“While flying an Allied fighter plane from Paris to England, American ATA pilot and amateur poet, Rose Justice, is captured by the Nazis and sent to Ravensbrück, the notorious women's concentration camp. Trapped in horrific circumstances, Rose finds hope in the impossible through the loyalty, bravery and friendship of her fellow prisoners. But will that be enough to endure the fate that’s in store for her?
Elizabeth Wein, author of the critically-acclaimed and best-selling Code Name Verity, delivers another stunning WWII thriller. The unforgettable story of Rose Justice is forged from heart-wrenching courage, resolve, and the slim, bright chance of survival.”
“Fight with realistic hope, not to destroy all the world’s wrong, but to renew its good.”
They do say, be careful what you wish for because you might just get it. Rose Justice learns that lesson all to well. Only 18 years old she is one of the youngest pilots involved in the war effort. Flying planes to transfer them from one airfield to another, what she really wants is permission to fly missions in to war-torn Europe. When she does get that opportunity through her uncle’s influence it turns into her first and last trip. While she safely delivers her passengers at their destination, she goes missing on the return trip. Nobody knows what happened to her, nobody knows where she went down, everybody, while hoping that she may be alive, is starting to realize that she has probably died.
But Rose hasn’t died. She’s been intercepted by German planes and captured. Through an administrative error she ends up in Ravensbrück Concentration Camp. Here she’ll experience horror, fear, hunger and desperation. In Ravensbrück she will also discover friendship and loyalty beyond her imagination.
“I’m done with it now – dry words on a page. The reality was much worse.” – Rose about when she arrives in Ravensbrück.
This is not an easy book to read. The reader is lulled into a false sense of security during the first part of the book which details Rose’s time in England, flying planes from one airport to another. In fact, by the time everything goes horribly wrong for Rose the reader is as ill prepared for what she is about to face as the character is. Like I said in my review of “Code Name Verity” I have in the past read a lot of books about WW II and I honestly thought there wasn’t a lot I didn’t know about. But, while I did know that the Germans used their prisoners for medical experiments, I did not know that the victims were called “Rabbits”.
And it is those “Rabbits” that this book is really about. Rose may be the main character, she may be the one telling this story but she is really only a mouthpiece used to describe horrors that are hard to imagine, even though we know they are true. Horrors so extreme that the world refused to believe them until it was forced to view the (living) evidence. Rose is incapable of telling her fellow prisoners that while the plight of the Rabbits had been reported in England, people hearing about it refused to believe it and brushed it off as propaganda. Because some things are just too hard to believe. However, if there is anybody out there who doubts that the things described in the section of this book set in Ravensbrück are true, if anyone finds themselves thinking that friendship couldn’t exist in such a place, that (young) people couldn't possibly survive such an experience, that it wasn't possible to cheat certain death, or that escape was impossible I would tell them to read Samuel Pisar’s memoir “Of Blood and Hope” and never doubt again.
Don’t read this book expecting a repeat of “Code Name Verity”. That book was a thriller with twists and turns and an uncertain ending as well as a story about friendship. “Rose Under Fire” is no thriller; we know Rose is going to survive that is made clear at the start of the book. This book is about what it took for Rose to survive and what surviving did to her. This story is harder to read because the horrors described are so – and I can’t think of a better word – horrific that even I, who has read so many books about this subject in the past, at times found it hard to read on.
This is a book that will break your heart, fill you with horror, and make you gasp in disbelief. Yet it is also a book that will flood you with admiration for the strength of these women. The power of hope against the odds and the capacity to selfishly love, even in the direst of circumstances, will restore your heart again.
Like I said above; these days I try to steer clear of books about WW II. I read my fill of them growing up in Holland. On the other hand I’m glad that books like these still get written. This is a story that can’t be allowed to ever be forgotten. And it is books like this one that ensure that present and future generations won’t be allowed to forget. Like the “Rabbits” say in the book: the world needs to be told. It needed to be told then, and it needs to be told now in the hope that there will come a time when people are no longer capable of inflicting this sort of trauma upon others.
“People don’t get moving, they don’t soar, they don’t achieve great heights, without something buoying them up.”