Tuesday, March 10, 2009

An Obsolete Honor by Helena P. Schrader

An Obsolete Honor: A Story of the German Resistance to Hitler is a must-read for anyone who mistakenly believes all Germans sided with Hitler and his evil minions during World War II. Helena P. Schrader undertook extensive research and interviews with survivors of the failed plot to kill Hitler on July 20, 1944, as well as the spouses of those officers executed for their involvement. (This plot was recently featured in the movie Valkyrie.)

An Obsolete Honor opens in 1938 and ends after the attempted coup (with an epilogue to detail the fates of the many characters, both historical and fictional). There are so many layers to this nearly 560 page story, and I know I can't do it justice here. The book is intense and engrossing, and though there were a lot of characters and military strategy to follow, I was never bored or overwhelmed with details. However, if you're not overly interested in this period in history, the book might be a bit much for you.

The main character of An Obsolete Honor is Philip Baron von Feldburg, a German staff officer who spends a lot of the war on the Russian front, growing increasingly sick of Hitler's ridiculous military strategy and angry about the SS's extermination of innocent Jews by rounding up women, children, and the elderly, shooting them, stacking their bodies up, and leaving them behind. Philip believes a change in command is necessary to end the war and stop the senseless killing. He serves under real-life officers involved in the Valkyrie plot, including General Friedrich Olbricht, Major General Henning von Tresckow, and Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg. Philip's wife, Alexandra von Mollwitz, also plays a large role in the story. She meets Philip in the General Staff Headquarters in Berlin and shares his feelings of hatred for Hitler and the Nazi regime, even working with Olbricht on Valkyrie.

I found many other characters in the book interesting, including Sophia Maria von Feldburg, Philip's mother, who also is against the Nazis and does her best to care for the Polish laborers forced to work at her manor. Theresa von Feldburg, Philip's sister, is another interesting character. She is married to Walther, a self-made man who takes over Jewish factories in Warsaw, uses forced labor from the concentration camps, and creates a home for his family by evicting a Jewish family and moving in. Theresa only cares about herself, never realizing the hardships others endure during the war. I also was captivated by Marianne Moldenauer, a young college student who lives in Philip's Berlin apartment building and forges documents to help the Jews, all the while dating a Gestapo inspector.

There are so many other characters (there's a list of characters at the beginning and even a glossary of German terms and military rank at the end) and subplots that I couldn't possibly mention them all, but Schrader does a brilliant job showing different aspects of the resistance and discontent, as well as the fear that characterized daily life under the Nazis. Imagine being arrested for laughing at a joke about Hitler, being turned in by a relative or an acquaintance for making a statement not in line with Nazi ideology, watching your Jewish neighbors forced out of their homes never to return, or having your children forced into service for the Fuhrer. There were countless German men, women, and youth who opposed Hitler and many who were willing to put their lives on the line to spur change. Those behind the Valkyrie plot knew the odds were against them, yet they made the commitment to show the world that Hitler didn't speak or act for everyone. Schrader does an excellent job blending fiction and history to give us a glimpse of what it was like for Germans under Nazi rule. Given the subject matter, it's hard to say I "enjoyed" the book, but reading it was an eye-opening and emotional experience and well worth the two weeks it took me to finish.

Here are some passages that I wanted to share with you all:
Sophia Maria drew the horse to a halt and turned to face her firstborn. 'Philip, we didn't bring Hitler to power, and we cannot bring him down. All we can try to do is to survive with our personal honor intact--or as untarnished as humanly possible.' Philip looked at her rather strangely, and she felt she had to explain. 'Look, I think what our government has done to the Poles is outrageous, but I can't give them back their land. I can't reverse the injustice done to them. All I can do is treat them with as much consideration, kindness and respect as is possible within my own small realm. God knows, that realm is tiny indeed. Technically, I can't even give my workers an old pair of boots. Common decency has been made illegal by this regime, and I have been turned into a 'criminal.' But I must be a criminal if I am to maintain a much higher law: the law of humanity and Christianity.'
(page 92)

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'It's as if Hitler and his close associates were carriers of a disease--a disease which eats away at the moral fiber of the individual. The nearer or longer one is in contact with them, the weaker one's own ethical structure and sense of humanity becomes. Over time, one's entire system of values is corroded to nothing. In the advanced stages of the disease, not only has one's normal sense of human decency been destroyed, but criminal values have replaced healthy ones.' . . .

'But if our senior military commanders can't resist the criminal orders of Hitler, then the fate of the entire nation is in the hands of an emotionally unstable, morally degenerate madman.' (page 129)

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The Reich was to be made 'Jew-Free' by transporting all the Jews to the mammoth and growing ghettos established throughout the occupied territories in Eastern Europe--Warsaw, Riga, Krakow, and Lublin. 'To the pale,' as Herr Silber described it. 'First the Russians sent us there and now the Germans, always to the pale. Funny--I just said 'the Germans' as if I weren't a German, too. All that propaganda eventually seeps into your brain, even if you don't want it to.' (page 216)

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'Herr General, protectiveness toward women, respect for old people, and love for children are basic human instincts. What does it take to suck the most elemental sympathy out of a young man?'

