The next book on the list for Book Club was Courage & Defiance: Stories of Spies, Saboteurs, and Survivors in World War II Denmark by Deborah Hopkinson. This was a page turner, for sure! I read it in about 3 days. If you enjoy true stories and learning more about World War II, I think you will enjoy this one.
Courage & Defiance is about the ordinary Danish folks who refused to just sit back and let Hitler and the German war machine take over their land and their lives. They fought back, sometimes in small ways and sometimes by being a part of something bigger. These are true stories of true “courage and defiance” that made a difference in the lives of others. There were thousands of people who were saved by these folks. Their stories show us how acting on a thought, without analyzing it too deeply, can be a very good thing; how thinking of others will inspire you; how seeing evil will propel you forward into action, even if you have no clue what you are really doing.
I don’t want to give too much away about the book up front so I’m not going to just keep rambling on. But, really, this is one that I think is a must read for any pre-teen or teenager who is studying WWII or interested in the ways that people were treated.
There was a very interesting section that I want to share. On page 239, one of the men who had been arrested and sent to prison talks about the process of entry into the camp.
The prisoners had their hair shaved. “There is something strange, alienating and demeaning in being shorn of one’s hair.” It was, Niels reflected, “the first step in a process of methodical dehumanization, of converting us from ordinary healthy citizens into creatures merely caricatures of humanity.”
I know why this struck me so strongly but I don’t know how to put it into words very well. God created all humans to be beings who worship and honor him. The Nazis did all they could to suck the faith and humanity out of the Jews and anyone who tried to help the Jews or oppose the Nazi regime. There was nothing left for them if they lost their hope in their creator. We encounter this in our world today. We need, desperately, to learn the lessons that are there to be learned from the past. We need to learn what God can show us through the way the Nazis treated others.
So, on with the Book Club selection. Let’s get to the questions.
1: When you think of the Holocaust, what do you think about? Does this book fit with those thoughts? In what ways does it fit or diverge?
Nope. Not at all. I had no idea that there were smaller groups of individual, or even the more organized resistance groups, that were fighting against the Nazi regime. I knew about the people who stepped up to hide the Jews and other who were caught helping them but I didn’t know there were folks actively working to disable the Nazis. Makes sense but I never really thought about it.
2: Much of what drove these people was emotion and response to what was going on around them. How does emotion drive action?
If you have no emotion about something, it doesn’t move you one way or the other. However, when something sparks emotion in you, especially strong ones, you have to act. Without emotion, you are completing tasks but you have no connection and no purpose other than fulfilling someone else’s requirements. When emotion is attached to action, it is stronger, more purposeful, and often, more effective. You are also more likely to continue that action when it is driven by emotion.
3:Considering the smallness of the acts by individuals in the grand scheme of things, why do you think they continued?
I think these resistance fighters continued because it was something they could do. Even if it protected one person, it made a difference. That is what drives these acts. They could help, even if it was small. On page 243 Niels Skov talked about the horror of the Nazi prison camps and it brings to mind the reason they continued these acts in spite of the fact that they were small in the grand scheme of things: “We never before had come close to realizing the merit of our cause.”
4: The bravery these men and women displayed is hard to understand. In what ways do we display bravery or courage?
We show bravery or courage when we state something that needs to be said, especially when it is not popular opinion. Things like speaking out about sin that is being spoken as truth (i.e. homosexuality) takes bravery and courage. Sometimes is it doing something that you are afraid of or that is out of your comfort zone. Maybe it is teaching Bible class. Maybe it is learning a new task or skill. Maybe it is educating your children at home. Anytime you go against the grain or popular opinion or, in some cases like this book, against the governing group, it takes bravery and courage.
5: Were you in the shoes of these young folks, would you prefer to act alone, as Niels Skov did, or would you rather be a part of a larger, organized group, as Jorgen Kieler was? Why?
I would rather work with a group. While I like doing many things along, if I am risking something, I want to have the support of a group.
6: Have you read other books set in World War II? Which ones and would you recommend them?
We truly enjoy reading about World War II. I think it is because there are so many people who acted heroically, whether that be fighting actively as soldiers and these resistance fighters did or by doing something like taking over factory jobs that were abandoned when men had to go to war as so many women did or by planting a garden so that less food had to be transported or doing without pantyhose so that the soldiers could have what they needed.
I really liked Monument Men. I don’t remember who wrote that one but it was fascinating! I have read a number of books about Anne Frank and Corrie Ten Boom. The books about the von Trapp family and those were lots of fun. Zlata’s Diary is also set in this time but in Russia. That was an eye opener, for sure, since I didn’t realize all that went on there. We have checked out a number of non-fiction books about WWII in general and those were interesting. Miss L has been very interested in WWII and wrote an essay about Joseph Stalin. Ummm – had no idea what an evil man he was!
7: Which of these Danish resistance fighters do you most admire?
Jorgen Kieler. He showed courage and a positive attitude throughout everything he had to endure. He was full of hope and always on the lookout for ways to escape the prison camps. But not just for himself. He was always looking for ways to help others and his fellow countrymen. He never gave up.
8: p. 120 “Only a drop in the ocean, that what they say. Well now, the ocean consists of drops.” – Morgan Fog on the use/effectiveness of Danish resistance.
What was his purpose in this statement? Do you agree? Why or why not?
This statement fascinated me. We talk about how things are small and don’t make a difference. This statement reminded me that every little drop counts and when we add them all together, they make a mighty force. That is why it is so important to act, even when you think you are all by yourself. There are many others who feel the same way but when you put it together, what a force! I think Morgan Fog was right on the money. Each act might not have had a major effect on the Nazis but when you put a whole bunch of smaller ones together, a large crater has been created by the effort.
I hope you give this book a chance. It was a fascinating read and brought a whole new light to WWII and all that the victims of the Nazis went through. While it is technically listed as Young Adult nonfiction, there is plenty of meat to this book to be a solid read for any adult who is interested. Especially when you consider that this is not a part of WWII that is often shared or talked about.
Next month, we will be tackling Julia Child’s book My Life In France.
You can find the questions we will be working on here
Tagged: Book Club, books, high school, history, Middle School