Week 2: Discussion of Those Who Save Us by Jenna Blum

Welcome to the discussion of week 2’s reading in Those Who Save Us by Jenna Blum. For this discussion, we’ll be focused on Chapters 16-29. Please chime in below in the comments.

In this second section we see that Anna only thinks of Max when she’s most vulnerable, and when Mathilde questions her about her lack of care toward the prisoners, her answers are very matter of fact.  Do you think she’s shielded herself too well? Was it necessary for her to continue on when Max was taken and she has a daughter to raise?

ANNA: I think she definitely is thinking about how she has Trudy to care for. I think that really comes through in her dealings with the Obersturmfuhrer. But with Max, in addition to having to go on for their daughter’s sake, I don’t think she’s very optimistic about his chances of survival. He was in bad shape when he taken to the camp, and she’s had a glimpse of what life is like in the camp. Plus the fact that she hasn’t had any word of him in a while adds up to be bad news. She also seems to be very matter of fact elsewhere in her life, like at the beginning when she realizes no one is coming to the farmhouse after Jack’s funeral.

SERENA: I agree, Trudy seems to be her sole reason for going onward, and a lack of news about Max coupled with his condition when he was arrested, doesn’t bode well.  She’s a very practical young lady, she seems very mature for her age in that respect.  She’s had to grow up rather quickly.

I do think given her relationship with her daughter that she may have shielded herself from pain too well.  It’s almost like her daughter does not even understand her mother a little bit.  She’s so closed off and the lack of communication between the two is stifling.

Were you surprised by Mathilde’s revelation about her husband? And do you think seeing Trudy has stirred old hurts with her?

ANNA: I don’t know if I was really surprised. She seemed kind of harsh toward Anna about her relationship with Max, so I had been wondering a bit about her personal life. However, I think her agreement to that marriage, and it possibly being why she wanted to help the prisoners, said a lot about who she was as a person and why she joined the resistance. She was very motherly toward Trudy, even if a bit harsh and distant, so it seemed clear to me that her desire for a child was pushed back to the surface. It might even explain why she was so willing to help Anna after she left home.

SERENA: I love that Mathilde seemed to be motherly in a way, though a bit rough around the edges.  I liked that she took the initiative to join the resistance, but it’s sad that she didn’t include Anna in her plans, at least to prepare her for possible consequences.

Having seen Anna’s “relationship” with the Obersturmfurhrer, why do you think Anna is so closed off toward her daughter?

SERENA: I think Anna’s relationship, if you want to call it that, with the Obersturmfurhrer has forced her to do the unthinkable and she wants to shield her daughter as much as she can from it.  In many ways, she seems to be trying to keep her daughter away from him altogether.  She wants her to be as untouched as possible.  I think the consequence of this is that their relationship when she’s older suffers.  But also, Anna doesn’t really remember her own mother and has nothing to base her own motherly relationship on.

ANNA: I wonder why, if Trudy already knew Jack wasn’t her father, she allowed Trudy to think the Obersturmfurher was based on that picture. I feel bad that Trudy is trying to come to terms with that photo and the role her mother played during the war, wondering how she could have been involved with him but not knowing that she was forced to, that she was part of the resistance in a small way, and that he wasn’t her father. I’m sure that would have been a series of events Anna would like to forget, and it would be a really hard thing to bring up in conversation. However, I’m sure it’s also difficult for Trudy to try to come to terms with having a Nazi officer as a father, or so she thinks. I wonder if seeing those books about Nazi Germany in Trudy’s home will spark some kind of discussion.

SERENA: I think Anna’s situation would be hard to talk about no matter what, especially her daughter.  We’re still not sure how young she was when this relationship ended.  Trudy also doesn’t seem to remember much about that time at all, just snippets in dreams.  So that seems to signify that she was young when that arrangement ended.

Why do you think so many Germans are interested in telling their stories?  Is it the money or something more?

ANNA: I think for Frau Kluge in particular money was definitely a motivating factor, but she also seemed to want to justify why she turned in the Jewish families she knew were in hiding. For Rose-Grete, I think it was a way to express the guilt she felt about having done nothing during the war to try to save the Jewish families in her village. Those were the only interviews we’ve thus far, but based on Frau Kluge’s need for reassurance that she didn’t want to be portrayed in a bad light, I wonder how many simply wanted the opportunity to explain their reasons for action or inaction, right or wrong, and to be absolved of any guilt.

