OUR DAUGHTERS’ LAST HOPE – (resilient women of WWII #2)
Amsterdam, the Netherlands 1940. Herta, and her family, Jewish refugees, are living contentedly until the Nazi invasion, which echoes the persecution and fear they experienced before fleeing Germany.
Across town, another wife and mother, Julia, also faces upheaval when her husband becomes more involved in the Nazis’ effort in controlling the world.
When their husbands go missing, one accused falsely of crimes and the other to fight on behalf of the Nazis, Herta, despite the heartache, takes charge and places her daughters into hiding believing they’ll keep safe.
Meanwhile, Julia, as the only parent home, chooses to redefine family.
These unexpected developments bring Herta and Julia together… until their true identities surface and they’re thrown into dangerous consequences that could harm not only them but their daughters.
Elaine Stock writes Historical Fiction, exploring home, family and friendships throughout time. She enjoys creating stories showing how all faiths, races, and belief systems are interconnected and need each other.
Elaine’s grandparents, on both sides of her family, narrowly escaped World War II by immigrating from Poland and Austria to the US. Fascinated by the strong will of people to overcome the horrors from this era, she wrote We Shall Not Shatter, Book #1 of the “Resilient Women of WWII Trilogy” inspired by her deaf great aunt who was left behind as a teenager in Poland and perished in the Holocaust, while her other deaf siblings were permitted to enter the US when their young ages helped them to circumvent medically-revealing exams. Other extended family members also remained in Poland to lose their lives in the Holocaust.
Although multi-published in award-winning Inspirational Fiction, and a past blogger and online magazine contributor, Elaine now pens novels for the General reading audience. She is a member of Women’s Fiction Writers Association and The Historical Novel Society. Born in Brooklyn, New York, she has now been living in upstate, rural New York with her husband for more years than her stint as a city gal. She enjoys long walks down country roads, visiting New England towns, and of course, a good book.
“While this is a work of fiction, there came a time early in writing the novel when, influenced by my research, I had to make a decision whether or not to create all fictional characters, use real names, or utilize a combination. I decided to use both: there were distinct names of true people that I wouldn’t dare fictionalize because to do so would change history. Yet, all of my main characters are fictionalized. I also wanted to honor several people who my research showed me were vital in helping to save as many Jewish and other persecuted people as possible”
2nd JUNE 1939
“As the night lights of Miami twinkled farewell to the passengers yet again traveling on the M.S. St. Louis, a mixed wail spread from one passenger to another. Women sobbed, men swore and shook fists. Children gawked in wide-eyed terror, not with concern over their future, but for the unaccustomed display of tears and anger from their parents”
“Herta Weber was thankful for many things that just a short time ago she couldn’t have imagined possible, but above all she was thankful for living in the Netherlands. Her family flourished in the cozy third-floor apartment on Amsterdam’s Nieuwe Kerkstraat where they’d lived for nearly a year now, within a few steps from the Amstel River. She didn’t dare imagine what they might have endured if they lived elsewhere”
“One of the toxic traits of prejudice was that people wielded it as a sword to attack others without fully taking the time to get to know the accused. More aggravating was that the attackers didn’t want to know the target of their hatred in the first place”
“Is that what war accomplished, making enemies from many and friends from a few?”
“She didn’t need to ask him to explain himself. That was the oddity of living under threat: communication became tangible without the aid of the spoken word”
“This not knowing who was on which side – the Nazi side or the Nazi’s enemy side – was too complex for her. She just wanted to love her fellow human beings – if only each person could behave humanely”
“Are you willing to hand over your daughters to complete strangers to provide them with a place of safety? Are you willing to do so without the promise that you will ever see them again?”
“The German occupation had changed the once beautiful Dutch spirit into a land of minefields containing hatred and cruelty that stripped a person of basic human rights that all should have and enjoy”
“We cannot control who gets killed in this war. War is full of hate, blood, and destruction. We can only try to help as many as we can. We must let go of certain misfortunes and proceed on”
“Ironically, a side effect of war was learning how to live each day as it came while hoping and believing in a better tomorrow”
“Life Must Go On”
Not giving away any more than the author has already chosen to share, whilst all three episodes of this trilogy are intrinsically and inextricably linked, in as much as each story features a character from its preceding book, there is no definitive backstory precluding them from being read and enjoyed as stand-alone stories. For me personally however, as I aim to read all three novels, I am really hoping that they eventually join together full circle, linking our strong female lead characters back to the beginning of their tumultuous journeys of family and love, lost and found amidst a cruel and devastating war.
