I received a free digital ARC from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
Absolute must-read, right off the bat. I could not put this one down.
The Nine is a book about doing what is right, no matter the cost; about resilience and survival and the bonds of friendship. I would like to think we could all be this brave, but I also hope we never have to find out.
Here the author tells the story of her great aunt Helene's life during World War II and her fellow resistance fighters who would escape the clutches of the Nazis and make an incredibly painful and miraculous journey across Germany and finally return home to Paris.
Prior to their individual captures by the Gestapo, the women did not know one another. All were Resistance fighters who did what needed to be done, because they knew what was happening to the Jewish people was not right. These women did it all - hiding Jewish children, smuggling weapons, sheltering Ally agents who parachuted in behind enemy lines, and more. Anything and everything they could do to fight the Nazis, they did. As they were rounded up and interrogated, tortured, nearly killed, still they did not do anything to endanger the lives of fellow fighters.
After the Gestapo was through with them, the women were sent to various prisons in France where they began to find one another and forge friendships that would ensure their survival - even when things were at their bleakest. The women came to know one another in prison, or in transit from one to another, then in RavensbrÜck, and finally in Leipzig (a sub-camp of Buchenwald). As the war came to an end and the Nazis were determined to hide their crimes, they marched their prisoners farther into German territory. It would be during that death march that Helene and her friends made their escape.
I could not put this book down. I was captivated from start to finish by this incredible story and the beauty of powerful friendships that came from horrifying events. To not only survive themselves, but to hold one another up at various points when one or another was ready to give up, is astounding. These young women, ranging in ages from 20-29, were determined to make it home and did so due to quick-thinking, courage bordering on insanity at times, and a bit of luck.
Oh, and it was on foot the entire time.
The author does not shy away from accounts of the torture the women were subjected to and I admit to skimming those parts. However, I don't feel they were gratuitous - I am just a baby with a weak stomach/gag reflex. Yet even within these scenes, the author is careful, treating the subjects with the utmost respect. I think this is important. The farther we get away from The Holocaust, the easier it is for many to put away the images of the horrors that were inflicted on so many.
An aspect of the story from after the war that sparked my interest relates to the idea of the trauma that afflicted the next generation - the children of those who survived. So many survivors remained silent about what they had seen and heard. The author discusses transmission studies done in the 70s on these second-generation survivors and how intergenerational trauma came to be, and how it impacted the children of survivors.. I will definitely be seeking out more information on that topic.
Books like this are so important. There are so many women who took huge risks to do what they knew was right, and we will never know all of their names and faces. While I would love to know more details about their work, that is already all but lost to history. Women especially need to be recognized for all that they did to impact the outcome of the war.
Upon returning to their homes, the women find that France has already moved on. By the time they do make it back across the front, Paris has been liberated for nearly a year. These women become the reminder of something terrible that everyone else would rather forget.
We will never forget you.
Highly, highly recommended.