SERENA: I tend to agree that Kluge wanted the money, but it seems that so many Germans are looking for absolution of some kind or at least an understanding from those that may just assume that they are Nazis and evil. I also think that Trudy’s little project is part of her attempt at reconciling her mother’s relationship with her Nazi “father.”  I wonder how her mother could have let her go on thinking that for so long.

ANNA: Maybe Anna feels embarrassed about it all, wonders that if she says anything she will be judged for being weak or for not finding another way out of her situation.

What do you think about Trudy’s dreams and what appears to be her descent into drug/alcohol dependency?

SERENA: I think the drugs and alcohol are helping break down internal barriers for Trudy, though it may not be her intention.  It seems to enable her to break through to her past – the memories she has buried for a long time in her subconscious.  I hope that she’s able to stop before she goes to far with those types of crutches though…I also hope that Anna sees those books and realizes that the past is not in the past and that she needs to set things right for her daughter’s sake.

ANNA: It has to be difficult for Trudy to sit across from these people and hear their explanations and then think about what her mother may or may not have done during the war. It emphasizes how the things that aren’t said can do a lot of damage as well. I hope Anna sees the books and the class Trudy teaches as a sign that Trudy really wants to understand.

SERENA: I agree.  I hope that Anna comes to that realization.

What did you think about Roger, his wife, and Trudy? That seems like a mess of a triangle.

ANNA:  I don’t know what Trudy thought she was going to get out of that visit to Roger’s restaurant, aside from a free drink. There’s a reason he’s her ex, after all. But I think it shows how Anna’s isolation has affected Trudy in that she has also isolated herself. Aside from Ruth, she doesn’t seem to have anyone to talk to, and Ruth isn’t the person likely to understand Trudy’s feeling about the German Project.

SERENA: I have no idea what Trudy thought about when she went there, although it is telling that she has no other friends she can turn to.  She can flat out list them on one hand.  She loves to point out how her mother is isolated, but she is as well.  No matter how many students and colleagues she surrounds herself with — no one is let in.

It also seems like Roger’s wife is happy to hold over her happiness with Roger and the success of the business over Trudy.  She seems very conniving.  I wouldn’t want to spend time with either of them.  Then again, I think Roger has a couple of points about Trudy being like her mother.

ANNA: Yes, Roger does have a point there!

Am I the only one wondering what Anna plans to do with the information she learns during pillow talk?

ANNA: Me, too! It seems that she still wanted to have a part in the resistance, particularly in delivering bread to the prisoners, but after that incident where he came to her house a day early and then ordered her to stay at home and be available for him at all times, I’m curious as to how she’d even have the chance to use the information. And it doesn’t seem like she knows any of the other resistance contacts now that Mathilde is gone. It will be interesting to see how it plays out.

SERENA: It does seem like Anna wants to be part of the resistance, but there really isn’t any way or her to do it unless someone comes to her at the bakery when he is not there.

Have your feelings changed about Anna and Trudy upon reading this second section?

ANNA: I still feel like I’m being kept at arm’s length from them, though I am beginning to understand their motivations a bit more now. I’m not sure I can say I like either one of them at this point, but they definitely are interested and complicated characters.

SERENA: I think I can get a better feel for Trudy here, but I’m still feeling disconnected from both of them.  They are intriguing and damaged, which has held my interest.  That hasn’t hampered my interest in the story, though.

So do you think that cameraman and Trudy are going to get involved?

SERENA: I think they might, which could complicate the story further.

ANNA: It looks like it might be headed in that direction. That would be good for Trudy, since she is lonely, but I just hope it doesn’t detract from the overall story.

We’d love to hear from you in the comments about your thoughts on the second section.  What do you think of Anna’s story of survival? Trudy’s research project? Feel free to pose your own questions as well.

Please join us for our third discussion on Monday, June 26 for Chapters 30-45.