'Maybe not as much as you think,' Rittenbach countered. 'Murders are committed in every society. If all the moral force of church, law and society is not enough to prevent such things, what can you expect from men given justification and orders to murder? We should not be so surprised when men turn back into the sadistic, bloodthirsty beasts they really are.' (pages 222-223)


Helena P. Schrader, author of An Obsolete Honor, will be a guest blogger at Diary of an Eccentric tomorrow. I hope you'll come back to read what she has to say about writing the book.

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An Obsolete Honor marks the 5th book I've read for the WWII Reading Challenge at War Through the Generations that I'm co-hosting with Serena. Technically, I've completed the challenge, but I plan to read more WWII books over the remainder of the year.

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An Obsolete Honor also was reviewed by:

MariReads

If you've also reviewed it, let me know in the comments, and I'll add your link!

Disclosure:  I received a free copy of An Obsolete Honor from Author Marketing Experts, Inc. for review purposes.

20 comments:

Bookfool said...

I'm skimming your review because I've got this one on my stacks, although it looks like there aren't any spoilers. I'll be back for the guest post!

Serena said...

Gee..you are way ahead of me in the challenge...I've only read one book! LOL good thing I have 7 months to go.

Can't wait to see the guest post.

bermudaonion said...

Sounds fascinating and intense. Thanks for the review.

Julie P. said...

Sounds incredibly interesting!

naida said...

this sounds like an intense and emotional read.
wonderful review.
http://thebookworm07.blogspot.com/

Mari said...

Can't wait to get started on this one. It is sitting patiently on my shelf.

Anonymous said...

If you liked Helena's book she is publishing a non-fiction bio of General Ludwig Beck from Valkyrie this spring. Another great novel on teh subject I can recommend is "The Soldier in the Wheatfield," again dealing peripherally with the bomb plot and with modern day art theft.

WorkingWords100 said...

Great review.

I haven't seen the movie, so this book is on my list.

Teddy Rose said...

Wonderful review Anna! I also have this book but have not had a chance to read it yet. I look forward to seeing Ms. Schrder's guest appearence tomorrow.

Dawn - She is Too Fond of Books said...

This sounds like a terrific book, although I'll confess the size is a little daunting to me at the moment :) I like that she includes the list of characters to refer back to.

And I love the cover, with the reflection of the title ... interesting!

magistramater said...

I'm trying to face reality, that I won't be able to read all that I want on WW2, and then I read this review. I'd call this a "must read" book for me. Thanks for the great review.

BTW, I finally finished Mein Kampf and you can't imagine the relief to be done with it. I'm hoping to review it this week. I'm certain by the end of the year, that will have been the hardest book I read.

Carol

Dar said...

Sounds like a fascinating book Anna-great review. Those quotes are so powerful.

Kelly said...

Superb review!

Lenore said...

Very interesting. As you know, my husband is German, so it sometimes comes up in conversation what side his grandparents were on. Daniel's mother's father was vocal against the nazi party and was sent off to die on the front lines. He never met his daughter.
Daniel's father father kept quiet, joined the party to be safe, and lived a comfortable life after the war.
When cleaning out a great aunt's apartment after she died, we found some nazi pins and other stuff. No idea why she would have kept it.
It's definitely a topic you don't bring up here though.

Ladytink_534 said...

Wow. Sounds like an amazing story and you did a great review on it!

ANovelMenagerie said...

Your reviews are always sooo good. This book is too long for me. I don't think that I could sit through it with my pile awaiting me.

Michele at Reader's Respite said...

This sounds fabulous, Anna! Great find!

Anna said...

~Bookfool: I can't wait to hear what you think of this one!

~Serena: You'll catch up! You have a lot of time left.

~Bermudaonion: It certainly was. Thanks for stopping by!

~Julie: Definitely!

~Naida: Thanks!

~Mari: I can't wait til you read it. I want to know what you think.

~Anonymous: Thanks for letting me know about those books. I'll have to look for those.

~WorkingWords100: From what I understand, the movie has some inaccuracies, according to the author of this book. But I don't know exactly what they are.

~Teddy Rose: I'm looking forward to your review, too!

~Dawn: I like chunky books when they're about subjects that interest me. I didn't think twice about this one. I agree that the cover is interesting. She talks about the cover at the very beginning of the book. It's interesting.

~Magistramater: I hope you get a chance to read this book. I still can't believe you actually finished Mein Kampf. Now that's what I call dedication!

~Dar: Thanks! There were many others, but I had to limit myself.

~Kelly: Thanks!

~Lenore: Thanks for sharing. I enjoy hearing personal stories about the war. My mom said that if she even mentioned Hitler's name in my grandmother's presence, my gram would freak out.

~Ladytink: Thanks so much!

~A Novel Menagerie: I think the length will be a problem for many readers. It would've taken me less than two weeks to finish, but I was savoring it.

~Michele: Thanks!

Tracey said...

A wonderful review Anna - thank you. This sounds really interesting. I have seen the movie and have "Secret Germany" on my list for this challenge. I'm going to keep this book in mind as well.

Anna said...

~Tracey: Thanks! I certainly hope you get a chance to read this one, if not for the challenge then later on. It's so worth it!