Victoria’s War – Catherine A. Hamilton

*I received a free copy of this book with thanks to the author, Plain View Press and Mindbuck Media. The decision to review and my opinions are my own.*

Blurb: In Victoria’s War, Hamilton gives voice to the courageous Polish women who were kidnapped into the real-life Nazi slave labor operation during WWII. Inspired by true stories, this lost chapter of history won’t soon be forgotten.

POLAND, 1939: Nineteen-year-old Victoria Darski is eager to move away to college: her bags are packed and her train ticket is in hand. But instead of boarding a train to the University of Warsaw, she finds her world turned upside down when World War II breaks out. Victoria’s father is sent to a raging battlefront, and the Darski women face the cruelty of the invaders alone. After the unthinkable happens, Victoria is ordered to work in a Nazi sewing factory. When she decides to go to a resistance meeting with her best friend, Sylvia, they are captured by human traffickers targeting Polish teenagers. Sylvia is singled out and sent to work in brothels, and Victoria is transported in a cattle car to Berlin, where she is auctioned off as a slave.

GERMANY, 1941: Twenty-year-old Etta Tod is at Mercy Hospital, where she’s about to undergo involuntary sterilization because of the Fuhrer’s mandate to eliminate hereditary deafness. Etta, an artist, silently critiques the propaganda poster on the waiting room wall while her mother tries to convince her she should be glad to get rid of her monthlies. Etta is the daughter of the German shopkeepers who buy Victoria at auction in Berlin.

The stories of Victoria and Etta intertwine in the bakery’s attic where Victoria is held the same place where Etta has hidden her anti-Nazi paintings. The two women form a quick and enduring bond. But when they’re caught stealing bread from the bakery and smuggling it to a nearby work camp, everything changes.

Having studied WWII at school, read about it in numerous books (fiction and non-fiction) and watched a number of films and documentaries, I found on reading this book that there are still depths of human suffering in relation to that period of history that I had remained unaware of. This is the story of some of them.

Victoria’s war follows a young Polish woman, about to head off to university, finding her world suddenly ripped away from her as she is dragged from her comfortable home and loving family and sold as a slave to a German family, to work in their home and bakery.

This is also the story of the daughter of said German family, Etta. Etta has had the misfortune of being born mute in a time and place when this marks her out as ‘less’ and therefore open to less than humane treatment. Her double misfortune is that her own mother believes the propaganda and is willing to discard her daughter’s human rights in the name of the Reich.

Thrown together, the two seemingly-helpless girls form an uncertain friendship which solidifies into a rebellious partnership as each recognises a kindred spirit in suffering, in bravery and in compassion.

Obviously there are many very disturbing topics covered in the scope of this story and the author spares no details of everything from torture, rape and murder, to medical experiments, starvation and slave labour. The details are horrific, the stories devastating. It is clear that the author has thoroughly researched into the atrocities of the period and the respect and justice done to that information, those real historical people, is both extensive and sensitive.

In Victoria’s War, Catherine A. Hamilton has brought to life areas of World War II that I knew little about before, and now hope never, ever recur. I would recommend this book to anyone interested in this part of German and Polish history, or for anyone looking for a moving, harrowing story about resilience, courage and friendship.

Radio changed Victoria Darski’s world. It brought swing jazz and blues into her living room. And on the first of September, when she sat on the high-backed sofa and reached for the brass knob on the cabinet radio, it brought news of war.

– Catherine A. Hamilton, Victoria’s War

Find more from Catherine A. Hamilton at her website here, or follow her on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Goodreads.

Victoria’s War is available on Amazon right now.

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