‘Directly I saw him, I knew he had to die.’
Germany, 1945. Klara Janowska and her daughter Alicja have walked for weeks to get to Graufeld Displaced Persons camp. In the cramped, dirty, dangerous conditions they, along with 3,200 others, are the lucky ones. They have survived and will do anything to find a way back home.
But when Klara recognises a man in the camp from her past, a deadly game of cat and mouse begins. He knows exactly what she did during the war to save her daughter. She knows his real identity. What will be the price of silence? And will either make it out of the camp alive?
I have read some books about WWII but this is the first time I read one describing the post-war era. I had not even heard of the Displaced Persons camps in Germany. These were sort of a waiting room where the British tried to find family members in other countries so the survivors could go and live with them. Until then they had to sit and wait and weren’t even allowed to go out of the camp walls. I was astonished about that honestly, after what these survivors went through and while they were already imprisoned for so long.
The novel opened with a gripping scene in a forest where Klara and her daughter were being chased by robbers. It was a powerful scene where I immediately wanted to know how Klara had in fact been able to obtain the special valuables she was carrying.
I also wanted to know what had happened in the past between Klara and this person she recognized in this DP camp. Why didn’t she report this guy to administration, what did he know about her? I had to suspend some disbelief here because I think if she had told Colonel Whitmore about him in reality instead of plotting to kill him, he would have believed her over whatever this man would have told them about her.
There’s a lot of fear but Klara is also a fierce character, as well as her daughter Alicja and the other survivors so she doesn’t shy away from what needs to be done and I really liked Klara’s determination, her protectiveness over her daughter and kindness towards others.
While Klara is busy trying to protect her daughter Alicja from dangers inside and outside the camp and is slowly building a friendship – possibly more – with the camp administrator Davide there are also flashbacks to her past that gave me an idea what happened to her before she came there. I was drawn to these flashbacks that show a very different Klara. Unavertedly she caught the eye of one of the SS Officers playing chess. She didn’t spare him in the game and that’s what he liked so much about her. Soon she would become an every day presence in his life. It’s not that she had much choice in the matter but she played him well.
‘This Oberfüher Axel Fleisher. This Stumbahnfüherer Oskar Scholz. Hadn’t they learned? That when it came to war on a board of black and white squares, the king may be taller. But the queen was more dangerous’
The novel pulled me right in and didn’t let me go. It was certainly fascinating to read about life immediately after the war ended (unfortunately the Russians make a brutal appearance here too) and how hard life was on those in the camps but also outside in the towns. Lots of mystery kept me intrigued till the very end with a great twist where a character I didn’t realise the importance of becomes critical to Klara for finding what she wanted for so long in order to close this chapter of her life.
I bought a second-hand paperback of this novel. This is my honest opinion.