Week 3: Discussion of Those Who Save Us by Jenna Blum

Welcome to the discussion of week 3’s reading in Those Who Save Us by Jenna Blum. Sorry for the delay in posting our thoughts. It’s one of those cases of real life simply getting in the way. For this discussion, we’ll be focused on Chapters 30-45. Please chime in below in the comments.

What do you think of Anna’s reactions to the black car and the trip?

ANNA: I’m sure the opulence of the vehicle amidst the squalor of war drew more attention to the bakery, and their arrangement, than Anna wanted. I think being so isolated and not allowed to leave the bakery allowed her to pretend that none of her neighbors were aware. It was interesting that this bit of freedom takes her back to her childhood, and then the reality sets in and gives her an uneasy feeling.

Once they arrived at the inn, I wonder if Anna thought about how easy it could have been to be the young girl acting recklessly with the young officer. And it is telling when the Obersturmfuhrer scolds them as though he is an exemplary, moral figure when in fact he is lying about Anna being his wife.

SERENA: I think Anna’s trip down memory lane is the first time she’s not thought about starvation, scraping enough together to feed her child, or how she has to sacrifice herself to feed her child.  I liked to see her thinking of her past with at least a little bit of fondness, even if she couldn’t exactly remember if her mother and her had been on such a trip.  The luxury of the car must have been a welcome change, and although I don’t think she was thrilled about this trip and how it would look to others in town, I think she enjoyed it to an extent.

I also found it funny that the Obsersturmfuhrer was acting so moral when he’s having an affair with Anna.  He’s a bunch of contradictions.

Do you think Anna is developing feelings for the Obsersturmfuhrer, given that she surprises herself by wanting to know whether he has a wife? Or do you think her curiosity is something else entirely?

SERENA: I think she’s merely curious about the man who basically holds her in his power.  She spends a great deal of time observing him and trying to figure out his moods and motivations, and I think that her asking is just part of that process.  She’s trying to figure out where she fits into the equation.  What level of importance does she have and maybe how far she can push him to get what she needs for her daughter.  I also don’t know that she was really surprised by his answer.

ANNA: I thought that, too. Though I’m still wondering why she bothered to keep the picture that has Trudy so obsessed with the past.

Do you think that Frau Buchholtz’s reaction and behavior toward Anna when she picks up Trudie would mirror what the others in the town think of her?  And do you think the trip in the car exacerbated those reactions since Anna was likely seen with the Obsersturmfuhrer?

ANNA: Anna senses more fear from Frau Buchholtz than anything, but I wonder if some of her other neighbors would be less fearful and more disgusted by her actions, especially those who didn’t believe Mathilde’s story about her pregnancy. I’m not surprised by Frau Buchholtz’s reaction, as she seems to be barely keeping her family fed and doesn’t need Anna to find something amiss and ruin that. I do believe that the presence of the Obersturmfuhrer’s car would generate fear, even if they learn that he’s only there to see Anna.

I think it was an important scene, Anna realizing that she and Trudy are much better off in terms of basic necessities. Maybe it helps her justify the arrangement with the Obersturmfuhrer in her mind, that it was truly a means of survival.

SERENA: I agree, I think this scene with Frau Buchholtz serves to demonstrate just how well off she is, even if she has to do unpleasant things to remain so.  Does it make it worth it to her, I’m not sure, but it certainly helps her find peace with what has happened.  Things could always be worse.

I’ve been wondering about that little family portrait myself, and I hope we get to hear why she did keep it all these years.  I think if she hadn’t kept it, she might not have the issues she does with Trudy now.

Why do you think Anna is drawn to the interview materials for Trudy’s project and why does she watch the videos?

SERENA: I think she wants to see what others experienced during the war, especially since she was so isolated in the bakery.  I think she also wants to know what others have told her daughter and whether anyone knows them or their situation.  It seems like she wants to keep the past in the past and doesn’t want it to resurface at all, though the likelihood of it doing so is remote unless she tells the story.

ANNA: I agree, Anna is curious but definitely wants to keep her own story untold for various reasons we can only speculate about at this point. I’m curious to see how Anna’s wartime story plays out in order to finally shed some light on why she refuses to tell Trudy her story, even when Trudy catches her watching the videos and it is understandable why she would press the point with her mother at that point. I hope this is a foreshadowing that they eventually will have their much-needed heart-to-heart.

