Defend­ing Brit­ta Stein: A Novel

  • Review
By – October 8, 2021

Brit­ta Stein has a sto­ry to tell in Ronald H. Balson’s lat­est Cather­ine Lockhart/​Liam Tag­gart nov­el, Defend­ing Brit­ta Stein. Her sto­ry encom­pass­es World War II Den­mark, her coura­geous fam­i­ly, the con­tin­u­ing Cather­ine and Liam saga, court­room dra­ma, and per­ti­nent and time­less ques­tions of morality.

Video footage has cap­tured 92-year-old Brit­ta spray­paint­ing the words Liar, Trai­tor, Nazi Col­lab­o­ra­tor, and Betray­er” on the out­side wall of 95-year-old Ole Henryks’s, Melan­choly Dane, a pop­u­lar Chica­go restau­rant. Ole, who is soon to receive entry into the Dan­ish-Amer­i­can Association’s Hall of Fame, vehe­ment­ly denies the accu­sa­tions, claims he is a hero who saved Jews, and insists on his day in court in order to clear his name. Brit­ta is up for the battle.

Defend­ing Brit­ta Stein inter­weaves two nar­ra­tives: Britta’s seri­al­ized account of her ear­ly life in Den­mark and the present-day court case. It’s evi­dent that Bal­son, an attor­ney as well as author, has done exten­sive research. He adept­ly and pro­found­ly chron­i­cles Denmark’s remark­able WWII his­tor­i­cal time­line as well as expert­ly shar­ing his legal knowl­edge and expe­ri­ences. His­tor­i­cal fic­tion enthu­si­asts will appre­ci­ate the sub­stan­tial atten­tion giv­en to dates, facts, and famous and infa­mous indi­vid­u­als of the time.

As Brit­ta slow­ly and some­times painstak­ing­ly unfolds her sto­ry, she focus­es on the day- to-day life of Dan­ish Jews before, dur­ing, and after the war. She recounts the ter­ror of the Nazi pres­ence, Gestapo infil­tra­tion tac­tics, polit­i­cal maneu­ver­ings, and the suc­cess­es and fail­ures of the strong and com­mit­ted Dan­ish Resis­tance move­ment. Her father is a respect­ed mem­ber of the Folket­ing (Par­lia­ment), her sis­ter and broth­er-in-law work for the Resis­tance, and her keen obser­va­tions demon­strate how Berlin’s hands tight­ened around their existence.

Yet almost all of Denmark’s 8,000 Jews were saved by its hero­ic lead­ers and pop­u­lace. The Danes sys­tem­at­i­cal­ly and will­ing­ly warned the Jews of the impend­ing Ger­man Rosh Hashanah roundups, coura­geous­ly hid them, trans­port­ed them by fish­ing boats to neu­tral Swe­den, and then wel­comed them back to their wait­ing homes and businesses.

Britta’s decades old rem­i­nis­cences are heav­i­ly descrip­tive, and the detail-laden infor­ma­tion pro­vides strong char­ac­ter devel­op­ment and intrigu­ing sto­ry­telling while keep­ing the nar­ra­tive engag­ing and sus­pense­ful. Her courage and per­se­ver­ance are a les­son for a new Bal­son char­ac­ter, Britta’s beloved grand­daugh­ter, Emma Fish­er. Emma is a young attor­ney who appears as co-coun­sel with Cather­ine in Britta’s case.

The par­al­lel sto­ry high­lights Lockhart’s dra­mat­ic legal pro­ce­dures, strate­gies, and court­room scenes. Taggart’s detec­tive work takes him to Copen­hagen where his research and sources fur­nish back­ground and evi­dence to attempt to give proof to Britta’s accusato­ry words. The couple’s fans are treat­ed to more time and insights into their per­son­al and pro­fes­sion­al lives. Issues of the cur­rent day legal sys­tem, grand­stand­ing celebri­ty lawyers, and media manip­u­la­tion and per­sua­sion are addressed.

Ole Hen­ryks tries to rewrite his­to­ry as Brit­ta Stein relates her mov­ing account to try to right it. The read­er grap­ples with the themes of good and evil, truth and lies, courage and betray­al, and pun­ish­ment and revenge. Defend­ing Brit­ta Stein is an inspi­ra­tional and absorb­ing work.

Reni­ta Last is a mem­ber of the Nas­sau Region of Hadassah’s Exec­u­tive Board. She has coor­di­nat­ed the Film Forum Series for the Region and served as Pro­gram­ming and Health Coor­di­na­tors and as a mem­ber of the Advo­ca­cy Committee.

She has vol­un­teered as a docent at the Holo­caust Memo­r­i­al and Tol­er­ance Cen­ter of Nas­sau Coun­ty teach­ing the all- impor­tant lessons of the Holo­caust and tol­er­ance. A retired teacher of the Gift­ed and Tal­ent­ed, she loves par­tic­i­pat­ing in book clubs and writ­ing projects.

Discussion Questions