4 out of 4 stars
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“Misery acquaints a man with strange bedfellows” (The Tempest, Act 2, Scene 2.) Often, these words from Shakespeare find fulfillment during times of chaos, tragedy, or war. That’s how it played out for Victoria and Etta. Victoria was a Pole, captured by SS soldiers and purchased by a German family to work as a slave in the family bakery. Etta, the daughter of the family, was a German deaf-mute girl. Her nationality did not exempt her from being considered defective and subhuman. The misery of both of their situations drew them together. They developed a close friendship while the war raged around them.
Herr and Frau Tod locked Victoria in the attic after she finished her work and frequently beat her. She ate watery soup and slept on the floor. Her Catholic faith faltered, and the harsh living conditions brought her to the brink of despair. Still, her life was luxurious compared to what the other Polish women experienced in the camps. With Etta’s help, Victoria conspired to defy German law and help these women and their children. How long could they keep their actions secret from Etta’s SS brother?
Victoria’s War by Catherine A. Hamilton presented the situation of captured Polish women during the Second World War. It is a historical fiction novel based on facts. The Germans captured 1.7 million Poles who worked in forced labor camps, became the slaves of German families, or were forced to work as prostitutes. These numbers amazed and saddened me. The women showed bravery and courage while being humiliated and dehumanized because of their nationality. I liked reading about their audacious and daring acts.
Victoria portrayed the women’s lives inside the camps where they worked to furnish supplies for the Germans. She worked in a clothing factory, sewing shirts and coats for German soldiers until the Tod family purchased her. The author did a fantastic job of developing Victoria’s character. It was easy to relate to Victoria’s disappointment over lost dreams and her spiritual struggles to comprehend what was happening. Her determination to survive and her desire to help others motivate readers not to give up when they experience difficult situations.
The story contains violent scenes. Victoria received physical beatings when she did not perform her duties. Etta’s mother belittled her daughter due to her handicap and destroyed her paintings. Some women were raped. The story talks about what happened to their babies. It was heartbreaking to read about the Polish women who became pregnant. These scenes were what I disliked about the book. We may be tempted to turn our eyes away from the ugly events of history. Hiding from the past does not erase it. It only makes us ignorant of what happened.
I am pleased to rate this book 4 out of 4 stars. The author’s passion for her fellow countrymen made the characters and the dialogues come to life. The relative lack of errors allowed me to read the 286 pages of this book without any obstacles. I recommend this story to all who want to learn more about World War II, especially the treatment of Polish Catholic Women. Victoria’s War is a story about friendship, survival, and courage in the face of persecution. Readers who dislike violence should be aware that the author included historically accurate descriptions of the Nazi's treatment of their prisoners.
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