What do you think about the interview with Mr. Goldmann? Do you think he is right that Trudy is looking for a way to exonerate the Germans, namely her mother, given what little she knows and speculates about Anna’s past?

SERENA:  I don’t think Trudy is looking to exonerate anyone.  I think she merely wants to understand what happened to her (stuff she doesn’t really remember) and her mother during the war.  She cannot get it from the source, so this is a roundabout way of her seeing the war through German eyes.  She still doesn’t know her own heritage from Max, so she’s assuming that she’s only German and wants to know what happened to these people that made them overlook so many atrocities.

ANNA: I agree that it don’t think she necessarily wants to exonerate anyone. Of course, I think she’s hoping to find that her mother had no choice to do the things she did during the war, and I wonder if the possibility that Anna may have had ulterior motives (like some of the other interviewees interested only in money) is part of the reason why these interviews hit her so hard. And hearing the story from Mr. Goldmann’s point of view and his justifiable anger is hard to come to terms with, especially for Trudy, who is German and thinks her father was a Nazi officer. It’s hard to wrap your head around as a reader, never mind as someone who actually had to deal with it.

It seems when Anna and Trudy go on that picnic with the Obersturmfuhrer that Anna sees the more “Nazi” side of him for the first time.  He fires his pistol without a second thought for Trudy. What did you think of her reaction and then her subsequent request that he release the 23 prisoners at the camp?

SERENA: I think this scene in which he fires the pistol and could have shot her daughter without a second thought is very telling.  She hasn’t seen this detached, mechanical man much, and she’s forced to reassess her position.  There seems to be greater fear from her in the subsequent chapters after this incident.  It’s clear that he doesn’t care for her child at all, despite the kindness and the gifts, and when she asks for the prisoners to be set free, I wanted to slap her.  Did she just want to invite more trouble or was she really just looking for it all to end for both her and her daughter?  It was crazy to me.

ANNA: This seems to be the first time she really has feared him, and maybe that’s because she cares more about Trudy’s life than her own, I don’t know. All of her other interactions with him seem more controlled, like she knows what he expects from her, but this time it was different: a spontaneous picnic, a sort of scene like they were a regular family. I’m not sure why she thought it was a good idea to ask him to release the prisoners. Was it a test to see how much power she had over him? Even if she really didn’t know the extent of the Nazis’ evil at this point, she’d seen what they’d done to Mathilde for trying to arm the prisoners, so you’d think she’d realize this would be pushing the boundary a bit far.

This is another important scene in which she sees the evil underneath the feelings of inadequacy. And when she learns that he was with the Einsatzgruppen, the division that Rose-Grete talks about in the video Anna was watching of Trudy’s interview, that definitely could play into why she wouldn’t talk to Trudy right then.

SERENA: I agree that Anna might not want to talk about him after viewing that tape with Rose-Grete.  I can see why she wouldn’t.

Do you think Anna’s thoughts about the film hidden near the quarry at the camp indicate that she is working with the resistance again? And if so, why do you think her involvement not mentioned more explicitly?

SERENA: I wondered about her thoughts about that film, but it seems that it was glossed over and we really don’t know why she even mentions it at this point.  I hope that she’s been working with the resistance, though I really cannot see how she would be given her isolation and the fact that the town knows about her relationship with the Nazi.

ANNA: I agree, it doesn’t seem possible that she would still be working with the resistance. So I wonder if the film is something that was left there a while back, and she is remembering it now? Or if she somehow managed to keep working with the resistance and that twist will be revealed later on? Or is the complicated story of her time with the Obersturmfuhrer simply what we’re meant to be focused on right now?

Anna wonders, as the time passes and things look worse for the Nazis, whether the Obersturmfuhrer cares for her. Given his shifting moods, what do you think? And do you think he actually cares for Trudy? Why do you think he gives her the “family” portrait?

SERENA: As for the Obersturmfuhrer, I think he only cares for them inasmuch as he can get from them.  We know that his wife doesn’t leave the house, so Anna has a definite role for him — satisfying him and placating him, etc.  Trudy’s role (though we don’t know if he has his own kids) seems to be that of the child.  He gets to borrow her so-to-speak, though he doesn’t have to do the hard work of caring for her daily or disciplining her all that much.  He also appears to be grooming her with all that marching.  But it’s really like he’s play-acting.  This is what he thinks life would be like if there was no war.  They would be there to please only him.

