Two Haunting Biographies
I’ve recently read two biographies that were so engaging, I couldn’t put them down. I think I finished The Nazi Officer’s Wife in less than 24 hours. If you enjoy biographies, these two should go on your TBR list.
The first one is called The Nazi Officer’s Wife: How One Jewish Woman Survived the Holocaust by Edith Hahn Beer with Susan Dworkin. It follows Edith’s journey through WWII and tells her story about living through the Holocaust.
The ever-present fear of being found out if more that I can imagine. Always having to hide your ideas, your thoughts, your memories, your heritage.
Most haunting lines: In reference to the people in charge of the labor camp where she was interred—“No one forced them to behave in an unkind manner. The opportunity to act decently toward us was always available to them. Only the tiniest number of them ever used it.” Think about that. Heartbreaking.
Also: “I understand now that everything was done so that the Germans would never see us; or, if they saw us, would not have to admit it; or, if they had to admit it, would be able to say that we looked fine and [they] would never be irritated by a sense of guilt or pricked by a moment of compassion. I remember reading what Hermann Göring said to Hitler: These moments of compassion could be a big problem. Every German probably has one favored Jew to pull out of the bunch, some old doctor, some pretty girl, some friend from school. How would Germany ever become Judenrein if all these exceptions were made? So the policy was not to tempt anybody to behave decently, and all the while to keep us in the deepening dark.”
The second biography is called The Radium Girls: The Dark Story of America’s Shining Women by Kate Moore. This is the story of the women in Newark, NJ and Ottawa, IL who worked in the watch-dial factories, painting the “watch-dial numerals and hands with a luminous substance that made them visible in the dark,” using a lip, dip, paint method. The story begins in 1917 and covers WWI and continues through the legal trials of the 1930s when they sued the radium companies, wanting them to accept responsibility and pay compensation for the women and their families. Yes, just like big tobacco, the powers-that-be knew radium was poisonous, knew why the women were getting sick, but chose to never reveal it.
The story goes back and forth between NJ and IL and tells the stories of the different girls affected by radium poisoning. The suffering they endured. The money they spent trying to find the cause and then a cure for their illnesses.
Moore does a solid job with her descriptions. We get a definite feel for the agony of the victims’ suffering without the descriptions being overly graphic.
Most haunting scene of the book: When the girls would paint their eyes, their lips, their skin in leftover radium paint because they thought it was pretty and festive. They glowed in the dark and felt pretty and special and had no idea that the radium was poisoning them.