The Plum Tree, set in a quaint, German town during World War II, keeps alive the memories that must never be forgotten. Ellen Marie Wiseman brings to light the seldom acknowledged sufferers during this war: German citizens themselves.
The ever-whispered question throughout this story of family resilience and, ultimately, love, is simple: What would you do? Once the government has turned on its own people, who would you protect? It is easy to point fingers at the German homeland and judge its people for allowing the systematic isolation and extermination of the Jews. What history does not mention is the Nazi choke hold, the rationing of basic necessities to the starvation of the Germans, the harassment and the very real, very visible threat of imprisonment and murder of any and all Germans who opposed Hitler’s will. What does a mother do but protect her children, and only her children. Would you fathers out there risk your sons to Auschwitz for your neighbor?
In some ways, the silence of the German people is mirrored in the silence of the peaceful Muslim living in, say, Afghanistan. How many curtains there are closed knowing that prison, torture, death await any family member challenging Sharia law? When the state has more physical power than its citizens, when the state has the authority to seize, control, destroy, what do its citizens do?
In my rational mind, it seems ridiculous for the average-Joe citizen to own an assault rifle. I fail to see the purpose of an AK-47 and a closet full of ammunition magazines. I have to wonder, though, would such resources have lowered the risk, amplified the voices of those German citizens privately raging against Hitler? Would I bear arms against the SS at my door if I knew that I had the power to combat the first, the second, the third wave of soldiers?
Wiseman offers a painful, yet beautiful overview of the daily wartime life for Germans. Her novel contains the whole set of wartime experiences: the poverty and starvation, the fear of imprisonment and mandatory military service, the allure of Hitler’s Youth and the Nazi party allegiance, the Lebensborn program, the gradual restrictions and relocation of the Jews, the politics of concentration camps, the American bombings and the Russian invasion. While not overly literary, The Plum Tree lent itself to wide and deep discussion at my dinner table. What would you do?
The Plum Tree
Ellen Marie Wiseman