The Women in the Castle is by no means a book you would find in the humor section, but it does bring a quote from “MASH” to mind.
Hawkeye: War isn’t Hell. War is war, and Hell is Hell. And of the two, war is a lot worse.
Father Mulcahy: How do you figure, Hawkeye?
Hawkeye: Easy, Father. Tell me, who goes to Hell?
Father Mulcahy: Sinners, I believe.
Hawkeye: Exactly. There are no innocent bystanders in Hell. War is chock full of them – little kids, cripples, old ladies. In fact, except for some of the brass, almost everybody involved is an innocent bystander.
This story is the rare WWII novel that focuses on the life of civilians who were affected by the conflict. They are German civilians, on top of that. The three women this story follows all find themselves in the same situation, yet they all walk different roads. None of them asked for their country to go to war or their husbands to die. They did not ask to be widows trying to care for their children in a broken land. Their lives were shattered and they were thrown together, forced to reassemble the pieces as best they could.
Another factor making this book unique is that it mostly takes place after the war. WWII stories tend to focus on the conflict itself, the battles and the action. There are bits in The Women in the Castle taking place before and during the war but most of the book is afterwards. This story goes beyond the typical “Allies good, Axis bad” set-up. It shows that there were people within the Axis powers who disagreed with their leaders to the point of self-sacrifice. And when these individuals failed to bring down the Nazi party they left families behind.
For everything these women go through, you have to remember that they were the lucky ones. They were considered to be “pure” (Aryan) enough to not simply be executed. These women had food for themselves and their children. Their home was sturdy and heated; it was not a bombed out ruin in a city. But their country was broken and almost an entire generation of men was gone. To see how these people survive in the aftermath of such an unimaginable atrocity is becoming harder to depict. As time marches on, people begin to forget the terrors of the past. Even the greatest terror that the world has ever seen are being forgotten when not even a century has passed. It is crucial to remember that while this story is fiction, these horrors were real. People like these women and their children and everyone around them were real.