Saturday, November 7, 2020

Trapped in Hitler's Web by Marsha Forchuk Skrypuch

It's October 1942 and Ukraine is now occupied by Nazi soldiers, having already defeated the Soviet occupiers. Maria Fediuk, 11, has just made the difficult decision, at her friend Nathan's urging, to leave her home in Viteretz and travel to the German Reich. There, she hopes to get a job so that she can send money home to help out her mother and sister Krystia, 12. But, the real reason for leaving Ukraine is that Nathan is Jewish and it would only be a matter of time before his was captured by the Nazis. Luckily, he has false identity papers to keep him safe. 

Before they leave, Maria is able to get a message to her family to let them know where she is going.  They had been assigned to work in a metalworks factory in Austria and loaded into a train cattle car with other children, most of whom were stolen by the Nazis for work. Nathan and Maria believe their work cards will protect them. But along the way, each time the train stops, some of the kids are selected and taken from the train. Which is how Nathan and Maria are separated in Salzburg, when he is selected for work there and she goes on to Innsbruck. 

There, Maria discovers that the girl who filled out her work card didn't put down a metalworks factory, but rather a farm. Taken to the Huber farm, Maria is given a cow stall to sleep along with another girl named Bianka. The farm is owned by Herr and Frau Huber, but he is off fighting and his wife runs things, along with her parents, Herr and Frag Lang. They are required to turn over all food produced to feed Nazi soldiers and are watched carefully by a cold, cruel Blockleiter named Doris Schutt. 

The work is hard, but it doesn't take long for Maria to figure out that the Hubers and Langs are not Nazis. Polish/Ukrainian workers are only allowed 600 calories a day, but as Maria and Bianka are harvesting potatoes, Frau Huber whispers to Maria that she is allowed to take two potatoes, but to not let anyone see her do it. It also becomes clear that Frau Huber is worried about her husband and son Otto, both serving on the Eastern Front, and resentful that her daughter is a staunch member of the Hitler Youth, even going so far as to call her mother Frau Huber instead of mutti.

As the war stretches on, Maria realizes how lucky she is to be at the Huber farm, but worries constantly about her mother and sister back home, and about Nathan, whom she learns, is building a bridge in Salzburg. After she learns that neutral Switzerland isn't that far from Austria (now called Ostmark), Maria is determined to get to Salzburg to find Nathan and tell him how to escape. When Otto is injured, Frau Huber takes her on the trip to Salzburg where he is in hospital. There, Maria is able to meet with Nathan for a short time and tell him about Switzerland. He wants her to go with him, but she feels she needs to say at the Huber farm in case her mother and sister come looking for her. 

Trapped in Hitler's Web is, like all of Marsha Frochuk Skrypuch's novels, based on real-life events (read the Author's Note at the end of the novel to understand how and why this is a personal story for her). It is not what I would call action packed, but it is definitely a story that will keep you reading while biting your nails. 

There aren't that many books that take place in Austria, and it is interesting to note that the area around Innsbruck, where the Huber farm is, wasn't bombed until much later in the war, giving Maria a certain sense of safety for a long time. I liked that the Hubers and Langs were not Nazi supporters (with the exception of daughter Sophie), even though Maria was conflicted about their treatment of non-Aryans. Most people assume if you were Aryan, you were a supporter of Hitler, but that isn't really the case. Most people were bullied and threatened into doing what the Reich required of them, just like the Hubers are. 

Lots of everyday details like this are included in the story and it really gives readers a good sense of what life was like under Nazi occupation. Even though Sophie Huber didn't have a big part in the story, I read a book called Ostmarkm√§del for my dissertation and she could have stepped right out of that book, she was so realistically drawn. She also includes information about how the different foreign workers are treated based on where they come from. For example, Aryan workers are treated much better than Slavic workers like Maria and Bianka. And how, while everyone else is starving, luxury food items are always available to high ranking Nazis. And how the Nazis germanized the names of countries, cities and towns that they occupied.

I actually read Trapped in Hitler's Web without realizing that it is a sequel to Don't Tell the Nazis which I haven't read yet. So I can tell readers know that this is most definitely a stand alone novel. Anything you need to know from the first book is included in Maria's story. 

This novel will certainly appeal to readers interested in historical fiction about WWII and the Holocaust, and will no doubt end up fans of Marsha Forchuk Skrypuch and her WWII fiction, if they aren't already.

This book is recommended for readers age 9+
This book was an EARC gratefully received from Edelweiss+

2 comments:

  1. Wow! Thanks so much, Alex! I think it must be so true that many Germans and others did not want to go along with Hitler but were afraid not to.

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