Those Who Save Us

by Jenna Blum

Book, 2004



Call number




Orlando, Fla. : Harcourt, c2004.


For fifty years, Anna Schlemmer has refused to talk about her life in Germany during World War II. Her daughter, Trudy, was only three when she and her mother were liberated by an American soldier and went to live with him in Minnesota. Trudy's sole evidence of the past is an old photograph; a family portrait showing Anna, Trudy, and a Nazi officer, the Obersturmfuumlehrer of Buchenwald. Driven by the guilt of her heritage, Trudy, now a professor of German history, begins investigating the past and finally unearths the dramatic and heartbreaking truth of her mother's life. Combining a passionate, doomed love story, a vivid evocation of life during the war, and a poignant mother/daughter drama, Those Who Save Us is a profound exploration of what we endure to survive and the legacy of shame.… (more)

User reviews

LibraryThing member pdebolt
This a beautifully written book that alternates between Trudy in the present and her mother, Anna, reliving life in Germany during WWII. Anna's experiences as a young German woman living near Buchenwald with her daughter and her life as the mistress of an SS officer are told in heart-rending
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detail. Many have wondered about the German people who lived near concentration camps with their unimaginable horrors. Did they know what went on in the camps? If so, why didn't they intervene? This novel sheds some light on what happened to those who knew and the lengths that Anna went to to protect Trudy and how she attempted to help the prisoners. Trudy's Jewish father was one of those prisoners, so Anna's pain at their suffering is magnified.

This novel will stay with me for quite awhile. I am astounded that it is Jenna Blum's debut because of the depth of the subject and the brilliance of the writing. Wherever she is, I hope she is writing. I will be one of the first to buy whatever future books she writes.
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LibraryThing member CarolynSchroeder
This was an incredibly engaging, fast read to begin and the Trudy's modern-day (1997) story weaved seamlessly with her Mother's (Anna). I read well into the wee hours, waiting to find out what would happen next. I found the perspective of the German citizens during the Holocaust interesting and not
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oft written about. The sexual scenes are fairly graphic (and horrific), as is the violence in much of the book. I'm usually so-so on quoteless dialog, but it works well in this novel. What stops this from being a "great" book is the absolutely ridiculous "love interest" at the end and also, the truly unbelievable connection between one of Trudy's interview subjects and her mother. It's a shame the author had to tie that part up with a bow as it would have been far more real (and less goofy) if that far-fetched plot element did not drop from the sky to answer every one of Trudy's questions beautifully. But for the silly ending, I would have rated this much higher. The writing is very good and I would look for other books from this author.
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LibraryThing member libmhleigh
This novel tells two stories: one of Anna, a young woman in Nazi Germany, and the second of an elderly Anna and her daughter, Trudie, living in Minnesota. Trudie was born in Germany during World War II, but Anna refuses to discuss the circumstances of her daughter's birth. All Trudie has to go on
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is a picture that fills her with dread: her mother, herself as a baby, and a Nazi officer. Trudie is now a professor of German history conducting an interview project interviewing German men and women who lived during the Third Reich. As the two stories are told back and forth, we, and Trudie, learn more about Anna's past.

Quote: "She is really more irritated with herself than Anna, for she has wasted this chance given to her. She has tried to crack her most important subject, and she has failed."

