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Those Who Save Us

Those Who Save Us

by Jenna Blum


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For fifty years, Anna Schlemmer has refused to talk about her life in Germany during World War II. Her daughter, Trudy, was only three when she and her mother were liberated by an American soldier and went to live with him in Minnesota. Trudy's sole evidence of the past is an old photograph: a family portrait showing Anna, Trudy, and a Nazi officer, the Obersturmführer of Buchenwald.

Driven by the guilt of her heritage, Trudy, now a professor of German history, begins investigating the past and finally unearths the dramatic and heartbreaking truth of her mother's life.

Combining a passionate, doomed love story, a vivid evocation of life during the war, and a poignant mother/daughter drama, Those Who Save Us is a profound exploration of what we endure to survive and the legacy of shame.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780156031660
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Publication date: 05/02/2005
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 496
Sales rank: 22,069
Product dimensions: 7.96(w) x 5.34(h) x 0.86(d)

About the Author

JENNA BLUM is the New York Times bestselling author of The Stormchasers . Jenna is of German and Jewish descent and spent four years working for Steven Spielberg's Shoah Foundation, interviewing Holocaust survivors. She teaches fiction for Grub Street Writers. Please visit Jenna at, on Facebook and on Twitter: @jenna_blum.

Read an Excerpt


THE EVENING IS TYPICAL ENOUGH UNTIL THE DOG BEGINS to choke. And even then, at first, Anna doesn't bother to turn from the Rouladen she is stuffing for the dinner that she and her father, Gerhard, will share, for the dachshund's energetic gagging doesn't strike her as anything unusual. The dog, Spaetzle, is forever eating something he shouldn't, savaging chicken carcasses and consuming heels of bread without chewing, and such greed is inevitably followed by retching. Privately, Anna thinks him a horrid little creature and has ever since he was first presented to her five years ago on her fourteenth birthday, a gift from her father just after her mother's death, as if in compensation. It is perhaps unfair to resent Spaetzle for this, but he is also chronically ill-tempered, snapping with his yellowed fangs at everyone except Gerhard; he is really her father's pet. And grossly fat, as Gerhard is always slipping him tidbits, despite his bellowed admonitions to Anna of Do not! Feed! The dog! From! The table!

Now Anna ignores Spaetzle, wishing her hands were not otherwise engaged in the mixing bowl so she could bring them to her ears, but when the choking continues she looks at him with some alarm. He is gasping for breath between rounds of rmmmp rmmmp rmmmp noises, foam flecking his long muzzle. Anna abandons the Rouladen and bends over him, forcing his jaws open to get at whatever is blocking his windpipe, but her fingers, already meat-slick, find no purchase in the dog's slippery throat. He seems to be succeeding in his struggle to swallow the object, yet Anna is not willing to leave the outcome to chance. What if what he has eaten is poisonous? What if the dog should die? With a fearful glance in the direction of her father's study, Anna throws on her coat, seizes the dachshund, and races from the house without even removing her grimy apron.

There being no time to bring Spaetzle to her regular doctor in the heart of Weimar, Anna decides to try a closer clinic she has never visited but often passed during her daily errands, on the shabby outskirts of town. She runs the entire quarter kilometer, fighting to retain her hold on the dog, who writhes indignantly in her arms, a slippery tube of muscle. Beneath guttering gaslamps, over rotting October leaves and sidewalks heaved by decades' worth of freeze and thaw: finally Anna rounds a corner into a row of narrow neglected houses still pockmarked with scars from the last war, and there is the bronze nameplate: HERR DOKTOR MAXIMILIAN STERN. Anna bumps the door open with a hip and rushes through the reception area to the examining room.

She finds the Herr Doktor pressing a stethoscope to the chest of a woman whose flesh ripples like lard from her muslin brassiere. The patient catches sight of Anna before the practitioner: she points and emits a small breathy scream. The Doktor jumps and straightens, startled, and the woman grabs her bosom and moans.

Have a seat in the waiting room, whoever you are, Herr Doktor Stern snaps. I'll be with you shortly.

Please, Anna gasps. My father's dog- he's eaten something poisonous- I think he's dying-

The Doktor turns, raising an eyebrow.

You may dress, Frau Rosenberg, he tells his patient. Your bronchitis is very mild, nothing to be alarmed about. I'll write you the usual prescription. Now, if you'll excuse me, I must attend to this poor animal.

