Limited Time Book Sale for Holocaust and U.S. History Buffs!

My book Passionate Crusaders: How Members of the U.S. War Refugee Board Saved Jews and Altered American Foreign Policy during World War II is ON SALE until Christmas here: http://amzn.to/2gBVVD8

It’s the story of a few good men who tried to save Jews and others from the Holocaust at the last minute. These ordinary people had hope in the face of impossible odds, and isn’t that what we could all use this holiday season?

Available for $0.99 on Kindle and $8.99 paperback. Happy holidays to my readers.

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Book Review: The Life and Death of Adolph Hitler

The Life and Death of Adolph Hitler by James Giblin 223p.

Giblin’s middle grade biography traces Hitler’s life from nearly homeless artist to ruthless dictator.

The first chapter is short and sets up the story with what kids will know about Adolph Hitler: he once ruled Germany and he’s dead. Giblin explains that while young people might not know exactly who he was or what he did, they have older family members who were influenced by Hitler’s actions. Questions that kids might ask about Hitler, such as why didn’t people stop him sooner, are posed and the author promises to explore them in the book.

adolf hitler

Adolph Hitler as a baby

Giblin’s straightforward storytelling of Hitler’s childhood makes him, at least at this point, more relatable to young people. For example, kids that tried out and didn’t make a sports team could understand Hitler’s disappointment when he didn’t get accepted to art school. Any one who has lost a family member can understand why Hitler didn’t want to accept his mother’s cancer diagnosis.

The book goes on to explain Hitler’s crushing disappointment after World War I. He had nearly gone blind trying to defend his country, but Germany lost anyway. Like other German soldiers, Hitler resented the Versailles Treaty which made Germany pay nations like Britain and France for the cost of the war. When the German army needed instructors to teach the evils of Communism and the importance of nationalism to the troops, they had little idea that they were helping to launch the career of a dictator. Through his speeches Hitler learned that he had the power to persuade audiences–a skill he would use again and again in the coming years.

Unlike other biographers, Giblin does not pretend to have all the answers. For example, while other biographers have speculated that Hitler may have disliked Jews because his mother’s doctor was a Jew, Giblin points out that Hitler only had kind words for the doctor. Giblin comes to the conclusion that there is no obvious reason for Hitler’s feelings but that hating Jews was a main feature of Hitler’s life from 1919 until his death.

The book points out why the Nazi party was popular with some Germans during the Great Depression. Hitler’s rise to power coincided with an increase in jobs and better working conditions. People were healthier, too. Hitler even suggested that an affordable car called the Volkswagen (the people’s car) be produced so that the middle class could drive around town and go on vacations. Though the lives of Jewish people were increasingly restricted, Hitler often didn’t emphasize his anti-Semitic beliefs in his pre-World War II speeches.

As Giblin explains, World War II came about because of serious misunderstandings between Hitler and the British and French. Britain and France didn’t want another war, so they stood by while Hitler took over territories like Austria and Czechoslovakia for Germany. Britain warned that it would stand by Poland, however. Hitler thought the British were bluffing and proceeded with his invasion only to find himself at war with Britain, France, and eventually the Soviet Union and U.S.

Although Giblin does talk about the Holocaust, his coverage of the extermination of the Jews is somewhat brief, perhaps because Hitler delegated the working of concentration camps to other Nazi officials. The book does quote Hitler’s book Mein Kampf which outlined his hatred for Jews. It also covers the laws restricting Jewish participation in society in the 1930s.

Giblin does a good job of incorporating stories from and about young people. He includes  members of the Hitler Youth, a group that indoctrinated young people in the policies of the Nazi Party. Hitler’s troubled relationship with his niece Geli and his odd romance with the young Eva Braun are explored. In addition, Giblin includes stories of young people like Sophie Scholl and her brother who bravely opposed Hitler’s political agenda.

Extensive photos help Giblin’s gifted storytelling come to life. Included are rare photos of Hitler in private, family photos and paintings, and photos of Hitler’s Nazi followers.

Readers would have benefited from short summaries of important people in Hitler’s political life. It can be hard for young readers to keep track of people with similar names, such as Himmler and Heydrich.

The book ends with a cautionary note: leaders like Hitler can still come to power under the right conditions, but hopefully future generations will use their knowledge of others’ mistakes to prevent such an event.

Overall, The Life and Death of Adolph Hitler provides young people with a solid introduction to the career of one of the most infamous men in history.

“We Like Ike”: The Presidency of Dwight Eisenhower

Dwight Eisenhower already had his famous nickname while growing up in Kanas. “Little Ike” also had such a temper that he once beat his fists against a tree until he started bleeding. His mother bandaged up his hands and tried to teach him to control his temper. Ike took the lesson to heart. Throughout his life Ike would reign in his emotions because he wanted people to like him.

