occurring. While on the streets of Berlin, their dignity was being taken from them, it was restored on the ship! Their happiness was short-lived, however; when they arrived in Cuban waters, they were not allowed to dock. It was discovered that the rules had changed while they were in transit. The second set of documents that Alma had acquired for Max, herself and Hannah were no longer legal and would not be accepted. Hundreds of passengers were affected by this change in plan. They would not be allowed to disembark in Havana, Cuba, unless they had documents similar to the ones originally obtained for Alma and Hannah. So Hannah and her mother could get off and settle in Havana, but they would have to leave Max behind. They would wait for Max to return to Cuba before they went on to New York. Surely, they believed, this problem would be solved shortly. The St. Louis turned back to Europe, where many who had thought they were finally free, faced death again. Those sent to England survived. Those sent to other places like Paris and Holland, did not. The main thrust of the story is about two young girls who were born into two different centuries, but who were connected by a rather circuitous route which they did not discover until several years after the death of a man called Louis Rosen. When a mysterious package arrived at the apartment of Anna Rosen and her mother Ida, in New York, in 2014, it set a search in motion to find out the true heritage of Anna’s father who had disappeared on September 11, 2001. The story moves back and forth in time zones from 1939, in Berlin, Germany, with Hannah Rosenthal, 11 years old as a young, fair skinned, blond and blue-eyed, to Anna, another preteen, in New York City, in 2014. An unknown photographer had snapped a picture of Hannah. Her face, ironically, appeared on the cover of a German magazine as the face of The German Girl. In actuality, she was anything but the face of an Aryan. As a Jew, she was impure and unacceptable in Germany, even though she had the coloring and facial features of someone that was not considered Jewish. Of course, the error really exposed the flaws in Hitler’s theories and his racial policies, but this was not revealed. The book concerns itself with the coming of age of both girls as their connections to each other are revealed, a bit too slowly and deliberately, at times, but the girls do mature before our eyes. Each of them experienced fear, one of the Nazis and the other of terrorists. Each experienced some form of unrequited love. Each experienced deep disappointments beyond their control; each was fatherless. Each of the girls was strong-willed; each was hoping their father would suddenly return. Neither was aware of the actual fate of their fathers. Both of their mothers tended to be depressed and often took to their beds or shuttered their windows to keep the world out. Still, both Anna’s mom, Ida, and Hannah’s mom, Alma, rose to the occasion in emergencies. While 75 years earlier, Hannah and her mother were uprooted from their homeland and basically forced to go to Cuba for reasons they could not control, and which they hoped would only be for a short visit, when Anna, left New York to visit Cuba to discover her connections to her past and to discover unknown relatives, she loved it and thought she would not mind remaining there. As the story unfolded, it soon became apparent that dictators rose up out of the ashes of the citizens’ discontent everywhere. Often, those who sought power from those they believed were abusing it, began to abuse the same power when they attained it. Years passed and in Cuba, too, people became persona non grata as businesses were taken over by the state and other people were considered persona non grata and were abandoned by their world, lost all they had worked to accomplish and achieve their entire lives. Undesirables in Cuba were called “worms”. When Hannah had arrived in Cuba, years before, she was called a Polack. Even though she considered herself to be German, she was still a Jew. Now she was witnessing the arrest, beatings and murder of Cubans who did not or could not flee in time. The novel is sometimes slow, but it is always interesting. I was disappointed in the story line when it basically reduced itself to a romance between Hannah and her first love, Leo. As an eleven year old, Hannah called the Nazis ogres, and she feared them, but as she grew into an old woman, she was rarely afraid again. She accepted her losses and remained in place. At the age of 87, she had made her peace with the world and herself. Hannah’s feelings were described in detail, from moments of euphoria to times of deep despair, from a life of privilege to a life of study and work, from feeling free to feeling trapped more than once in her life, from a feeling of accomplishment to a feeling of terrible loss and failure, from disappointment to satisfaction, she made her way in life. The book explored the history that led to the departure from, and the return to, Europe, of the ship known as the St. Louis. Many Jews were tricked into buying passage on this ship which was later determined to be invalid. Many lost their lives when they were forced to return to Europe to countries that did not want them and to countries that were dedicated to their extermination. The novel explored an event in history that has been told many times, but telling it from the point of view of a child, a child who could not understand what made her “dirty” or “impure”, or suddenly hateful, was a different interpretation of the Holocaust and its awful effect on helpless families. Hannah and her parents fled a despotic regime only to find themselves in another, one day in the future. Ironically, Hannah’s brother Gustavo, conceived on the ship, became part of the new, brutal dictatorship to arise in Cuba. He married and had a child named Louis. It was through Louis that we learn of the connection Hannah had to Anna. A bright spot in this very sad story which was liberally peppered with many historic facts, was the symbol of the tulip. For Hannah’s father and then for Anna, tulips offered hope for a brighter future when they bloomed. Long live the tulip.