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When We Were Brave by @KarlaMJay1 is a Fall Into These Great Reads pick #historicalfiction #giveaway
Title: When We Were Brave Author: Karla M. Jay Genre: Historical Fiction Book Blurb: In WHEN WE WERE BRAVE, we find a conflicted SS officer, Wilhelm Falk, who risks everything to escape the Wehrmacht and get out the message about the death camps. Izaak is a young Jewish boy whose positive outlook is challenged daily as each new perilous situation comes along. American citizens, Herbert Müller and his family, are sent back to the hellish landscape of Germany because of the DNA coursing through their veins. In the panorama of World War II, these are the high-stakes plots and endearing characters whose braided fates we pray will work out in the end. Excerpt: SS ofﬁcer, Sturmbannführer Wilhelm Falk kicked away the broken glass crunching under his boots in the shoemaker’s second-story apartment, the shards making faint clinking sounds as they struck the ﬁre- place bricks. He studied the three dead German soldiers who’d never re-turn home. The place Hitler claimed they fought to protect. Not ﬁghting to defend the “Fatherland,” a vague term that didn’t motivate troops. The Führer, known to be more masterful and cunning, instilled fear on a personal level. He targeted the soldier’s family—the potential violation of his wife, the death of his children. Early on, Falk believed that call to duty. But that was before he experienced the death camps. Nothing he saw there was even remotely connected to protecting his wife and children. He tried to bury the visions of skeletal, fellow human beings no more than a whisper away from death, of the beatings, and of chimneys pumping out foul smoke, but the memories always clawed their way to the forefront of his mind. Despair had ﬁlled his days and ghosts haunted his sleep until Falk knew he must do something or die trying. The family who owned the cobbler’s shop must have ﬂed before the Germans took over the town. Depleted furnishings suggested the wood fueled the large ﬁreplace through two bitter winters. Bookshelves lay broken apart. A few unburned books were spewed into dark corners. A lopsided antique dollhouse sat under the table, its small porcelain doll family strewn across the ﬂoor as fragmented as the rest of Hitler’s empire. Falk breathed a sigh of relief he’d found no other bodies in the attached rooms. He shook away an all-too-recent memory from inside a house near Warsaw. A man and woman were deceased in the kitchen, shot in the head, but the scent of death also emanated from the dining area. Two young boys were found dead, locked inside the center compartment of a hutch. What the parents must have hoped would keep their children safe resulted in an agonizing death. The bloody marks on the inside of the cupboard revealed the boys had tried to escape. The gruesome scene struck him in the gut as he thought of his two young sons. Now by the look of this home, the three German soldiers had been taken by surprise by the British. Two shot dead at the dining table, their congealed meal still in front of them, while the third sat slumped against a wall, a broken coffee cup next to him. This soldier was shot while standing, and the blood-smeared wallpaper behind him marked his slide to the ﬂoor. Falk moved closer to the man, and with a squinted eye, studied him. A sculpted nose on a chiseled face, thick blond hair, and he seemed close to Falk’s 5’10’’ height. Hard to be sure in that hunched position. But the soldier was the closest to what he’d been looking for in the last hour as he combed through buildings, turning over dozens of Wehrmachtcorpses shot by the British when they reclaimed the Italian city. Falk had nearly run out of time in his search and his head pounded from worrying he might fail. Although the loud thunder of the British bombers had stopped, the second wave of ground troops would soon arrive to check the buildings for any Germans they may have missed a few hours earlier. When the generals heard of the loss of another military line, they would be furious, but he no longer cared about the Wehrmacht’s feelings as he wrestled with his own. The horriﬁcthings he’d seen. The things he’d done. But mostly the guilt from the things he hadn’t done. He reached for the stiff soldier’s shirt and began unbuttoning and removing his uniform. Then he removed the soldier’s identiﬁcation papers and set them aside. The pulling and pushing on the corpse’s rigid limbs to undress him soon had him breathing hard. His shaky ﬁngers fumbled with the buttons on his own long coat as he shed his ofﬁcer’s uniform. The mix of exertion and fear slowed him down, chewing away at the precious minutes he had left. Falk set aside his weapon belt and quickly dressed in the infantry soldier’s pants, shirt, and boots. Then he knelt and strained once again to outﬁt the dead man in his SS major’s uniform. When ﬁnished, he glanced at the soldier and a shock zipped through him. The soldier’s build and facial features were more similar to his own than he expected, and it was as if he were looking at a dead version of himself.
Which would be sooner rather than later if he were caught there.
Falk took off his signet ring and carefully removed the cyanide pill hidden inside. He pocketed the small tablet—insurance in case his plan failed. He reached for the soldier’s cold hand and broke the rigor-curled ﬁnger, the snap resonating through his own hand before he slid on the ring. He removed his own gold Swiss watch and paused, turning it over to read the engraved inscription: Wilhelm, My Love, My Life, My Hero. Ilse. His chest tightened. Would his wife have the same sentiment today if she learned what he was doing? His sons. Would they be ashamed he was about to defect, or would they understand his sacriﬁce?
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What’s your favorite thing about autumn:
The scent of leaves on a crisp breeze.
What inspired you to write this story:
My mother-in-law talked about riding a train in the US in 1943 that full of German POWs. That got my attention. I incorporated that story with how the US rounded up German-Americans and put then in interment camps. I had also visited the Nazi propaganda camp at Terezin in Czechoslovakia and decided to add that in too.
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Karla has written in a few genres from humor to historical fiction. Honors include recognition from The Independent Press, the Jerusalem Post, Reader Views (the Tyler R. Tichelaar Award), Book Excellence, NYC Big Book Awards, the US Review of Books, Independent Book Publishers Association, the Selfies, and others. She lives in Utah with her husband and one very big dog.
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