The German House is a fascinating look at the 1963 Frankfurt Auschwitz trials, a period in history that I was not aware of and is brought to life in this new novel. While most today people are aware of the history of Auschwitz and have most likely heard of the Nuremburg trials that took place immediately following WWII, these trials in Germany revealing the true nature of the crimes committed in the concentration camp were actually quite shocking to the public at the time. The trials focused on 22 defendants who were SS personal serving at Auschwitz-Birkenau, and our story places us right in the middle with our main protagonist, Eva, who is a Polish translator tapped to help communicate the witness statements.
The story alternates between both Eva’s role in the trials and the ongoing family drama happening outside her work. She is recently engaged to a man she’s not sure she loves, and in the process of researching and translating in the trial, she uncovers some dark family secrets. The story is a slow build as Eva puts the pieces of her own history together, culminating in a big reveal regarding both the trial and her own place in life.
What shocked me the most about this book is the emphasis on how little people knew of what happened during the war, and the depths to which they would go to bury those secrets. I have read a lot of WWII fiction over the past couple of years, but none quite like this. This was disturbing, if only for its descriptions of how well people can forget the past. I see why the author, who is German herself, felt strongly about telling this story, because it is so easy to forget and pretend these terrible things never happened. It’s much harder to come to terms with the atrocities committed by people you live next to.
While I really loved the historical look at this subject, I did struggle a bit with the story telling aspect. It jumped around a lot, though knowing the author’s background as a screenwriter, I can forgive that. My biggest complaint is that I didn’t find Eva particularly likable, but I also am not sure if she’s supposed to be. Overall, I would definitely recommend this book to WWII historical fiction fans, because I believe it is a new perspective that needs to be shared, and I am grateful to the author for writing this!