My Enemy's Cradle by Sarah Young

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My Enemy's Cradle by Sarah Young

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Category: Historical Fiction
Rating: 5/5
Reviewer: Lesley Mason
Reviewed by Lesley Mason
Summary: An examination of morality, freedom of choice and the power of love through the eyes of a young Jewish girl caught up in the Nazi Lebensborn programme. Emotional, powerful and bringing to light one more of the twisted implications of Nazi ideology as it played out in the mid-twentieth century.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 400 Date: January 2008
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers Ltd
ISBN: 978-0007266791

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Schiedam, Holland, 1941 and the Germans announce the first restrictions on Jews in the area. For Cyrla and Anneke – cousins, who are almost identical, despite their three year age gap – it brings home the very dangers Cyrla was sent to her mother’s family to escape. Cyrla is Polish, and her father is a Jew.

When she was sent from Poland, she was told not to speak of it, and she has grown used to living with her mother’s protestant family, not celebrating the Sabbath or the other festivals. She has not totally estranged herself however – her dearest friend, Isaak, is a lawyer working for the Jewish Council. A connection that may cost everybody dear, though for the time her secret is safe.

None of the neighbours know, although the whispering has already started.

Meanwhile, the older, more glamorous Anneke is hugging close her own secret. She is pregnant and confident that her Nazi soldier loves her enough to marry her.

When it appears that this is not going to happen, a series of cruel twists – not all of them down to fate – gain Anneke a place in the Lebensborn in nearby Nijmegen.

The Lebensborn programme provides a place of safety, medical care, good food: protection for the unborn and newborn of the German Reich.

What the Lebensborn really means is not truly known.

Anneke will never find out – by another twist Cyrla is sent in her stead. Can she really take her cousin’s place? Can she fool the medics and the other patients? Can she hold yet one more deadly secret totally unto herself? And even if she can do all of that – will she be safe?

My Enemy’s Cradle is a story of love and its tendency to be found where we least expect it, and not to live where we seek it. Through one young girl’s experience of a war that for her does not involve bombings and shootings, starvation or the gas chambers – other than as a little known and less understood backdrop to the way life is – Young takes us to the heart of the Nazi ideology and explores yet one more aspect of its effects.

Himmler’s Lebensborn (Wellspring or Fountain of Life) programme was set up in 1935…and like many of the Nazi programmes, what started with seemingly noble motives edged towards increasingly extreme practices. A short footnote to the novel details these extremes – but it is through the novel itself that Young allows us to fully understand how it was: the kind of girls and women who found sanctuary or despair in the homes, the nature of the nurses who worked there, and hints at the futures of the children born there.

Nothing in My Enemy’s Cradle speaks of fiction. Every nuance of reaction, of recollection, of trust and mis- and distrust, every scent of fear and denial of knowledge, every small tenderness and slap of brutality, rings true. It is an emotional story with no guarantee of resolution – one grounded in an examination of morality and the freedom to choose – one worth allowing yourself to sink into for its own sake, and then to rise up from and consider ‘what if?’.

I’ve no doubt that the nature of the story will draw more women readers to it than men, but it deserves to be read across all divides, because this is still a much-hidden, little-discussed history of those times, which deserves recognition. Few books are truly un-put-downable…all I can say is that this one stole my Sunday.

For those interested in the historical context check out : The Master Plan: Himmler's Scholars and the Holocaust by Heather Pringle. For those with an interest in the fictional side we can recommend The Visible World by Mark Slouka.

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