Here is a ‘potted and hopefully spoiler free’ version of what is a much more complicated and nuanced storyline…
Our story opens in 1940, when Jewish family Kurt, Herta and their two daughters, Edith who is thirteen and Krista who is ten, have been caught up in the Nazi Aryan cleansing regime against all minority groups and races, causing them to flee their homeland, even as the borders begin to close in against them. They had hoped to board a ship taking them to a new and safe life in America, however that was not to be and they have instead been forced to make Amsterdam in The Netherlands, their new home. Having settled into a new routine, they have become relatively well established, however that is all about to change, when the long arm of the Nazi regime, ignoring the protocols of neutrality, reaches out to invade their near neighbours and once again, tough but life-saving decisions have to be made.
The family, along with all their fellow Jews and other ethnic minorities, have three choices – run, hide, or brazen things out. Weary of running, Herta steadfastly refuses to budge, so Kurt purchases forged documents, with new identities for them all. Some physical appearances need to change and a new address close by is acquired. Little by little all rights and freedoms are rescinded for the community, but with much caution and looking over their shoulders, and children who are obedient and understand the risks of careless talk and behaviour, the family manage to remain undetected for some time.
It is a fluke of bad luck and a little bad judgement by Kurt, which sees him arrested, although he manages to escape and gets word to Herta that she should think about placing the children in hiding, even though it will mean they all need to go their separate ways for the remaining duration of the war. Kurt disappears and it is with much soul-searching and great reluctance that Herta sees the sense in his words and with a heavy heart and great foreboding, sends her daughters one at a time, away to unknown families in strange new places, in the hope that they will survive the atrocities and can be reunited as a family again one day.
It is by sheer fate, that a brave and selfless Herta, now living a solitary life as Charlotte Beck, crosses paths with Julia Arzt and her three much younger daughters, when she bravely saves one of the children’s lives. Julia takes it upon herself to repay the debt by offering Charlotte sanctuary in her home, believing the lie that she is of good Dutch descent, which is just as well, because Julia’s own husband Luuk, had chosen his side, when all Dutchmen were offered the choice of either being voluntarily conscripted to fight for Germany or being forced to join the ranks of the German slave-labour forces, and now proudly boasts his SS allegiance, as he sets about hunting down and turning in his fellow citizens to the occupying forces. As Julia lives next door to Luuk’s brother Liam, who has been discharged from the fighting with a life-limiting battle injury, and his wife Mila, she is understandably wary about introducing her new house guest, especially when she begins to have suspicions that Charlotte’s story doesn’t quite add up and she isn’t altogether sure what her brother-in-law’s reaction might be, should he ever discover what Julia believes to be the truth about Charlotte’s past.
Living within such intensely personal confines, Charlotte picks up on signs that Julia’s life is not exactly the idyllic picture she is painting either, or it later transpires, never really has been. The truth when eventually confided, is much worse than Charlotte imagined, especially when Julia has another well-kept secret she has never revealed to Luuk, as she knows that this would probably send him over the edge, placing her own life and that of her daughters in extreme danger. The pair decide to chance their luck and fall on the mercy of Liam and Mila, especially as they have now both decided to work alongside one group of resistance fighters, helping to clear the streets of abandoned children and sending them on to places of safety, where they can hopefully begin to rebuild trust, regain their childhood and in some cases, maybe reunite with their birth families one day. Liam and Mila are surprisingly understanding and had long held suspicions about Luuk’s extreme behaviour and mood swings, and exactly how that translated into his treatment of his family. When Luuk makes a surprise visit home during the Christmas of 1944, it is too late to hide the evidence, the cat is well and truly out of the bag and things unsurprisingly and quickly become out of control, with fatal consequences!
It turns out that Kurt has never really been all that far from Herta’s (Charlotte) side and has been watching over her from a distance. His arrival to reclaim the love of his life; the fact that Julia and her family can now consider themselves to always be part of a larger extended family and vice versa; together with one other monumentally happy event; are still bittersweet for Herta though, as she is left to wonder if they are all ever truly destined to be together ever again, although she is determined to never give up searching for the missing piece of her heart.