Although this book moved slowly at times, I liked it overall. I found myself wanting to skip over the Anna and Trudie sections, so I could get back to Anna in Germany faster. Usually when I read World War II book I read about concentration camps or members of the resistance, not about how life might have been for someone who, for whatever reason, may have been a collaborator. It was an interesting perspective.
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LibraryThing member Trinity
I loved this book! The material itself was difficult to read but the author made the difficult easy by giving the reader such endearing and in contrast, hateful characters. I found myself almost wishing for the ending of the book just to know that the main characters ended up OK. As a result, the
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end of the book seemed to take forever to reach but thankfully didnt wind up like I expected it to. Definately a wonderful book for anyone who doesnt expect a fluffy read, appreciates difficult material or is a WWII buff.
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LibraryThing member kambrogi
This story examines the relationship between a mother and daughter of German origin, both struggling with survivor’s guilt and the personal damage done by their unexamined memories of WWII. Alternating between two points of view, the mother’s back story and the daughter's ongoing story, the
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truth of the past is slowly revealed and the tale comes together in a satisfying, if not entirely expected, resolution. Of special interest is the examination of the lives of ordinary German women during the war, the price many paid for their survival, and their responses to the horrors of the regime. Although this is a first novel, its author has done her research and clearly understands her characters. Her dialog – unmarked by punctuation – is occasionally confusing, but not enough to restrain the inherent interest the story generates. A most enjoyable read.
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LibraryThing member Rosiers.Nicole
I just can't deny my disappointment when reaching the ending of the book. The whole time while I was reading this book, it was difficult to stop reading. If time was on my side, I would have finished it in just one reading session. The story really pulled me in. But when reaching the end... I
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flipped the page, sure there was at least one page to come, and seeing that was the end. It was such a disappointment. I would have expected Trudie to go home, finding her mom in the study or in her bedroom, and just standing in the door looking at that beautiful, mysterious person she calls mom. Thinking about everything that happened that day, not having the energy to argue with her about how she never told her about the past, about her father. Just standing there and maybe leave to her room, or maybe whispering "ich liebe dich mutti". The ending would still remained open, you still wouldn't know if Anna eventually tells the truth or not, but it would have been an ending to the book.
But compliment to the author to really dig into the history and implement so many facts and truths.
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LibraryThing member bookwormteri
An excellent book told in the past and present. Anna, living in Weimar, during WWII and trying to keep her daughter, Trudy, alive. Trudy, a grown woman, teaching German history, but having no idea of her own. A sad but beautiful picture of Germany in WWII and the lasting effect that it still has on
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people. Moving.
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LibraryThing member HeatherLINC
This book started out with promise, but then it dwindled away. There were a number of things that annoyed me about "Those Who Save Us", the first being the lack of quotation marks. Why were they left out? Having to stop and reread a passage to work out who was speaking became tiring, and
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frustrating, very quickly. As for the characters they were all bland and annoying. I never connected with Anna and I liked her daughter Trudie even less. The only character I has some sympathy for was Jack because I hated how Anna treated him. Then there were the sex scenes. Yes, I get that Anna became an unwilling mistress to an SS commandant, but really, did the author have to be so graphic on so many occasions, especially when other important details were left out? Finally, the ending . . . what a disappointment. It was weak, rushed and unsatisfying. I enjoyed the historical aspect of this book showing the extraordinary lengths people went through to survive this terrible period in time and protect the ones they loved, but there are far better holocaust novels out there.
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LibraryThing member BookConcierge
Dr Trudy Swenson is a professor of history at the Univ of Minnesota. After she goes home for her father’s funeral she begins to question her history, and her mother’s silence. She has always know that Jack wasn’t her real father – that he had married Anna and brought her and her daughter
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from Weimar Germany to the USA after WW2. But the questions about her past will not be silenced, and a research project to record interviews with German survivors of the war forces Trudy to confront her past.

The novel is told in dual timelines: the adult Trudy in 1990s Minnesota, and her mother, Anna, as a young woman in war-torn Germany (1941-1944). The reader is all too aware of Trudy’s past, while watching Trudy struggle to make sense of her dreams, her vague recollections, and the one clue she has found among her mother’s belongings.

I was not expecting much from this “book-club favorite;” I’ve been disappointed by so many books that were popular with book clubs. But I’m certainly glad I put my pre-conceived notions aside and read it. I found complex issues, well-developed characters, and a compelling narrative.

Are we doomed to love “Those who save us,” despite their otherwise reprehensible behavior? I was nearly as frustrated by Anna’s obstinate silence as Trudy was. Learning her story, what she felt forced to do to save her child (and herself) gave me some understanding into her character, her motives, her fears, and her reluctance to examine the past. However, my sympathies lie more with Trudy, whose life and potential for happiness is so damaged by the secret Anna refuses to reveal. And I am left wondering whether Jack ever made peace with Anna’s past … and if so, how?
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LibraryThing member alspray
Not for those with sensitive sensibilities! I spent half the book rather put off by seemingly gratuitous depictions of physical and sexual violence and hackneyed love affairs cursorily written. But perhaps it's impossible to write a book about Nazi Germany that isn't over-the-top violent and I have
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no doubt that the events are well-researched and realistic. In the end 'Those Who Save Us' is an engaging read - with an equally engaging structure - that raises troubling questions of loyalty and morality which one hopes one might never have to face in real life.
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LibraryThing member tercat
I'm only about 50 pages into this book, and already I have mixed feelings about it--not because of the subject matter, but because of the writing. We'll see...

...So far the writing includes forced metaphors, awkward dialogue, and a preoccupation with bodily functions and related substances.
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12/18: Hate to say it, but I'm looking forward to finishing this book so that I can move on to something better. As I believe other reviewers have noted, this seems to be a great idea for a book in the hands of a writer who's just not up to it. Sorry, Ms. Blum.

