Category: This is the first time I’ve read this. I decided to read it because it has the same author as Code Name Verity, and I really loved that book.
My thoughts: This was hard to read, but really good—although, not as good as Code Name Verity. It was engrossing, but difficult to read because it was so heartbreaking.
The heroine of Rose Under Fire is Rose Justice, a young American transport pilot working in England during the latter half of World War II. The events in this book take place after those of Code Name Verity—Maddie Broddatt from Code Name Verity works with Rose. In late 1944, Rose is captured by the Germans and sent to Ravensbrück, a German work camp for political prisoners. There are French Resistance prisoners, Russian prisoners, and Polish prisoners. The Polish women are called “rabbits,” because they are subjected to gruesome medical experiments. Their legs are horribly misshapen as a result. Some of the monsters who performed those “procedures” were tried for War Crimes.
I never really thought about how many nationalities occupied the German concentration and work camps. In addition to American Rose, there’s Roza, a very young Polish prisoner who was one of the Rabbits, and Lisette, a French novelist (this isn’t portrayed in the novel, but I read that there were also British prisoners there). This blend of nationalities reminded me a little bit of Casablanca , how people from several different countries gathered in Morocco for refuge. Specifically, the scene where Victor Lazlo leads everyone in a sing-a-long to "La Marseillaise" sometimes popped into my head whilst reading about Ravensbrück —because in the camp, people from other nationalities came together against a common enemy. A very heartbreaking sidenote: I read somewhere that when the Red Army liberated Ravensbrück in 1945, Soviet soldiers raped some of the women in the camp. How horrible is that?
Ok, one thing about this novel is how brutally realistic it is concerning the day-to-day life at the camp. One horrid thing that I’ve never read anywhere else in any account of life in a German work camp…is about what happened with their bodily functions. Elizabeth Wein doesn’t shy away from mentioning this. The toilets at Ravensbrück had long stopped working by the time Rose was there, and the ladies had to go to the bathroom in a ditch. And because of the diseases that ran rampant in the camps and ravaged the women’s poor bodies—diseases that cause runny diarrhea…well, some folks liked to sleep on the top bunks so they didn’t get “rained” on.
There’s an ongoing refrain in this novel: “Tell the world.” The other day, there was a conviction for genocide that happened during the Bosnian War, which I remember hearing about on the news in the ‘90s but, like so many things, only began to understand during adulthood. World history has too many stories about mass tragedy (Cambodia, Somalia, Rwanda…). I am thankful for the fact that usually there are a few brave souls who do stand up and tell the world.
Great passage: Lift is made when the air pressure under a wing is greater than the air pressure over the wing. Then the wing gets pushed upward. That’s how birds fly. That’s how kites fly—a kite is basically just a solitary wing. That’s how airplanes fly.
But people need lift, too. People don’t get moving, they don’t soar, they don’t achieve great heights, without something buoying them up.