I'm amazed and devastated, inspired and horrified, heart-warmed and heartbroken all at the same time.

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msinicki42044 Avatar


Wow, this book. It gave me all the feelings. I'm amazed and devastated, inspired and horrified, heart-warmed and heartbroken all at the same time. The Nine tells the true story of the author's great aunt Helene Podliasky, who led a group of nine female resistance fighters as they escaped a German forced labor camp and made a ten day journey across the front lines of WWII to escape from Germany and return to Paris. The women endured horrifying conditions and were working at an armaments factory in HASAG Leipzig as the end of the war approached. To keep prisoners from falling into Allied hands, the camp was evacuated into a death march across Germany. The story opens during the death march when the women realized that there were no guards nearby. They took their chance and fled. From here the story moves among the women who made up The Nine. In each chapter, the focus is on one of the woman and we learn about her background, how she joined the resistance and how she came to be imprisoned by the Germans. I thought this was a very clever and engaging approach to telling their story. This keeps the story fresh and interesting and fills in the context for the situations they encountered. The author also includes herself in the story, how her research unfolded and incorporating her discoveries along this journey. The story itself very moving and powerful. The bravery and ingenuity of these women was amazing. While reading this book, I never stopped being amazed. Amazed by the bravery of these women, what they were willing to risk to be part of the Resistance, what they endured, what they were willing to risk for each other and for their freedom.

The author, Gwen Strauss, noted that her family was aware that her great-aunt Hele was highly decorated for her service in the war, but, like many families, her service was just something they never talked about. It felt taboo. On a lunch date with Gwen in 2002, Helene mentioned that she had escaped the Nazis with eight other women. Astounded, Gwen asked to record an interview to get the full story. Helene didn't see the point of sharing her story but agreed to do so regardless. Gwen assumed that there would be more conversations in the future to fill in the details, but the follow up visits never occurred. Later, when she began to write the Helene's story, she began to discover other books, interviews, articles and documentaries that were by or about some of the other women who made up The Nine, or about other women who were in the same camps. Gwen drew upon and compiled all of this research, collaborating with other researchers where possible, visiting archives to dig deeper, and traveling throughout Germany and Europe to walk some of the same ground as the Nine. I found the result to be amazing, that so much of their story could be tracked and recreated. It's really a feat of tenacious and tireless research to have identified the women and found their histories so long after the fact. Strauss is trained and educated as a poet - not as a writer of non-fiction or a historical researcher. She undertook this project outside of her comfort zone and I think she hit a home run. Her passion for unearthing and sharing the stories of these brave women shines through the pages. This is despite forces in history working to hide and obscure the facts. And those facts are sometimes difficult to read. These are important stories for us to tell, for us to hear, and for us to remember.

Thank you to St. Martin's Press, Bookish Firsts, Netgalley and Macmilliam Audio for providing me with this book in exchange for my honest opinion. I experienced this book as a dual read - I switched back and forth between the physical book and the audio book. The physical book is absolutely incredible - Strauss has obtained and included photographs of the women, some of their families, some of the camps, events and locations that were mentioned in the book and a map of the area where they traveled on their escape route. The audiobook was equally amazing. The narrator, Julie Stevens, was very good and I thought her voice was lovely and complimented the story beautifully. There were a few parts that she even sang beautifully. Really lovely audio to complement an incredible and moving story.