When The Soldiers Were Gone – by Vera W. Propp (1999)

When The Soldiers Were Gone

For most people, the end of World War II in 1945 was a tremendous relief. They no longer needed to fear arrest, abide by curfews, put black shades over their windows at night, or worry about their town being bombed. They could return to a normal life, or at least something closer to normal.

But in many ways, the war continued on. Relatives, friends, and neighbors were missing. There was a serious housing shortage, since so many homes had been burned or bombed. Unemployment was high.  Many had what we would call Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Nightmares plagued adults and children alike.

At the beginning of this book, World War II has just ended, and 8-year-old Henk is beginning to feel safe. He no longer has to hide, and he is surrounded by a loving family. Imagine his shock and horror when a couple knocks on their farmhouse door one day, says they are his parents, and they want him back.

So Henk loses what he believed was his family – papa, mama, and older brother and sister. He even loses his little kitten. Instead of following the Christian faith, he is told that he needs to put away the little cross he has worn around his neck during the war, and begin learning about the Jewish religion. His real parents call him by his birth name, Benjamin.

This story is based on an actual child who went through this experience. The author did a fantastic job of letting the reader see the post-war world through the eyes of a young boy. This book is suitable for anyone about 3rd grade or older.

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The Storm On Our Shores – by Mark Obmascik (2019)

Storm On Our Shores

Do you think that the battles of World War II never touched United States soil? That’s what I thought until I read this book. In May of 1943, a brutal struggle took place on the Aleutian island of Attu, which is part of the state of Alaska. It was a remote location that was almost uninhabited. For nearly a year, Japanese soldiers battled American soldiers for control of the island. It was a cold, windy, foggy place with spongy ground, which made it almost impossible to transport vehicles across. Most of the fighting was guerrilla-style.

When the Americans finally won control of the island, a hand-written journal was found on the dead body of a Japanese doctor. It was translated into English with the hope of finding some military secrets. But it contained only the daily happenings of the surgeon, and his desire to return home to his wife and daughters, one of whom he had never met. Copies of the translation began circulating among the servicemen. It was a side to the enemy that most had not considered – that some of the Japanese soldiers who were drafted were much like themselves. They loved their families, were homesick, and wanted the war to end.

The Japanese surgeon -Paul Nobuo Tatsuguchi – had actually spent ten years in the United States studying to become a doctor. He had returned back to Japan to marry his childhood sweetheart, but hoped to become a U.S. citizen someday. But the start of World War II killed that dream. The Japanese were the enemy, and the United States didn’t want more coming into the country, let alone becoming citizens. Paul’s dream died, but he did the best he could to be a good doctor in Japan. He and his wife were 7th-Day Adventist Christians, which was not a good faith to have in Japan. Then came the order that he was being drafted. There was no choice; he had to serve. So Paul Tatsuguchi tended  to the medical needs of his fellow soldiers, while trying to follow his religious beliefs of non-violence. It was an impossible situation.

The book goes back and forth between the story of Paul’s life, and the life of American soldier Laird, who shot and killed Paul. By the end of the book, I felt sorry for both of the men.

The battle of Attu was mostly unknown to Americans, and the government and the military suppressed the story. This battle claimed thousands of lives, both American and Japanese, and was totally unnecessary. When will mankind ever learn that in war-times, everyone loses? Everyone.

Hornet Flight – by Ken Follett (2002)

hornet flight

The country of Denmark is quite small – only 43,094 square kilometers (16,638 square miles) – and that counts the main peninsula, the Faroe Islands and Greenland. Norway and Sweden lie to the north, and Germany to the south. During World War II, the tiny country of Denmark was easily overrun by the Nazi army. Its citizen were limited in size and number, but great in spirit and courage. It is this setting that the author chose for his book.

Although “The Hornet Flight” is a work of fiction, it is based on actual events during World War II. The Germans did indeed have advanced radar devices along the North Sea that could detect the Allied airplanes, which resulted in a horrendous amount of them being shot down. And yes, there were two Danish citizens that found an old plane in storage, and used it to transport important information to the Allies. The strict Protestant flavor of the community is also true to life. But the characters in the book are fictional.

The story mainly centers around Harald Olufsen, his desire to fly, and the discovery of an old forgotten airplane in a barn. I appreciated the way that the author also pulled women into the story (Karen and Hermia), and showed them as important parts of the Danish Resistance. While the end of the story was predictable because we know so much about World War II, it was a historical novel worth reading.