There is a compelling compassionate honesty and integrity in this totally immersive, well structured, multi-layered storyline, which is powerful, intense and highly textured, conveying a cloying and oppressively claustrophobic atmosphere of mistrust and fear. It is seamlessly narrated in well-paced and clearly signposted chapters, compellingly perceptive, intuitive, often raw and passionate, yet profoundly touching, highlighting both the fragility and resilience of the human mind, whilst uncovering the long-term and unseen effects the trauma of grief and loss can have.
As has always been the case in times of war, with all the fit and able-bodied men away fighting, it is predominantly left to the women to become the stronger parent for their family, providing for and ensuring the safety, wellbeing and emotional stability of the children and vulnerable members left at home. However, when the Jewish race was set up by the Nazis to be persecuted into extinction, the fight for life was even more pressing, calling for extreme actions which were definitely ‘cruel to be kind’. It is so difficult to comprehend that, unlike the evacuation of children living in the most dangerous of areas of the Allied countries, who were sent to places of security and safety within their own country, Jewish parents had to survive the emotional trauma of entrusting their children to complete strangers, often in another country, without a promise that they would ever see them again, or having any way of even being able to keep track of them. The story explores the lengths a parent will go to and the sacrifices they will make, to keep their child safe from harm and the gut-wrenching feelings of failure when they are unable to protect them as they feel they should.
This story also shines a spotlight onto the age-old problem of abusive relationships and domestic violence, both physical and emotional; namely that of the abused party always accepting the guilt, shouldering the responsibility and blame for their abuser’s violence, convinced that they are the ones at fault and often seeking to exonerate the perpetrators violence towards them.
Events which completely drew me into the action, totally immersed me as they unfolded before me, and held me captive in their thrall until the very last page; when the suspense, suspicion and tension, finally gave way, like a gentle sigh and the release of a long-held breath, to a future full of calm fulfilment, promise and most of all, hope.
The well-developed cast of characters is quite small and tight-knit and although they all have a voice, albeit always tempered with caution, to tell their own story, the pervading air of necessary secrecy is there, just beneath the surface, for all to feel. They were therefore quite a complex, vulnerable and emotional group, a many-sided jigsaw of human emotions, which often made them appear unreliable, rather volatile, not always easy to engage with, or relate to, yet still totally authentic. Circumstances meant that everyone was searching for a sense of belonging and closure, on what had been a tumultuous period in all their lives, frail yet displaying an amazing inner strength and tenacity to rebuild their shattered hopes and dreams.
Whilst the storyline has a relatively small footprint, thus not perhaps completely satisfying for any avid ‘armchair travellers’ out there, the evocatively descriptive dialogue and narrative, conjures up the very essence of a time, a place and its people, beautifully. All in all, a very satisfying, if poignant journey.
My only passing observation with this book, is that perhaps the writing style is not quite as fluent as that of book #1 in the series, which means that the storyline didn’t travel as freely as it might have. However, that didn’t detract from the powerful messaging behind the words, nor did it in any way curtail my enthusiasm for the series.
An emotionally draining, well rendered, multi-sensory experience and a chilling reminder, if one was needed, of the often-silent war waged far away from the main theatre of conflict, but no less bravely fought.
What always makes reading such a wonderful experience for me, is that with each and every new book, I am taken on a unique and individual journey, by authors who fire my imagination, stir my emotions and stimulate my senses. This story certainly had the power to evoke so many feelings, that I’m sure I won’t have felt the same way about it as the last reader, nor the next, so I can only recommend that you read Our Daughters’ Last Hope for yourself and see where your journey leads you!
I can’t wait to read book #3 Elaine!
A complimentary download of this book, for review purposes, was made available by the author, Amsterdam Publishers and BookFunnel
Any thoughts or comments are my own personal opinion, and I am in no way being monetarily compensated for this, or any other article which promotes this book or its author.
I personally do not agree with ‘rating’ a book, as the overall experience is all a matter of personal taste, which varies from reader to reader. However, some review sites do demand a rating value, so when this review is posted to such a site, it will attract a well-deserved 4 out of 5 stars!
Thank you so much for taking the time to read my review, I appreciate your support!
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