He did not, however, share his mother’s pacifist views. The only time Ike remembered making his mother cry was when he left for West Point. After World War II, General Eisenhower returned home as a hero. Ike’s popularity was so great that both political parties wanted him to be their candidate for president. Ike didn’t want to declare his politics right away. By 1952, Eisenhower felt disenchanted with the policies of President Truman and agreed to run as a Republican.

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Official Portrait of Dwight Eisenhower

Unlike other presidential candidates, Eisenhower was not an intellectual. The only books he enjoyed were western novels. Instead of great speeches, Eisenhower preferred to use sayings such as “Everybody ought to be happy every day. Play hard, have fun doing it, and despise wickedness.” A war-weary public found his simple style appealing.

Eisenhower won the election by promising to end the Korean war. He even vowed to go there himself. Though he did end the fighting, he did so by stepping up aerial bombardment of North Korea and threatening to use the atomic bomb. Whether he would have used the bomb is questionable, but Eisenhower’s tough talk led to a peace agreement. From that point on Eisenhower liked to say he was “waging peace” by keeping America out of foreign wars.

The supposedly peace loving president allowed America to stockpile nuclear weapons, however. He also secretly authorized spying on Russian nuclear missile sites. Meanwhile, he invited Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev to a summit that would have limited nuclear testing. During the summit, an American spy plane was shot down by the Soviets. Eisenhower had to admit that he knew about the spy mission. An angry Khrushchev left the peace summit. No agreement on nuclear testing was reached.

Eisenhower’s administration has been criticized for failing to respond to domestic issues, especially civil rights. During his presidency the Supreme Court decided that public schools should be desegregated. Eisenhower didn’t believe that a law would change the hearts of Southern whites. When nine African American students tried to integrate a white high school in Little Rock Arkansas, a white mob threatened the students’ safety. Despite his disagreement with the Supreme Court, Eisenhower sent in the National Guard to protect the students.

Although Eisenhower believed in saving money, he also believed in many of the FDR’s programs. Eisenhower expanded the number of people eligible for Social Security and left labor laws in place. He also added a project of his own. The Federal Highway Act of 1956 pledged federal funds would be used to build interstate highways. The highways insured that the automobile became the primary means of travel for Americans instead of trains.

 

Heather Voight Talks about her Book Passionate Crusaders: How Members of the U.S. War Refugee Board Saved Jews and Altered American Foreign Policy during World War II on Back Porch Writer Podcast

Heather Voight on Back Porch Writer podcast. I talk about my history book and the process of writing it. http://www.blogtalkradio.com/backporchwriter/2015/09/15/author-heather-voight-joins-kori-on-the-back-porch

Passionate Crusaders Cover LARGE EBOOK

Book Review of Holocaust Memoir Dry Tears by Nechama Tec

In contrast to other Holocaust memoirs that describe what it took to survive the concentration camps, Dry Tears is the story of a Jewish young girl with blond hair and blue eyes trying to pass as a Christian in Nazi-occupied Poland. At the beginning of the book, Nechama’s father worries that she and her sister will fall behind in school. Of course, her learning cannot take place in a traditional school since the Nazis have closed them to Jews. Even private tutoring becomes impossible.

Yet Nechama acquires different kinds of knowledge during the war years. Nazis made it extremely difficult for Poles to find enough to eat because of the activities of the Polish underground. Jews were not supposed to be in Poland at all, so there were no food rations for them. Since she looked Aryan, Nechama could pass for a Pole and venture out of her family’s hiding place. She learns to bargain for the cheapest food prices on the “black market.” Later, she learns to sell her mother’s rolls at the same market when the family finances are low.

Child vendor in ghetto during the Holocaust

Child vendor in ghetto during the Holocaust (Nechama is not living in a ghetto, but she still sells food illegally to other Poles)

Nechama also acquires knowledge about human nature most eleven year olds do not. The Christian family that takes her and her family into their small home in the Polish countryside do not do so out of charity, but out of their own self-interest. Poles were unpopular with the Nazis as it was, and hiding any Jew was punishable by death. However, no one could survive on the wages that Nazis provided to Poles, so families like the Homars decide to “keep cats,” meaning that they took in Jews in return for handsome sums of money.

Some of the members of the Homar family treat Nechama very well. Helena, the family matriarch, even encourages the girl to call her Grandma. Yet despite her affection for Nechama, Helena says that she initially disagreed with having Jews come to stay in her home because Christian blood should not be spilt for Jewish blood. The Homars, like most other Polish families, are anti-Semitic. They emphasize that Nechama and her family are “not really Jewish” because “real Jews were greedy and dishonest”–qualities that Nechama’s family abhors.

Nechama cannot understand how the Homars could like her family and still think bad things about Jews. Her father tells her that the Homars’ anti-Semitism comes from hating an abstraction, a caricature of Jews that does not exist. Soon Nechama discovers that adults are not the only ones who think Jews are evil. Children that she socializes with in the small Polish village of Kielce also make anti-Semitic remarks. She says, “in a sense, they were unconsciously telling me that I was their friend only for as long as they thought I was one of them.”