It has improved, I'll give it that.

Final review: Good topic, but this book is just awful. The character development is poor, the dialogue is weak. There's enough gratuitous sex--even without the scenes between Anna and the Nazi officer, which perhaps you could argue are necessary to the story--for a cheap romance novel. This is a sadly inelegant book that, given the subject matter, could have been a whole lot better.
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LibraryThing member yourotherleft
World War II set stories are among my favorites, and Those Who Save Us by Jenna Blum does not disappoint. Trudy has always been bewildered by her mother, Anna, a taciturn woman who refuses to talk about her life during the war. During a research project meant to discover the stories of ordinary
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Germans who lived through the war, Trudy stumbles across the remarkable story of her own mother, a woman who saved herself and her child from certain starvation or worse, but at what cost? An excellent addition to the genre, Blum’s novel is a haunting exploration of the inescapable moral dilemmas that riddle lives torn apart by war.
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LibraryThing member bnavta
It was a good read, but the narrative annoyed me. Her device of eliminating quotation marks and storytelling was meant to bring the reader more directly into the story. Instead, I felt more distanced. Such a powerfully emotional subject is difficult to handle. Blum did well with the most sensitive
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material, but I still ended feeling manipulated due to her narrative device.
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LibraryThing member kindigo27
I couldn't put this book down.

I have always been fascinated by the repercusions of war, the effects of men killing men. This book provides insight regarding this and the women who are left behind in war and even the children of survivers.

From what I understand, it was well researched, so the
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stories hit home in a way no fiction ever could.

I highly recommend.
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LibraryThing member tuffstuff08
Amazing story. I haven't read a book like this in ages! Very descriptive and almost desperate. Wonderful read.
LibraryThing member msrsquared
I loved this book. Blum incorporates a side of the holocaust story we rarely hear - the perspective of the typical non-Jewish German. And the story weaves around the impact on the relationship between the mother who lived the nightmare and couldn't talk about it, and the daughter who really needed
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to know
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LibraryThing member phlegmmy
Probably one of my favorite books this year. I was another who could not put it down. The subject matter was so disturbing that I had nightmares, but so thought provoking that I am still thinking about it days later. Highly recommended.
LibraryThing member brainella
This story follows a mother and daughter through World War II and beyond, from Germany to Minnesota 50 years later. It is a tale of sadness, terror, survival, heroism and understanding. Anna, a young German woman, falls in love and hides an older Jewish doctor who works for the German Resistance
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trying to get information out about Buchenwald concentration camp. They fall in love, he is arrested and she is pregnant.

The story follows Anna's tale of love, hardship and survival trying to keep daughter and herself alive when her employer and friend is murdered. Anna's daughter Trudy does not understand her mother and does not know her story. It is best left dead and in the past according to Anna. Trudy has never known who her father is and struggles to understand how people could let the Holocaust occur. It is that mission that leads Trudy to discover the truth of her existence and the horrors of what happened in Germany 50 years before.

This book is honest and horrifying. It is well written and progresses in ways that keep you guessing and turning pages. Overall, the key to this book is to subtly ask the question, "What would I have done in that time and place?" It is a soul-searching question.
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LibraryThing member suesbooks
This was a very interesting book taking place in both Minneapolis and Germany. The writing kept my interest at all times, and overall I was very satisfied. There were a few errors that I disliked, and some improbablities, but it presented well many of the difficulties of life. The ending came a
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little to fast for my taste, but the characters were well-drawn.
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LibraryThing member dgray99
Great book! I loved how the book went back and forth from the current time of the daughter and mother and the time the mother spent in Germany. The book never had a slow moment and always kept me wanting to read more.
LibraryThing member cindyloumn
Really liked it. Great story teller. I kept waiting for something horrible to happen, and things did, but nothing graphically horrific. Story of germany, and what a woman does to save herself and her daughter from hitler. She has an affair with an SS officer. She then is saved by a US officer, who
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marries her and moves her to MN. The story goes back and forth to the mother's story, and then her daughters story as a teacher at a university. Where she eventually learns who her actual father is. She thought he was a SS officer, when he was actually a jewish dr.
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LibraryThing member xmaystarx
Blum's book provides an interesting look at a German woman's perspective of the holocaust. The main characters include Trudy and her mother, Anna. Anna becomes involved with a Nazi officer in order to save herself and her young daughter during WWII in Germany. As an adult, Trudy is now trying to
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understand her roots and her mother's actions, which her mother has refused to talk about.

