Thursday, July 10, 2014

Blog Tour/Review: Surviving Hitler by O. Hakan Palm

Surviving Hitler: The Unlikely True Story of An SS Soldier and a Jewish Woman, by O. Hakan Palm
2014, 240p, LDS Non-Fiction
My Rating=5 Stars
Source: Received copy from publisher for an honest review

Gustav Palm kept his secret for more than forty years. He’d been a young man when Hitler invaded his native Norway. After being forced to guard a Nazi prison camp, however, Gustav took his only option for escape: he volunteered for the Waffen-SS to fight at the front.

Agnes Erdös grew up in privilege and prosperity as a child in Hungary. She and her parents were practicing Roman Catholics, but they were ethnic Jews, and after the Nazis invaded her country, Agnes and her parents were sent to the death camp of Auschwitz-Birkenau. Miraculously, both Agnes and Gustav survived. And after the war, they found each other.

Told in their own words, Surviving Hitler is the story of two indomitable spirits who built on their life-altering experiences to overcome the past, help each other heal, and embrace a common faith in God that led them to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

I like to read books about the Holocaust and World War II, since there's so much we can learn from that period of time. I especially like the ones that are inspirational, and found the summary of this one to be intriguing. An SS soldier and a Jewish woman. This is the story of Gustav and Agnes from 1919 through the 1960's, with an epilogue by the author (their son) which tells us where they are now and some of the things he learned from them over the years. 

Agnes was an only child whose father was the director of a big luxury hotel in Hungary, so she grew up in luxury. They were Jewish but joined the Catholic church and, as Hitler's influence increased, the anti-Jew laws forced her parents to lose their jobs. In March 1944, the Germans invaded and they were sent to Auschwitz, Poland. Her parents were marched off to the gas chambers. Agnes was in the same line as her mother, but was able to switch to a different line with young and healthy girls. One girl was surprised since others who had tried to do that had been shot immediately. This was the first miracle of many she experienced over the next several years. 

Gustav was born in Norway. His mother had seven children with her first husband and three, including Gustav, with her second. Money was more of a struggle for him but his mother worked hard to make sure they had what they needed. He lived on a farm and was quite content when the war broke out and he didn't think war between England and Germany would affect his life. When Germany invaded Norway, there was lots of propaganda and, with none of his neighbors or family offering him advice, he joined the National Socialist Party. He was a passive member at first, who was misled but by the time he understood what was going on, he was in too far and laws were passed making it nearly impossible to back out. 

It seems so easy to hate anyone that fought alongside the Germans during this time so it was a different experience to hope for the best for Gustav individually while feeling glad when things weren't working out well for his side. I felt bad for him as he was in a fight he didn't believe in and just trying to survive. He wasn't treated very well, either. My heart really broke for him when the war was over and he was treated with hostility for a while. 

One of my favorite parts was when Agnes told the story of a female camp guard who looked depressed so she asked her what was wrong. The guard started crying and told Agnes her terrible story and said she had been contemplating suicide when Agnes came over to talk to her. I liked the words of Agnes who expressed what I was feeling: "I learned that there are good people everywhere and that you can talk to most. Our female guards were not fanatics or cruel people either. They were just people who had found themselves in unfortunate circumstances caused by this evil war. I wondered who exactly was responsible for all of this misery. Was it the selfish, the ambitious, and the sinful souls on each side, who usually get away?" (pp. 115-116)

What I particularly loved about this story is that it's told with faith and hope for a better life. Each of them almost lost their lives several times and both of them witnessed many miracles. I also liked that neither of them were bitter about their experiences afterward. After the war, they each focused on beginning a new life and that's when they found each other. There are photos throughout the book as well which helped me picture what was happening and I especially liked having a picture of each of them in my mind while I was reading. My only complaint about this book is that I wish the parts after the war were a little bit longer. 

This is also an emotional read and I had tears in my eyes and cried several times. It's a good reminder that there were human beings on both sides and the men fighting for Hitler didn't necessarily agree with him, and actually were horrified after the war when they learned what had really been happening. They were, indeed, just people who found themselves in unfortunate circumstances. This book is inspirational and I highly recommend it to everyone!

About the Author:
O. Hakan Palm, eldest son of Gustav and Agnes Erdos Palm, has been shaped by his parent’s wartime experiences. A successful management consultant in Stockholm, Sweden, Hakan has served faithfully in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints as a bishop, as a member of two stake presidencies, and seven times as a counselor in the Sweden Stockholm Mission. He and his wife, Barbro, are the parents of seven children.


Unknown said...

I am so glad you liked this book as well. I love love loved this book. I on the other hand do not like to read about the holocaust. It makes me so very sad. I cannot even fathom the hate that people have. I do like to read this kind of story though, because through all of this horrible stuff they went through they both end up happy and are such great people. Such a great example of faith and love!

Tressa @ Wishful Endings said...

I love these types of books too, but I do have to be in the right state of mind to read them otherwise they can make me feel rather emotional and depressed. That time does just make me sad even though there are fabulous and hopeful stories that came out of it.

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