Well! says the woman, pulling on her shirtwaist. Well! I never expected- to be forsaken for a dog.

She grabs her coat and pushes past Anna with a dramatic wheeze.

As the door slams the Doktor comes quickly to Anna and relieves her of her burden, and she imagines that he shares with her the faintest smile of complicity over his spectacles. She lowers her head, anticipating the second, startled glance of appreciation that men invariably give her. But instead she hears him walking away, and when she looks up again his back is to her, bent over the dachshund on the table.

Well, what have we here, he murmurs.

Anna watches anxiously as he reaches into the dog's mouth, then turns to prepare a syringe. She takes some comfort from the deft movement of his hands, the play of muscles beneath his thin shirt. He is a tall, slender fellow, bordering on gaunt. He also seems oddly familiar, though Anna certainly has not been here before.

As grateful as I am to you for rescuing me from Frau Rosenberg, I must point out that this is a most unorthodox visit, Fräulein, says the Doktor as he works. Are you perhaps under the impression that I'm a veterinarian? Or did you think a Jewish practitioner would be grateful to treat even a dog?

Jewish? Anna blinks at the Doktor's blond hair, which, though straight, stands up in whorls and spikes. She remembers belatedly the Star of David painted on the clinic door. Of course, she has known this is the Jewish Quarter, but in her panic she has not given it a thought.

No, no, Anna protests. Of course not. I brought him here because you were closest-

She realizes how this sounds and winces.

I'm sorry, she says. I didn't mean to offend.

The Doktor smiles at her over one shoulder.

No, it's I who should apologize, he says. It was meant as a joke, but it was a crude one. In these times I'm indeed grateful for any patients, whether they're fellow Jews or dachshunds. You are Aryan, yes, Fräulein? You do know you have broken the law by coming here at all.

Anna nods, although this too she has not considered. The Doktor returns his attention to the dog.

Almost done, almost done, he mutters. Ah, here's the culprit.

He holds something up for Anna's inspection: part of one of her sanitary napkins, slick with spit and spotted with blood.

Anna claps her palms to her face, mortified.

Oh, God in heaven, she says. That wretched dog!

Herr Doktor Stern laughs and dispenses the napkin in a rubbish bin.

It could have been worse, he says.

I can't imagine how-

He could have eaten something truly poisonous. Chocolate, for instance.

Chocolate is poisonous?

For dogs it is, Fräulein.

I didn't know that.

Well, now you do.

Anna fans her flaming cheeks.

I'm not sure that I wouldn't have preferred that, she says, given the circumstances.

The Doktor laughs, a short bark, and moves to lather his hands at the sink.

You mustn't be embarrassed, Fräulein, he says. Nihil humanum mihi alienum est-nothing human is alien to me. Nor canine, for that matter. But you should be more careful what you feed that little fellow-for meals, that is. He is far too fat.

That's my father's doing, Anna tells him. He is constantly slipping the dog scraps from the table.

Now Herr Doktor Stern does give her another, longer look.

Your father-that's Herr Brandt, yes?

That's right.

Ah, says the Doktor, and lifts Spaetzle from the examining table. He settles the dog in Anna's arms. The dachshund's eyes are glazed; limp, he seems to weigh as much as a paving stone.

A mild sedative, the Doktor explains, and muscle relaxant. So I could extract the...In any case, he'll be up to his old tricks in no time, provided you keep him away from sweets and other, shall we say, indigestibles?

He lowers his spectacles and smiles at Anna, who stands returning it longer than she should. Then she remembers herself and shifts the dog to fumble awkwardly in her coat pocket for her money purse.

How much do I owe you? she asks.

The Doktor waves a hand.

No charge, he says. It is the least I can do, considering my last ill-fated interaction with your family.

He turns away, and Anna thinks, Of course. Now she knows where she has seen him before. He attended Anna's mother in the final days of her illness, the only physician in Weimar who would come to the house. Anna recalls Herr Doktor Stern hurrying past her in the upstairs hallway, vials clinking in his bag; that, upon spying the woebegone Anna in a corner, he stopped and chucked her under the chin and said, It'll be all right, little one. She recalls, too, that Gerhard's first reaction to his wife's death was to rant, It's all his fault she didn't recover. What else can one expect from a Jew? I should never have let him touch her.

You used to have a beard, Anna says now, a red beard.

