Winter of the World by Ken Follett
At the beginning of this century, I made several trips to Lithuania for my church. I wanted to start an Alateen program over there, which i finally did, though i have no idea if it still continues. On my first trip over we visited a place called The Ninth Fort. it was a concentration camp created during World War II where thousands lost their lives. I won’t get into talking about The Ninth Fort here, because I could fill a whole blog with that, but I mention it because ever since being there I have been confounded by how much time, energy, and expense went into the creation of the fort and the transport of all of those people packed into boxcars. Just to kill them. It was an industry unto itself, and viewing it (once I had gotten numb to the horror of it) I couldn’t understand why the Nazis didn’t just take their victims out in the forest and shoot them. How much quicker and less expensive that would’ve been.
Until I read this book.
In the century trilogy by Ken Follett there is an English family, an American family, a Russian family, and a German family. The first book, “Fall Of Giants” takes place around World War I. (I highly recommend this first book for Downton Abbey fans by the way). “Winter of the World”, the second book, takes place during World War II. This is the first book I have ever read that attempts to give the reader a view of World War II through the eyes of several different countries. Raised as I was with the American prejudice and view of what transpired, I’m embarrassed to say I’ve never given the European experience of the war much thought. This book had me thinking about it a lot. The hardships of the English family during the blitz, the frozen Russian soldiers trying to save their fledgling communist government in the chaos of advancing Germany, the American political tightrope going into the war, and the impact of fascism on the German citizen would all individually make for a great read. Combined they are riveting.
For me what was most incredible about this book however, was its ability to create an awareness for me of my own prejudice. Growing up in post WWII America, my view of the German people was formed in the back seat of an old sedan at the drive-in movies. It was an impression of a people that were cold and insensitive. It hasn’t at all jived with my experience touring Germany, where I found the German people to be warm, hospitable, and very generous. I see now, that It was not only hard for the Nazis to kill the Jews without demonizing them first, it was hard for we Americans to go to war against the Germans without demonizing them. I grew up lumping the German people (of the 40s not my contemporaries because of course racism is always selective) in with the Nazi government. While I certainly was aware of how fearful the Germans had to have been living under a fascist regime, I never gave them enough credit. The Nazis built those concentration camps because if they had marched innocent people off into the forest and shot them, the German people would’ve risen up and toppled their own government. This book isn’t just a page turner, it’s an eye-opener.