As Nechama gains knowledge, the reader learns that a trying to pass as a Christian in Poland during World War II is fraught with almost as many dangers as trying to survive a concentration camp. There are random raids on Poles that threaten to deport even Aryan looking Jews. Certain members of the Homar family are less trustworthy than others, making their hiding place precarious. Nechama’s efforts to get food and money for her family place her in special danger since Nazis hate the Poles’ black market activities.

The fact that her looks give her the opportunity to pass does not ensure her survival or her family’s. Nechama’s unique struggles make this memoir a must-read for anyone with an interest in the Holocaust years or students of human nature.

My Book’s Back Cover Copy: Thoughts?

I’m looking for my readers’ opinions on my back cover copy for Passionate Crusaders: How Members of the U.S. War Refugee Board Saved Jews and Altered American Foreign Policy During World War II. Comments welcome!

Passionate Crusaders tells the gripping story of a few righteous Americans who sought to do what many thought impossible in 1944—save Jews who had not yet been murdered in the Holocaust.

By January 1944, Treasury Department officials Henry Morgenthau, John Pehle, and Josiah DuBois had already convinced President Franklin Roosevelt to create the War Refugee Board, an agency with the authority to provide rescue and relief for Jews and other groups persecuted by the Nazis.

Scholars have criticized the Board for its inability to save more Jews and maintained that the agency should have been created sooner. Heather Voight’s research shows that despite its shortcomings, the War Refugee Board changed history and forever altered American foreign policy. Its creation ended the cycle of indifference that the government and the American public had shown to victims of the Holocaust. In the words of Henry Morgenthau, from 1944-1945 “crusaders, passionately persuaded of the need for speed and action” risked their reputations and sometimes their lives to save Jews.

In addition to saving more than 100,000 lives, Board members also made a lasting impact on international law. They pressured the War Crimes Commission to broaden its definition of war crimes by including the murder of civilians by their own countrymen. This definition of war crimes was applied to genocides committed many decades later in Bosnia and Rwanda, and continues to be used today.

“[Passionate Crusaders] shows that the efforts of an honorable and courageous few can create small steps to change history. This detailed, well-told, and inspiring story will be of value to students of the Holocaust, American history, and human rights.” –From the Foreword by Dr. Leon Stein, Professor Emeritus of History and Education Director Emeritus, Illinois Holocaust Museum and Education Center.

Heather Voight is a successful freelance writer and history blogger. Since 2009, she has published articles on a variety of topics including the Gibson Girl, healthcare, and the writings of C.S. Lewis. She has a B.A. in History and English.

http://www.heathervoight.com

World War II Begins as Germany Invades Poland

When Hitler invaded Poland on September 1, 1939, he felt sure of two things. First, he believed that Germany’s attack on Poland would be swift and successful. Second, he thought Britain and France would not respond to the attack with force. Only one of Hitler’s assumptions proved correct.

The attack was quick and it was a success. German air and armed forces were much more advanced than their Polish counterparts. Poland possessed 600 tanks to Germany’s 3,200. Unlike the Germans, the Poles still had cavalry as part of their army divisions.

In the early morning of September 1, German aircraft bombed Warsaw. Meanwhile, the German army invaded Poland from the north and south. During multiple air raids, the Germans targeted railroads, roads, and Polish troops. Villages were also bombed in order to terrify civilians. Hitler wanted the civilians to attempt to escape and thus block Polish reinforcements from using the remaining roads.

German troops breaking border barrier

German troops breaking border barrier in Polish town. September 1, 1939

Though he successfully conquered Poland a few weeks later, Hitler miscalculated British and French attitudes to his takeover. He knew that Britain and France had agreed to aid Poland in the spring of 1939 if she came under attack. Still, Hitler wasn’t very worried about a military response from either country.

To avoid war with Germany in previous years, Britain and France had already granted Hitler’s demands for German rearmament. They also allowed him to make Austria and Czechoslovakia part of the Third Reich. He thought a takeover of Poland would be followed by more peace talks, not war. Yet leaders in Britain and France had already concluded that Hitler’s demands might never end unless they threatened war.

On the evening of September 1, Poland asked Britain and France to honor their promise to defend Poland. That same day, British Prime Minster Neville Chamberlain delivered a speech to the House of Commons. He said, “Eighteen months ago in this House I prayed that the responsibility might not fall upon me to ask this country to accept the awful arbitrament of war. I fear that I may not be able to avoid that responsibility.” On September 3rd, Britain’s ambassador to Germany delivered an ultimatum stating that if Germany did not stop its attack on Poland by 11 AM, Britain would go to war with Germany. Germany did not respond, and Britain’s Prime Minster made an announcement on the radio that the country was at war with Germany.