The German Wife
June 28th 2022
The German Wife by Kelly Rimmer has a unique perspective. It delves into forgiveness, family bonds, choices made, both good/evil, right/wrong, prejudice, and relationships during the 1930s and 1950s. The story shows the deep flaws and frailty of Germans living under Nazi rule.
The novel is inspired by the true story of Operation Paperclip: a controversial secret US intelligence program that employed former Nazi scientists after WWII and had them live together with their American counterparts.
“I live in Australia, about an hour and a half from the Parks Radio and Telescope Observatory. They had a festival in 2019 to commemorate the role the Parks played with the moon landing. They relayed communication and telemetry signals to NASA, providing coverage for when the Apollo spaceship was on the Australian side of the Earth. While I was there, I visited an exhibit about the US space program. I saw how there was a line that said how German and US scientists worked together starting in 1950 in Huntsville Alabama to help the space program. I was determined to learn how that could happen and wanted to know about Operation Paperclip.”
There are alternating timelines, settings, and narrations. The story begins in Berlin during the 1930s where Sofie von Meyer Rhodes and her academic husband benefit from the military ambitions of Germany’s newly elected chancellor, Hitler. Jürgen Rhodes is offered a high-level position in their burgeoning rocket program. Although they fiercely oppose Hitler’s radical views, it soon becomes clear that if Jürgen does not accept the job, their income, their children, and their lives will be taken away.
There were three German couples that represented different views: Jurgen and Sophie, Claudia and Klaus, Lydia, and Karl. “Lydia and Karl were not open about their Anti-Semitism in the early days of the Nazi regime. I put in this book quote, “The Nazis didn’t make people like Lydia and Karl anti-Semitic. They only uncovered what already existed.” They very quickly got swept up in the Nazi party agenda. Jurgen and Sophie are reasonable people who do feel guilty because they are complicit. Claudia and Klaus did take a stand refusing to join the Nazi Party. It cost them, but they had dignity. Lydia/Karl were pure Nazis, Jurgen/Sophie were reluctant Nazis, and Claudia /Karl were not Nazis.
Sofie and Jurgen beloved Jewish friend, Mayim lives with them at the beginning of the Nazi regime. But as the years pass, they know that Mayim must leave because Jews are no longer accepted. Through Mayim’s eyes readers get a glimpse into the Nazi atrocities, how many Germans were sleeper Anti-Semites who came out of the woodwork after Hitlers’ rise to power, and how the Jews try to flee to different countries to escape the prejudice, threats, and killings.
The other setting in the 1930s is El Paso Texas where the Davies family is struggling to survive on their farm. Between the depression and the terrible drought Lizzie realizes her dream of staying and becoming a farmer is no longer a reality. Her brother Henry enlists to fight the Germans during WWII and she marries Calvin, her best friend. But theirs is a marriage of convenience with no intimacy whatsoever.
“I wanted to write about the intersection of a small town in America with the German families living in WWII. 2019 was the end of a three-year drought in Australia. Everything was covered in dust, wary and draining. It was hard on people mentally who feel completely powerless. When I looked at the timing of when all would meet in Huntsville, I decided to have these characters living through the Texas dust bowl. They are very devoted to their families. Lizzie has seen the War through Henry’s eyes who was a veteran.”
Twenty years later, during the 1950s in Huntsville Alabama Jürgen is brought from Germany to America along with other German scientists to help America start their space program. This is where Operation Paperclip comes into play. Many of these scientists are Nazis, worked in the SS, and ran labor camps, yet, had their German past in Germany completely wiped and became thriving American citizens. He is eventually joined by Sophie and their two youngest children. But they must struggle with their past as many Germans are not always welcome in Huntsville. Lizzie and Sophie’s life interconnect when Calvin and Jürgen, both scientists, work together on the rocket program. Both Lizzie and her brother Henry, who suffers from PTSD after seeing the Nazi atrocities, are hostile to the Rhodes family. The story shows what happens when resentment, prejudice, rage, and acts of violence along with denial come together.
This is an emotionally complex plot that shows how hate can fester, grow, and destroy people’s lives. This thought-provoking novel delves into choices people make because of obligation, fear, force, or a willingness to turn a blind eye. It is a riveting tale of morality and how far someone will go to be able to live their lives, both figurately and literally.