The Doktor scrapes a hand over his jaw, producing a small rasping sound.

Ah, yes, so I did, he says. I shaved it off last year in an attempt to look younger. Vain in both senses of the word.

Anna smiles again. How old is he? No more than his mid-thirties, she is sure. He wears no wedding ring.

He opens the door for her with a polite little flourish. Anna remains near the apothecary cabinet, fishing about for something else to ask him, wondering whether she can possibly pretend interest in the jars of medicines and tongue depressors or the skeleton propped in one corner of the room, wearing a fedora. But the Doktor has an air of impatience now, so Anna gives a small sigh and takes a firmer grasp on the dog.

Thank you very much, Herr Doktor, she murmurs as she brushes past him, noticing, beneath the odor of disinfectant, the smell of spiced soap on his skin.

My pleasure, Fräulein.

The Doktor flashes Anna a distracted half-smile and calls into the waiting room: Maizel!

A small boy with long curls bobbing over his ears scurries toward Anna, his arm in a sling. He is followed by an older Jewish man in a threadbare black coat. Their forelocks remind Anna of wood shavings. She presses herself against the wall to let the pair pass.

As she emerges into the chilly night, Anna casts a wistful look back at the clinic. Then, with unease, she remembers her father. It is late, and Gerhard will be furious that his dinner has been delayed; he insists his meals be served with military precision. On sudden impulse, Anna turns and hastens toward the bakery a few streets away. A Sachertorte, Gerhard's favorite dessert, will provide an excuse as to why Anna has been out at this hour-she is certainly not going to tell him about the debacle with the dog-and may act as a sop to his temper.

Like everything else in this forlorn neighborhood, the bakery is nothing to look at. It does not even have a name. Anna wonders why its owner, Frau Staudt, doesn't choose to relocate outside the Jewish Quarter, since she is as Aryan as Anna herself. No matter; however run-down the shop, its pastries are the best Weimar has to offer. Anna arrives just as the baker is flipping the sign from Open to Closed. Anna taps on the window and makes a desperate face, and Frau Staudt, whose substantial girth is trussed as tightly as a turkey into her apron, throws up her hands.

She unlocks the door, grumbling in her waspish little voice, And what is it you want now? A Linzertorte? The moon?

A Sachertorte? says Anna, trying her most winning smile.

A Sachertorte! Sachertorte, the princess wants...I don't suppose you have the proper ration coupons, either.


I thought not.

But the widowed and childless baker has long adopted a maternal attitude toward the motherless Anna, and there is indeed a precious Sachertorte in the back, and Anna manages, by looking suitably pitiable, to beg half of it on credit.

This accomplished, she returns home as quickly as she is able, given that she is holding the pastry box under one arm and the dachshund, who is starting to squirm, in the other. And again Anna is in luck: when she sneaks in through the maid's entrance, she hears a rising Wagnerian chorus from her father's study. Gerhard is in a decent mood, then. Perhaps he has not noticed what time it is. Anna deposits the dog in his basket and frowns at the sideboard. The Rouladen, left out of the icebox this long, has probably spoiled. Anna will have to concoct an Eintopf from last night's dinner instead.

As she hastily assembles the ingredients for the casserole, she pinches bits from the cake and eats them. The cold night air has given her an appetite. It has done wonders for Spaetzle too, apparently, for he makes the quick recovery the Doktor has promised. He waddles from his bed to lurk underfoot; he stares with beady interest at Anna's hand, following the progress of Sachertorte from box to mouth. As Anna does not appear to be about to offer him any, he lets out a volley of yaps.

Quiet, Anna says.

She cuts herself a sliver of cake and eats it slowly, savoring the bitter Swiss chocolate and sieving her memory for more details of Herr Doktor Stern's house call five years earlier. She recalls that the red beard made him look like the Dutch painter van Gogh, whose self-portraits were once exhibited in Weimar's Schlossmuseum. Even now without it, the resemblance is striking, Anna reflects: the narrow face, the sad blue brilliance of the eyes, the weary lines etched about the mouth, not without humor. The artist in his final tortured days.

Anna sighs. In the time before the Reich, she would have been able to revisit the Doktor with some conjured malady. She might even, with careful planning, have encountered him socially. But now? Anna has no excuse whatever to visit a Jewish physician; in fact it is, as the Doktor himself has reminded her, forbidden. Not that Anna has ever paid much attention to such things.