The Green Glass Sea – by Ellen Klages (2006)

The Green Glass Sea

It was a strange and unsettled time for Dewey Kerrigan. The world was at war, and her father had joined a group of scientists in a secluded area of New Mexico. What they were working on was top-secret, and the little town did not appear on any maps. With her dad constantly working, and the other girls at school treating her with scorn, Dewey was lonely. To keep her mind occupied, she salvaged metal parts from the scientists’ junkyard and built all sorts of gadgets. As time went on, she did develop some friendships, but never felt completely at home.

I enjoyed the historic setting of this novel. It portrayed the frantic rush of scientists, the daily life on the compound, how children often fended for themselves, what the bomb site looked like, and the secrecy of the government. This book received the Scott O’Dell Award For Historic Fiction, and several other awards. It is definitely worth reading.

Snow Treasure – by Marie McSwigan (1942)

Snow Treasure

When our first snowfall of the season hit, it seemed the perfect time to pull out one of my favorite childhood novels, “Snow Treasure”. The book was written in 1942, while World War II was still going on. It’s about a small community in Norway in 1940 that is on the verge of becoming Nazi-occupied. A local banker devises a scheme to smuggle a large amount of gold bullion out of the country so that the occupying forces cannot take it. The village children will put bricks of gold on their sleds, and slide down the hill right past the soldiers, then pull the sleds the rest of the way to Uncle Victor’s ship, which will transport it to the United States.

I must say I found the story to be more exciting when I was a kid, believing it to actually be true! As an adult, I can see the improbability of this plan working. There was a fair amount of gold smuggled out of the country, but not by children on sleds. That being said, it makes an inspiring story for children, and shows that even if you’re only ten or twelve, there’s a lot you can do for your community.

Don’t Give Up, Don’t Give In – by Louis Zamperini and David Rensin (2014)

Don't Give Up

 

Having read Mr. Zamperini’s thick, detailed biography “Unbroken”, I was excited to find another book about him at my local library. This book is much shorter, and is not a biography. It’s a collection of Mr. Zamperini’s reflections as he looked back over his life. He shared thoughts on how he survived many nearly impossible obstacles in life, and how to keep going when all the odds are against you.

Mr. Zamperini was 97 years old when he co-wrote the book with Mr. Rensin. Just two days after the manuscript was completed and sent off to the publisher, he passed from this life to the next. His work on earth was complete, and he left when he was finished.

On this last day of the Thanksgiving weekend, I am thankful for people like Mr. Zamperini who are willing to share their wisdom with the rest of us. He did it in such a humble way that it doesn’t come across as superior or preachy, and I look forward to meeting him someday.

Sarah’s Key – by Tatiana de Rosnay (2007)

Sarah's Key

There have been hundreds of books written about World War II, some being true stories, and others being fictional but based around actual events during the war. “Sarah’s Key” is fiction, although the setting is a Paris police round-up in July of 1942.

The Starzynski family is living in Paris when the local French police, under orders from the Germans, round up all the Jews they can find – men, women and children. When the police bang on their door, 10-year-old Sarah locks her little brother Michael in a cupboard, thinking they will merely be questioned at the police station and they will be able to come back for him later. Instead, Sarah and her parents are herded into the Vélodrome d’Hiver stadium, along with 28,000 other Jews. They are held there for five days, then stuffed onto a train, and sent to the Beaune-la-Rolande internment camp. Sarah is able to escape from the camp before everyone there is transferred to Auschwitz, but is too late to save her brother’s life.

The story switches back and forth from Sarah’s story to the present-day story of Julia, an American journalist in Paris. Julia is given the assignment of researching the Vel’ d’Hiv detainment of Jews by French police, as the 60th anniversary of the event approaches. Strangely, many Parisians claim to have no memory of this event in their city’s history. It has been purposely forgotten, buried under the rug as several generations have passed by. The more Sarah investigates, the more obsessed she becomes. Eventually it affects her life and her marriage.

This was a difficult book to read. The character of Sarah was fictional, but the arrests, the separating of the parents from the children, and the premeditated murder of 28,000 innocent people was real. I asked myself, how could human beings who are capable of great love participate in such hate and evil? I can fathom the occasional psychopathic killer doing something so sick, but how did so many people participate in these atrocities? And not just one time, but over and over for years. It sickened me to think of people choosing to torture, starve and kill their fellow man. It is also sickening to think about how the Holocaust is slowly being covered over. Despite the evidence of interviews with people that lived through it, video footage, photography, and written testimony, there are still people who believe it never happened, or that reports were exaggerated. Denying the truth can only lead people to do the same evil things over and over.