ANNA: I agree. I think he cares for them in his own twisted way, for what he gets from Anna and how Trudy’s presence makes it seem like they could be a real family in another place and time. It’s almost like the photograph is meant to be some sort of memento of their time together, that it wasn’t meant to last and eventually that will be all there is. I still wonder why Anna kept the photo. She seems to have forgotten it when Trudy mentions it to her, but there must’ve been some reason she didn’t leave it behind in Germany.

What do you think of Trudy’s new friendship with Rainer?

SERENA: Trudy and Rainer seem to have an uneasy friendship, and I think for her part, she likes that he challenges her.  She doesn’t really have anyone doing that to her — just her challenging her mother.

ANNA: I agree that their friendship is an uneasy one. He seems to see more of Trudy than the rest of the world does, though that unnerves her. And since she doesn’t seem to have anyone else to talk to, at least not someone who has some idea of what she may or may not be trying to accomplish with the interview project, Rainer seems to fit the bill. The fact that he was also a history teacher helps her bond with him I think.

What are your thoughts about the final chapter in this section, mainly Anna’s reaction to Trudy’s probing questions about the officer?

SERENA: Anna seems appalled that Trudy knew about the “family” portrait and she refuses to acknowledge anything about him or its existence.  But she really gets mad when Trudy may have suggested that Anna loved him.  To me that seems like her conflicting feelings about him remain unresolved.  She did seem to get used to him, but she was not some doe-eyed woman in love with a Nazi either.  I think until Anna deals with those issues, it will be hard for her to talk about that time.

ANNA: Anna certainly has a lot of unresolved issues, and I think she is blindsided by Trudy’s comments that she actually remembers him. That and the fact that Trudy has seen the picture must unnerve her because things she desperately tries to keep hidden are coming closer to the surface. She does seem quite upset by the suggestion that she loved him, but I wonder if that’s just because the suggestion horrified her or maybe she did have some sort of feelings for him. I think she is sincere when she says she did it all for Trudy, and she would be appalled at any suggestion otherwise. But we’ll see how this all plays out.

We’d love to hear from you in the comments about your thoughts on the second section.  

Please join us for our fourth and final discussion on Monday, July 3 for Chapters 46 – The End.

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5 Comments

  1. I really have enjoyed this latter half of the book much more.

  2. Me, too! I hope to finish it early this time because I really want to know what happens next!

  3. Anna seemed so uncomfortable on the trip, and yet I think she did like some aspects of it. It really showed the difference between life between the officers and the civilians, didn’t it? I thought it was funny how Obsersturmfuhrer treated those soldiers to given his own situation. He’s such a hypocrite. I really don’t like him.

    I didn’t get the impression Anna is falling for Obsersturmfuhrer. I think she is trying to get to know him better, to understand him, and know what her place is in his life. As well as how far she can push him. Like you, Anna, I’m not sure why she kept the photograph. Especially given her desire to forget the past.

    I do think the black car picking her up–heck, even the Obsersturmfuhrer’s regular visits–haven’t gone unnoticed by the townsfolk. I imagine Frau Buchholtz fears Anna in a sense. Is she an informant? That sort of thing. I feel for Anna, being in that position. They all are doing what they have to in order to survive.

    I thought Anna’s request to release the prisoners was a very brave one to make, but also a bit naive. It certainly set him off and we got to see just the kind of person he really is.

    Do I think Obsersturmfuhrer loves her? That’s a tough one. I would have to agree with you both–maybe in his own twisted way. I think he likes the power he has over her. He’s certainly deluded himself into believing she cares for him given how pliable she is when really it’s her fear of him for herself and Trudy.

    As to Anna and the recordings, although she wants to forget her own past, I think a part of her is drawn to the stories of others. I think it’s a very natural thing. She is connected to that history whether she likes it or not.

    I can see where Mr. Goldman is coming from, his anger and disgust with the project. I agree with both of you that Trudy’s purpose for the project–that it wasn’t to exonerate anyone, but rather to understand her mother better and her own history.

    As much as I want to comment on Rainer and Trudy’s relationship, I think I will refrain. I don’t think I can talk about it without giving away more than I should. Although you might have both finished it by now!

    Thank you again for this great discussion! I appreciate you hosting this read-along.

  4. Thank you for joining us again, Wendy! It seems we all had similar thoughts about this section. I’m still wondering why she kept the photo, having finished the book at this point. Maybe as some sort of confirmation of what she endured, or evidence of the burden she carries? I don’t know; it certainly leaves room for a lot of discussion.

  5. […] 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 on War […]


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