In 1944, blonde and blue-eyed Jewess Hadassah Benjamin feels abandoned by God when she is saved from a firing squad only to be handed over to a new enemy. Pressed into service by SS-Kommandant Colonel Aric von Schmidt at the transit camp of Theresienstadt in Czechoslovakia, she is able to hide behind the false identity of Stella Muller. However, in order to survive and maintain her cover as Aric’s secretary, she is forced to stand by as her own people are sent to Auschwitz.
Suspecting her employer is a man of hidden depths and sympathies, Stella cautiously appeals to him on behalf of those in the camp. Aric’s compassion gives her hope, and she finds herself battling a growing attraction for this man she knows she should despise as an enemy.
Stella pours herself into her efforts to keep even some of the camp’s prisoners safe, but she risks the revelation of her true identity with every attempt. When her bravery brings her to the point of the ultimate sacrifice, she has only her faith to lean upon. Perhaps God has placed her there for such a time as this, but how can she save her people when she is unable to save herself?
Kate Breslin is an author whose name should be on every inspirational fiction reader’s radar. Her debut novel For Such a Time (Bethany House Publishers) is worthy of innumerable accolades. Kate Breslin has taken the beloved biblical story of Esther and transposed it to Theresienstadt, a Nazi concentration camp in the former Czechoslovakia. The result is a story that will render readers speechless with the immersive setting and exegetic analysis of human nature and response during times of acute oppression and persecution. Amidst the inexplicable horror of transition and concentration camps arises a story of hope and destiny.
Hadassah Benjamin is rescued from a firing squad by SS Kommandant Colonel Aric von Schmidt. Her forged identification papers list her pseudonym as Stella Muller and he believes her to be an Austrian wrongfully imprisoned after a a fateful encounter with the Gestapo. Stella knows that the only chance of survival is to keep her true identity and heritage a secret. On the brink of death and irreparable emotional trauma, she acquiesces with Herr Kommandant’s ploy to smuggle her across the border to a Czechoslovakian internment camp where she will serve as his secretary in his private residence. Stella is unaware that her Uncle Morty is imprisoned in that very camp and that he believes that she may use her influence over the Kommandant to be the salvation that her people need. Stella’s resiliency and spirited determination to undermine the Nazi’s “Final Solution” is the fulfillment of prophesy for Morty’s dream, but in doing so she is vulnerable to exposure and most assured execution.
Aric vvon Schmidt is a product of his environment: decorated soldier and war hero, devotee to the Fatherland and indomitable man of pride. He is not immune to the depravity and human suffering occurring in the camp under his purview but believes the cost of life to be an unavoidable consequence of war. A skeptic of the SS and critic of the Gestapo, the torment of the Jewish people at the hands of his comrades enrages him even though he claims indifference to their cause. He has subverted the abusive behaviour of several high ranking SS officers towards the most vulnerable prisoners without fully accepting the motivations behind his actions. There are fatale repercussions of expressing dissension or doubt with the Führer’s orders and Aryan ideology, but Aric occasionally hovers over the line of sedition when the honour of German army and legacy are at stake. He is a man who on the surface does not merit sympathy but beneath the facade of self protection is a compassionate heart at war with his duty to country versus duty to man.
An unlikely romance blossoms in the emotional bareness and hopelessness that enshrouds Theresienstadt. This not a simple meeting of hearts and passions ignited–Stella and Aric’s affection is a reluctant and feared love that has the power to be their demise. Aric’s commission is at direct odds with Stella’s mission to see her people liberated and both conceal secrets that carry catastrophic repercussions for any future relationship. The tension between them is palpable and leaves readers feeling equally as tormented as the characters.
The parallels that Kate Breslin makes between the biblical narrative and her fictionalization are compelling and maintain the integrity of Esther’s selfless heroism to save her people. Familiarity with the biblical account of this story does not equate a predictable plot—in fact the suspense is notably sustained throughout. Breslin’s handling of this harrowing historical period is done with the utmost respect and aptitude. Her descriptions of Theresienstadt are so complete that readers can detect the scent of unwashed wool and rotten scraps, feel the unrelenting bone chilling wind and feel the perpetual pangs of hunger. This novel’s portrayal of the Jewish plight from persecution to freedom is heartrending in its reality and compelling in message. A debut not be missed from the talented Kate Breslin.
**Disclosure: review copy provided by publisher via TLC book tours**