The Nine, by Gwen Strauss: A Book Worth Reading

I just finished The Nine: The True Story of a Band of Women Who Survived the Worst of Nazi Germany by Gwen Strauss.

I listened to the book on audio, read by Juliet Stevenson, and I know the story will stay with me for a long time.

It is a story of “solidaire,” which the Collins Reverso dictionary translates and defines as an adjective meaning “who stand together, who show solidarity; interdependent.”

I am convinced that interdependence and solidarity is the reason the nine survived.

This “standing together” is something the author, a grand-niece of one of the nine, explores in her writing. Her research has led her to believe that women often survived longer in concentration camps partly because they more likely to band together, giving them the strength of a group when sometimes their own strength might wane.

Each woman in Strauss’s book has a distinct character, which comes through clearly. Thus, the women each bring a different strength to the group, and it’s these differences that helped them through the many tragedies and difficulties of their journey.

All were young — younger than my own daughter is now — and active in the French Resistance. All were eventually caught. Some were tortured, a fact Strauss illuminates, but does not dwell on. And all were deported to Ravensbruck for their activities, arriving there in 1944, near the end of the war.

There they banded together and managed to remain together during the many “selections,” somehow avoiding extermination, and ending up at a work camp near Leipzig making guns.

After the invasion at Normandy, the Allies moved through Europe, and it became clear Germany would lose the war. The Nazis responded by forcing those in the camps on death marches, often without food, water, or any apparent destination.

Those who couldn’t walk were put to death. Thousands more — already weak and often diseased from the poor conditions — died on the marches.

The nine in the book chose to escape or die trying.

The story of how they survived, and what happened to them afterward, is something you need to read for yourself.

I will add that this book has made me think about how war is written about, who is chosen to be the “heroes” and who is ignored, why women’s contributions and suffering are often ignored or downplayed, and how ordinary people can be caught up on the wrong side, sometimes against their will. I will ponder on the consequences borne by not only those who lived through war’s tragedies and terrors, but also their children and even their grandchildren.

And I will wonder if — like the nine — I would have had the strength to choose to make decisions based on my convictions of right and wrong and be willing to deal with the aftermath.

Quick Bee Update: Once the weather turned, I took the sugar syrup and honey off the hives, and today I tried a different recipe for bee patties. I learned this new method of making the patties at the most recent meeting of one of our local beekeeping groups.

Based on the speaker’s recipe, I combined one bag of sugar (four pounds) with about 4/5 pint of water and 1 tsp of white vinegar. This I heated to a rolling boil, finally reaching 245F, the minimum recommended by the recipe. After allowing the mixture to cool slightly, I poured it into foil pans to harden. (I actually doubled the recipe, using two bags of sugar, which made three pans.)

If you decide to try this recipe, please be aware that sugar syrup gets very hot, scorches easily, and definitely needs to be watched every minute it’s on the burner because when it boils, it bubbles up quite high in the pan. In fact, I had to ladle some of it out of my pan to prevent a dangerous overflow.

Making it is a hot sticky mess, and it takes a long time to reach 245F.

Will the bees like it? I guess we’ll see!

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