She takes a disheartened bite of cake, and Spaetzle barks again.

Shut up, Anna tells him absently.

Then she looks down at the dog. Encouraged by Anna's thoughtful expression, he begins to wriggle and whine. Anna smiles at him and slices another piece off the cake, somewhat larger this time. She hesitates for a moment, the chocolate softening in her palm. Then she says, Here, boy, and drops it to the floor.

Copyright © 2004 by Jenna Blum

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopy, recording, or any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publisher.

Requests for permission to make copies of any part of the work should be mailed to the following address: Permissions Department, Harcourt, Inc.,
6277 Sea Harbor Drive, Orlando, Florida 32887-6777.

What People are Saying About This

From the Publisher

“In her compelling first novel, Jenna Blum forces a moral re-evaluation on her characters and on the reader. Cagily plotted between past and present, guilt and innocence, Those Who Save Us is a moving, unsentimental page turner.” —ALISON LESLIE GOLD, a u t h o r o f F I E T ’ S VASE and ANNEFRANK REMEMBERED ( w i t h M I E P G I E S )

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Those Who Save Us 4.2 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 694 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This is an amazing story. I was drawn in and couldn't put it down to the very end. It flips back and forth from the present to the past with the mother's life, and with her daughter's life. Each time it switched, I didn't want to leave one's life for the next, but was quickly drawn to the 'new' story. This book made me think of 'Stones from the River' by Ursula Hegi which was also told from the German's point of view.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
First of all, this book tells a fascinating story. I thoroughly enjoyed reading it. The reader should be warned that the editing in this book was horrible. First, there are no quotation marks, making the dialogue confusing at times. Many sentences don't begin with a capital letter, the word "I" is sometimes written with a lower case letter, spelling errors are frequent, and one of the protagonist's name even is misspelled in some chapters.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I just started reading this novel and so far the story is really interesting, however there is one thing missing - quotation marks!!! I'm surprised no one has yet to mention it, but I have to say it is really distracting to have to read dialogue without quotation marks to differentiate between what is said and what is thought. I know the new trend for new authors is to forego conventional writing styles for a more free-form approach, but it loses it's effect here - I find myself distracted by the lack of quotation marks (I want to fill them in by hand!) instead of focusing on what promises to be a great story. Editors at Harcourt: please put them back in for the next edition! My 8th grade English teacher would have a heart attack if she read this novel!
ameara More than 1 year ago
In the past 18 months, I have read many books about this period of history. Most have been from a soldier's or a Jew's perspective. This was the first book I've read from the perspective of a woman...Anna, trying to survive WWII and hide the identity of who she and her daughter are. It truly is a matter of life and death. This book completely intrigued me and made me reflect on how war, not just WWII, but all wars effect women and children and what mothers do to come out on the other side of such trial. An amazing story with strong characters that makes you reflect on history. Would be a fantastic AP/summer reading list book for HS students.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I could not put this book down! Very chilling and interesting story, toggling between life in war-time Nazi Germany and present day. I highly recommend this book to anyone. It really highlights the difference between generations and is an excellent story of survival and love...
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
A good read but honestly this kept me up at night. Reading about something very real in our world and so gritty- reliving rape over and over and the heart break of a love one being starved and killed is very hard. Then, seeing how one's actions translate to one's children is hard. The parts of present day of her daughter are a bit drawn out but almost need to be to allow you to rest from the dramatically real times of Anna. I am not the best with writing but I do get distracted by typos and the like and in the ebook version there were plenty of them.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Those Who Save Us is a very intriguing book. It gives an account of history from a perspective we are not accustomed to hearing: the German civilian perspective during WWII. It leaves the reader with much to ponder, and one walks away with the thought that history does not have such simple explanations. This book will spur a lot of good discussion.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Quotation marks would have slowed the pace--had no problem figuring out who was talking. The back and forth time perspective allowed the reader to know more than the characters, and yet the story was never boring, always holding your breath for the next moment of violence or cruelty or kindness or forgiveness. Anna is an iconic character, the epitomy of selflessness. The ending came all too soon. Makes you erase forever the smug question of how could the extermination have happened and why didn't they do something to prevent it.
PSD More than 1 year ago