Although the book is told through Trudy's life and her "German project", the story is more of her mother's struggles and survival. This is my first book of the holocaust coming from an innocent German perspective so I really can't compare it to any others but I really felt where Anna was coming from and enjoyed learning more about life in Germany during that time.

Be forewarned, there is quite a bit of graphic sex throughout the story. While at first I was a little taken aback by it, I soon realized that it provided an excellent tool from which the reader can follow Anna's path and progression in her relationship with the officer.

Final report: Definitely worth the read. The chapters alternate between the adult Trudy in the present time and her mother, Anna during the war. This kept me reading past my bedtime numerous times when I wanted to find out what happens in one thread or the other but had to read through the other thread to get there! A great story of two women trying to understand their past . One small quibble, the ending was a little too neat and tied with a bow for me. It was too coincidental but that didn't take away from the majority of the book.
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LibraryThing member TrishNYC
Those Who Save Us is a powerful and heart breaking tale of the lives of everyday Germans during World War II. Alternating between present and past, we learn the story of Trudy and her mother Anna. Trudy is a college professor who is drawn into a project by a colleague chronicling the lives of
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ordinary Germans and their feelings about the war, Hitler and the persecution of Jews. While conducting these interviews, Trudy meets a spectrum of Germans. Some excuse their own behavior during the war by couching it in "it was a war, you did what you had to" while some related stories of how their attempts to help their Jewish neighbors was severely punished. But what was surprising was the fact that some of the German emigres still harbored intense anti-Jewish sentiments despite everything that had transpired. But while Trudy chronicles these stories she is unaware that her own mother is an encyclopedia of stories to tell of her life in Germany.

Anna was the daughter of a strict and harsh father who used his only child as an unpaid housekeeper. He was a Nazi sympathizer and one who probably hoped to marry off his beautiful daughter to a Nazi probably hoping that this would elevate him. Unfortunately for him, his daughter falls in love with a Jewish doctor and becomes pregnant. Unfortunately for her, she decides to hide him in her house when the Nazi begin looking for him. This is successful for a while until her father somehow finds him and turns him in and he is sent to a concentration camp. Anna is justifiably horrified and runs away from home, moving in with a local baker.

This book captures you with its excellent descriptions of life in Nazi Germany. The rationing of food, the fear felt by good people who worry about what their government may be doing but cannot do a thing about it. It is an interesting portrait of what happens when you are at your wits end and your salvation comes in the form of your enemy. How does one survive the choices you made in order to insure your survival and that of your child? Before you realize Anna's history, she is described as cold, distant and almost unloving. But as you read of her struggles and the realities of her life in Germany, it explains why she became who we now see.

Anna's story is much more interesting than Trudy's as Trudy sometimes to just be going through the motions. Though you know Anna's life does not end up happy, seeing her as a young women is captivating. As she falls in love with the doctor, you want to believe that theirs will be a happy tale. Trudy though the product of her mother's silence was not a character that I really identified with. I can understand that being the child of a woman like Anna must have left many emotional scares but I could not help looking at Trudy's life and character as unfulfilled and alienated both from the other characters and the reader.

I enjoyed this book and it made me think after I read it. Things are not tied up in a neat bow but the growing understanding between mother and daughter is nice to watch. There were a few iffy moments in the book like getting used to the fact that none of the dialogue has quotations. But as I kept reading, I soon forgot about that. Plot wise I found some of Trudy's relationships somewhat odd and seeming to come out of nowhere. But maybe they were thrown in to show just how disfunctional she had become over time.
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LibraryThing member dgmlrhodes
Very compelling read - I could hardly put it down. The subject matter was difficult being written about the Holocaust from the German point of view, but it also shows the human side of the war. This book will make you stop and think what you would be willing to do to save yourself or your loved
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ones in a difficult situation. Definitely worth reading.
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LibraryThing member krbrancolini
The beauty of this novel lies in the stark contrast between young Anna and elderly Anna. By moving back and forth in time, Blum compellingly demonstrates the power of brutality to obliterate your personality and change your life forever, even if you "survive." You want to know, why didn't Anna tell
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her daughter about her experiences during World War II? Why didn't she tell her husband? The answer becomes clear. She is one of the war's victims. Just like many soldiers, she suffers from lasting post-traumatic stress syndrome. Anna will not make excuses. She will not talk about the past. I absolutely loved this book. Anna has become one of my favorite fictional characters. I know that this book and Anna's story are true on many levels.
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Original publication date



0156031663 / 9780156031660
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