I struggled to finish this book because I knew what was coming. If one were to read the back of the book they would know that the ending is not happy but reading it will open your eyes.
I consider myself a scholar of World War II and if ever I were to get my doctorate that would be my area of study. I don’t know everything about WWII but what I do know is sad and awful and never talked about. The amount of space given to the Holocaust and WWII in my history textbook was a paragraph. We never studied the third reich, we never studied Stalin and to this day I don’t really know what was happening in Italy during WWII. You could argue that doesn’t make me a scholar but I know more about WWII then your average person or even average college professor. Why isn’t it talked about? Why did I have to read a YA novel to know about the 9,000 people that were killed on the Wilhelm Gustloff? You are probably asking yourself what is the Wilhelm Gustloff? It was a passenger ship caring 10,000 civilians running for their lives from the Russians and it was blown up by Russian torpedoes. The Russians may have helped us win the war but that was after they decided to break ties with Germany, never forget that.
The story follows four different characters, Joanna, Emilia, Florian, and Alfred. Joanna is a Latvian nurse running for safety. Emilia is a Polish girl with a secret. Florian is a German spy with an important mission for the Fuhr or is he? Alfred is a lone soldier determined to make a name for himself before the war is over. What brings these four together is the Wilhelm Gustloff and only the way people who have experienced tragedy at the expense of war can. Poles weren’t the only people who died and experienced tragedy at the expense of the Nazis, and Germany wasn’t the only country killing people. There was tragedy all around the world during WWII but burying those tragedies doesn’t make them any less tragic. Nine thousand people dying isn’t something to just not talk about. I scoff at people who say history doesn’t repeat itself because it does. Countries constantly turn their back on the suffering of other countries whether out of fear or an unwillingness to become involved in other people’s business. There is no right answer for these problems but not talking about them in classrooms or social circles isn’t the right answer. These people didn’t suffer to just be forgotten.