Good first novel by Jenna Blum. We seldom think of the struggles faced by Germans in the Resistance who tried to help the Jewish people. I enjoyed reading chapters pertaining to the past rather than those pertaining to the present. I found myself skipping the present just to get to the past.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Thought-provoking. Haunting. Emotional. I found it hard to put this book down. History normally isn't my thing, but I have to say, this book has my mind reeling. As a young adult, I feel as though my generation is generally spoiled and unaware. The whole time, I kept thinking, would I have been brave enough to do what Anna did? To endure what she endured? And then there was the fact that this book gives insight as to what German civilians endured. At first I felt uneasy, like it would detract from the Holocaust if I saved any sympathy for the Germans. But as I kept reading, I realized it's just like Trudy said to her class- History isn't just black and white, there are shades of gray. As for the adult content of the book...well, life isn't always filled with rainbows and butterflies.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
While this book is well written and interesting, I found it to be thouroughly depressing. I do have to give it to Anna. Her character is inspiring as an extremely strong and brave woman who will do anything for her daughter.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
What would you have done in that time hero or horror maker. Would you have turned ablind eye? God help us if we do. We need to treat all men as equals Isrealites and Palestinians. We need to learn from our mistakes and harken to the light and pick each other up. Trudie has to believe that she was inferior...her Dad a Natzi who ran a cruel war camp for Jews. To finding her Mom was a hero who went out on a limb to protect her any way she could....even to let her daughter think her a whore to a cruel man.
Barbaraketubah More than 1 year ago
Many books written about the Holocaust are heart rendering and so sad, but this book is somewhat different, told from a different side. What would you do if you were in that situation and had to protect yourself and loved ones?
lorabele More than 1 year ago
I just read the excerpt. Although it seems like an interesting story, I absolutely cannot read a book that has no quotation marks when a character speaks. How distracting. Sorry, Ms. Blum, your decision cost you a sale.
Gelica More than 1 year ago
This book was really good...that is until you get to the end. I hate when authors just end books all of a sudden...i was so into it when truddie finally figured it out!! THEN IT ENDS!!! Other then the ending the book was an over all good read.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Absolutely one of the most sad novels I have read, however, it is also inspirational and meaningful. I would recommend this book to anyone who has a box of tissues nearby!
spamomma More than 1 year ago
This book, though the content is painful and tragic, is an important read... What strikes me as I reflect on this book - is the ways some of us try to correct our past memories by setting up similar relationships and replaying them in a different way.... I am referring to the way that Trudie tried to fix the memory of the Nazi SS Soldier with her affair with Rainer...trying to make something good out of something so horrible to subconsiously appease the affection she recalls for him. The affection that was only created out of childhood dependance and desperation........ I think this can explain the way adult children recall abusive parents and almost feel a dysfunctional familiarty with abuse.... Just a theory, not a belief.... but it is interesting to consider.....
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
It was hard to get into this book, but once past the first ten chapters, it was hard to put it down. Sometimes the switching back and forth was hard to keep up with, but it kept you going to find out the end. The end did leave you hanging, wanting a bit more.
dakras More than 1 year ago
This book is very well written and very heartbreaking what one mother put herself through to save her child.
lonelyshadeofbeige More than 1 year ago
I think the book does well to depict the stoic silent germans that immigrated to the US after the war.... interesting fiction.
lec1727 More than 1 year ago
This book was really amazing. It is moving and captures your attention right off. Some of the things that happened in the story are disturbing because although these specific characters are fictious, you know that similar things really did happen. I highly recommend this book.
YaffaOra More than 1 year ago
Like many novels around the Holocaust, this is a difficult subject. This book is well written and draws in the reader by going back and forth between the present day America and Germany during the 1940's, telling the difficult story of a mother and daughter then and now.
Guest More than 1 year ago
It was great to read a book about Germany during WWII from a German victim's view. It was heart wrenching to read about what non-Nazi Germans went through during the war, just to stay alive. This book was recommended to me by a stranger in the book store. I'm glad I took her recommendation and will definitely recommend it to others.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This story has pulled at my heart strings and has touched upon the fact that that people other than the Jews suffered during the war
Nellene New More than 1 year ago
I seem to be drawn to books about WW2 and the Holocaust. This story was so compelling, it was hard to put the book down. What would you do stay alive in war? Anna did what she had to do with strength of character. How much abuse could you take from a town that didn't know you but didn't want you? She held her head high and kept her dignity. I recommend this book for anyone that likes to read about strong women in trying situations.