I tend to read two or three books a week for pleasure: my work-related book reading is on top of all this. When looking back over the last year to ask myself what had made the greatest impression on me The Nine, by Gwen Strauss, immediately stood out. She professes not to be an historian, but this is superb history. It is deep, rich and personal. The book is a brilliantly written account of the survival of nine women – six French, two Dutch women and one Spanish – who escape a death march from Leipzig in the closing days of the war in April 1945. Gwen’s great aunt was one of the nine women who, starving and ill-treated, decide to take their future into their own hands by escaping the long, shuffling straggle of half-dead humanity.
What a story it is! We learn much about them as individuals, as well as about the Germans whom they encounter, both good and bad, along the 10-days of their journey to the Mulde River at Colditz, and safety with the United States Army. Only by luck do they survive. It’s a harrowing story, but the love and comradeship these women share with each other kept them alive. As the book develops we also learn of the way Strauss uncovered the story of these women and their lives. We know that millions were horribly mistreated and murdered, but somehow in the survival of these nine women, all strangers before they met in Ravensbruck and Leipzig, comes the idea that even in hell there is hope.