Fictional Rosa and the factual stories of real survivors

The English German GirlThe English German Girl by Jake Wallis Simons
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I have previously mentioned that I think fictional books based on the factual events of the Holocaust dance on the fringes.
I find myself in a bit of a quandary.
I know the majority of authors are trying to focus attention on a subject matter we should never forget and are not trying to exploit the horror and infamy of the Holocaust, although some of them do.
That Simons isn’t doing so is evident in his research, and he has taken great care to ensure that the factual details in the fictional account are all correct.
The writing is very he said, she said and is far too clinical. It lacks a certain finesse.
Rosa as a fictional character experiences various events that are actual real life experiences of multiple holocaust survivors. (See afterword and acknowledgements)
The situation Rosa finds herself in, which leads to her leaving the foster family, and the solution to her problem didn’t gel well as a story element. We are talking about a solution that was highly illegal and any person of the medical profession or non-medical person doing the procedure, would have faced a prison sentence. With that in mind the scenario was written in a way that was highly unlikely.
It was interesting and at the same time odd that Rosa never questioned the welfare of her family during the war. It was almost as if she would rather believe the lie than realise the truth about their fate.
One of the most poignant scenes in the book was when Rosa goes to see the lists of names. The names of known victims of the Holocaust. Reading those names and dates gives everything a sense of finality. Her last thread to them is gone and there is no more room for hope.
The author wrote a brilliant passage about the victims and how they would never know that their fate was to be reduced to be a two or three name black ink mark with a date on a long list of murdered individuals. People reading those names will never know who they were, what they looked like, what they meant to the people around them and what impact they had on the world. Now they are just names on walls and paper scrolls.
No name should be forgotten.
I really want to have a wee grumble at the last few pages. Rosa asks her husband to never send their child/children away if another war occurs. That felt like a big old slap in the face to all the people involved in the Kindertransport. The parents, the children, the people who risked their lives to help save a few of the many victims.
Of course a real survivor or child of the Kindertransport would be stricken by survivor’s guilt. They live, whilst their families have perished. They live with the knowledge that their loved ones died in pain, in fear and under the most horrifying circumstances, whilst they walked in the sunshine and carried on with their lives. That is an extremely hard burden to carry round in your heart and soul.
I can understand and applaud the parents who were brave enough to make that choice. Make no mistake it was a choice between their need as a parent to keep their beloved child close and sending them away so they could survive. I would never want to be in that position, but if I had to make a choice between almost certain death and torture or freedom and life for my child, then I know what I would choose.
So I was disappointed with the conclusion of the fictional character, because I believe that a real survivor does live with the guilt but would always honour the difficult decision made by the people who sent them away.
I received a free copy of this book via NetGalley.

View all my reviews


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