The Nazi Officer’s Wife by Edith Hahn Beer

I have been looking for a read alike to Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand for a while, and I finally found it in the compelling memoir, The Nazi Officer’s Wife by Edith H. Beer.

Edith was a young woman, Jewish by birth but without any real knowledge of the religion. She was a bright, studious, feisty, and on the verge of finishing her training to be a judge in 1940’s Vienna. Flush in her first romance, she decides to not flee Vienna when the Nazis take over Austria so she can stay near her boyfriend. Her sisters fled (to London, and Palestine), and Edith’s decision to stay put in Vienna lands her in a forced labor camp, picking asparagus in back-breaking conditions. In a poignant passage, despite being forced into farm work because she is a Jew, when Edith and her fellow laborers decide to celebrate Yom Kipper, they realize not one of them knew the Kol Nidrei, the prayer which ushers in the holy day. She is released from the camp months later, but her mother had already been shipped to Poland for “re-education.”

Edith ends up becoming a “U Boat,” a Jew who goes underground to live as a non-Jew, with forged paperwork. She became Grete Denner, a German friend who lent her papers. Edith/Grete ditches her mama’s-boy boyfriend (who is half Christian and a spineless character) and falls in love with a German, Werner Vetter.

She confided in Werner that she is indeed a Jew, in a terrifying passage in the memoir. Werner kept her secret, and they married and had a daughter in the midst of the war. Edith/Grete hides in plain sight, working for the Red Cross, all the while living as a Christian woman (a religion about which she knows nothing), and as the wife of a Nazi.

While Unbroken is a testament to physical strength in the face of incredible conditions, The Nazi Officer’s Wife is the story of a strong woman’s mental and physical fortitude while having to hide her very identity, her history, her language/accent, her education, her name, and her ancestral background from the Gestapo.

This is a survival story, beautifully told. The author’s papers are now part of the collection at the Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C.

Find and reserve this book in our catalog.

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