Thursday, March 01, 2007

Dark Hours

Dark Hours, by Gudrun Pausewang, begins with a brief historical foreword from author Pausewang discussing the end World War I, it’s resulting effect on Germany, and the rise of Adolph Hitler preceding World War II. The story is an open letter to Stephanie, on the occasion of her sixteenth birthday, from her grandmother Gisel. An artfully poignant and life-changing reminiscence of Gisel’s sixteenth birthday, her family's fateful escape to Dresden, follows.

Simple, meaningful prose describes the hardships the family faces. Gisel’s father is losing faith in the war and Hitler, a danger unto itself. Afraid for her father and ordered to evacuate their village, Gisel, her pregnant mother, grandmother, and three siblings must travel by train to Dresden. With only the barest of necessities and their valor, they face a dilemma when Gisel’s mother goes into labor and is subsequently sent to a hospital, far away from the family. While waiting for their train, an air-raid siren sounds and everyone is forced to find shelters. In the ensuing confusion, Gisel and her brothers are separated from her grandmother and left to fend for themselves as a bomb hits their shelter effectively burying them alive. The next several days test Gisel’s courage and patience as she is forced to be caretaker and mother to her charges while waiting and hoping for rescue.

This book touches on an important aspect of World War II that is sometimes overlooked in Holocaust literature. Simply put, not all Germans were bad, just as not all Allies were good. It is a small vignette featuring Gisel’s family, an ordinary German family trying to survive during horrific times, questioning the war, and hoping for peace. In closing, Gisel tells Stephanie, “Perhaps my story will show you that even ordinary people like us can be strong when we have to be. That’s what really matters.”

Read this book, it will touch your heart.

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