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8 Comments

  1. Good morning! I hope you are both well.

    Anna’s is such a controlled person, isn’t she? She seems to be very practical. How much of it is survivor mode–trying to stay alive and protect her daughter? Many of her decisions come back to to needing to protect Trudy, which I think is a mother’s natural instinct. I think she does care about the prisoners and about Max, but feels she has to put Trudy and herself first.

    I agree with you, Serena, about Anna seeming to have shielded her own feelings so much that Trudy really has no idea who her mother is. I think it comes from Anna wanting to protect her daughter–she means well, but ultimately, it has hurt their relationship more so. I wish they would talk to each other. Hopefully now that they are living under the same roof they will.

    I wish Mathilde had been more open and forthright with Anna about her plans and the resistance too. I think it left Anna at a distinct disadvantage. I do think Mathilde’s desire for a child was brought to the surface with Anna and Trudy there, and she probably struggled with that, but I did feel she cared about Trudy very much and it shows to some degree.

    I don’t know if Anna ever talked with Trudy about the Obersturmfurhrer or if she even knows that Trudy thinks he is possibly her dad? I’m not clear on that. I got the impression Anna didn’t know Trudy even knew about the photo. I imagine it would be hard for Trudy, thinking her father was a Nazi officer. It certainly has influenced her career choice–and now her decision to take on her pwn project interviewing Germans who had been in Europe during the war. I think Trudy would like to understand her mother and her father (even to know who he really is)–understand where she comes from and what their lives had been like then. How it impacted her mother. She wants to know why her mother is the way she is. And yes, reconciling her mother’s relationship with the Nazi Officer. I do hope that Trudy gets some of the answers she is looking for from Anna and that it helps her find peace within herself.

    I think that Anna feels great shame and guilt over her “relationship” with the Obersturmfurhrer. We see it all the time in rape and domestic violence victims. And that’s a big part in why she doesn’t want to talk about that time in her life, especially not with her daughter. At least in my opinion.

    Like you, I get the impression Anna wants to be part of the resistance, but just lacks the contacts. And with the Obersturmfurhrer being able to pop in whenever he wants, it really limits her abilities to do anything. I keep hoping he’ll say something she can use. I really don’t like the man.

    It’s interesting hearing the interviews with the Germans, isn’t it? My thoughts run along the same lines as both of you. Frau Kluge seems to be in it for the money more than anything else. I’d like to think somewhere in there she feels bad about her actions–perhaps she does, considering she won’t own it herself, but rather says it was the actions of someone else. That suggests she knows it was wrong. She’s just not ready to admit it and accept it as her own truth.

    I don’t understand Trudy’s decision to talk to Roger either. Maybe it’s out of habit from when they were married. Trudy obviously didn’t get out of that visit what she hoped for. If anything, as you both pointed out, it only highlights just how isolated Trudy is herself.

    I had similar thoughts about Trudy and the cameraman! It’ll be interesting to see if we are right.

    I am enjoying the book so far, and am looking forward to next week’s discussion.

  2. I had left a comment early last week and it looked like it took, and now I see it isn’t there. 😦 So frustrating.

  3. I just found your comment in the spam folder. Sorry about that! Will read and respond in the morning. Thanks for joining us!

  4. Thank you for sharing your thoughts. I agree that Anna is very controlled and practical, and I too hope that she will somehow be able to use the information from the Obersturmfurher to help the resistance in some small way. Maybe that would help alleviate some of the guilt and shame she must feel because of their arrangement.

    This is such a thought-provoking book, with the idea of guilt and shame and hindsight, especially in terms of the interviews, and the impact of the war on survivors and their children long after the fact.

    We’ll be posting the next round of the discussion later today. Sorry for the delay!

  5. Thanks so much for joining us. Darn spam filter. I really find Anna so controlled that it’s hard to like her. I can’t wait to see how this ends and if there is resolution.

  6. What a relief it was just the spam filter. I’ve been having trouble with my computer and was worried that was the cause.

    I finished the book last night, and so will try my best not to let that come through in my answers to the next set of questions. 😉

  7. I hope to finish the book in the next couple of days. Maybe I’ll wait until I finish to read your thoughts just in case! 😉

  8. […] on War Through the Generations. Our discussions can be found here (beware of spoilers): Week 1 | Week 2 | Week 3 | Week 4. Stay tuned for an interview with author Jenna Blum, which also will be featured […]


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