I’ve read a fair amount of literature about World War II, but I’ve never read any from the German point of view, so I was intrigued by the plot line for The Women in the Castle. I’ve always wondered how Germans viewed their involvement in the war, their complicity in the mass murder undertaken by the Nazi’s, in the evil that ruled the country for so many years. Did they claim ignorance of what Hitler’s army was doing before and during the war? Did they simply point their fingers at other citizens and lay responsibility elsewhere? Did they try to leave the past in the past and forget their involvement? Did they understand that their silence was complicity? Did they accept the shame and guilt and spend the remainder of their lives trying to find some semblance of absolution?
As the granddaughter of Nazis, Jessica Shattuck tackles these questions with an earnest desire and clear moral compass to lay the blame squarely at the feet of the Germans while exposing the possibility that there are levels of blame and guilt. During the war, not all Germans were Nazis. Resistance fighters, rebel conspirators, informants, Nazi sympathizers, Nazi party members-all Germans. Some opposed the war, the Nuremberg laws, the anti-semitism. Others were enthusiastic Nazis who supported Hitler’s agenda.
More than any other art form, writing allows us to climb inside a character’s soul, to reveal her inner life to us, her thoughts and motives, desires and justifications. As we turn the pages, we find ourselves feeling empathy for a character we know has done bad things. Suddenly judgement becomes sympathy. Focusing on three women with different backgrounds and varying ties to the Nazi party, Shattuck unveils how their lives converge during the war with survival as the only shared goal, sisterhood taking on life or death significance. But in the post war years, as their pasts catch up with them, the wartime survivors discover they cannot escape what they’ve done, discovering time and silence will not heal the results of morally blind decisions.
Time and distance can provide clarity and perspective but never forgiveness. Forgiveness must be offered and accepted, and some histories don’t allow for either—the women of the castle discover this truth firsthand.