The Nine: The True Sto­ry of a Band of Women Who Sur­vived the Worst of Nazi Germany

September 1, 2020

The Nine fol­lows the true sto­ry of the author’s great aunt Hélène Podliasky, who led a band of nine female resis­tance fight­ers as they escaped a Ger­man forced labor camp and made a ten-day jour­ney across the front lines of WWII from Ger­many back to Paris.

The nine women were all under thir­ty when they joined the resis­tance. They smug­gled arms through Europe, har­bored para­chut­ing agents, coor­di­nat­ed com­mu­ni­ca­tions between region­al sec­tors, trekked escape routes to Spain and hid Jew­ish chil­dren in scat­tered apart­ments. They were arrest­ed by French police, inter­ro­gat­ed and tor­tured by the Gestapo. They were sub­ject­ed to a series of French pris­ons and deport­ed to Ger­many. The group formed along the way, meet­ing at dif­fer­ent points, in prison, in tran­sit, and at Ravens­brück. By the time they were enslaved at the labor camp in Leipzig, they were a close-knit group of friends. Dur­ing the final days of the war, forced onto a death march, the nine chose their moment and made a dar­ing escape.
Draw­ing on incred­i­ble research, this pow­er­ful, heart-stop­ping nar­ra­tive is a mov­ing trib­ute to the pow­er of human­i­ty and friend­ship in the dark­est of times.

Discussion Questions

Cour­tesy of Gwen Strauss

<p>1. The Nine opens with the moment of escape, and with each chap­ter that fol­lows, the author focus­es on one of the women. Occa­sion­al­ly, the read­er learns about the author’s research and detec­tive work to uncov­er the sto­ry. How do the dif­fer­ent sto­ry­lines work togeth­er to tell a com­plete sto­ry? How impor­tant was each thread to build­ing that picture?
<p>2. Each woman played a role in the group’s sur­vival. What were their dif­fer­ent roles?
<p>3. Six­ty years lat­er, Nicole wrote, Once again, I am con­vinced of the strength of the ties unit­ing us and of our shared force.” What was their shared force?
<p>4. What role do you think youth and wom­an­hood played in how and why these nine women joined the Résistance?
<p>5. Fel­low pris­on­er Juli­ette Bes wrote about sol­i­dar­i­ty in the camp: Char­i­ty is when you give what you can give; sol­i­dar­i­ty is giv­ing when you have noth­ing to give.” There were many exam­ples of female sol­i­dar­i­ty in the camp. How can sol­i­dar­i­ty play a role in survival?
<p>6. The women took pride in mak­ing gifts for each oth­er and their fam­i­lies, even when they risked being pun­ished for it, and even when, strict­ly speak­ing, these items were not nec­es­sary for sur­vival. Why were these items so important?
<p>7. Because women’s nar­ra­tives in large part were not con­sid­ered impor­tant and have not been part of the his­tor­i­cal record, the author had to imag­ine or spec­u­late as to some parts in order to make the record whole. How do we tell the sto­ries of peo­ple whose lives were in the mar­gins of record­ed history?
<p>8. What is the impor­tance of mem­o­ry for our under­stand­ing of his­to­ry? Who decides what gets remem­bered and how?
<p>9. What should we do with the stat­ues of peo­ple (slavers, Con­fed­er­ate gen­er­als, and so on) who we now know com­mit­ted ter­ri­ble acts? How do we adapt to our evolv­ing under­stand­ing of the his­tor­i­cal record?
<p>10. The book tells of var­i­ous encoun­ters with hos­pitable and help­ful Ger­mans, as well as hos­tile and poten­tial­ly dead­ly episodes. Did you believe it when Annelise and Ernst Reitzer claimed they had not known how bad the camps were?
<p>11. Among the heroes in the book were the archivists, such as Odette Pilpoul, who at great risk to her own life kept the record for future gen­er­a­tions. Why is her con­tri­bu­tion to record­ing his­tor­i­cal­ly mar­gin­al­ized voic­es so impor­tant, not just then but even more so now?
<p>12. After the war, the strug­gle to sur­vive, and final­ly find­ing the Amer­i­can sol­diers, why was going home so dif­fi­cult? How was the women’s sit­u­a­tion dif­fer­ent from that of a sol­dier return­ing from war? How was it the same?
<p>13. The author learns from the fam­i­lies of the nine women that trau­ma does not end with the per­son who first expe­ri­enced it. Can trau­ma be inter­gen­er­a­tional? If so, how is that idea show­cased in the book?
<p>14. The legal sta­tus of women in France changed after the war. For exam­ple, they got the right to vote large­ly because of the role women played in the Résis­tance. How do you feel these women changed the world?
<p>15. Most of the women chose not to speak to their chil­dren about their expe­ri­ences dur­ing the war. Parts of their sto­ry were known but many parts were kept secret. Why? How and when did they final­ly tell their stories?