Sunday, April 3, 2011

Traitor by Gudrun Pausewang

Fifteen year old Anna Brunner lives in Stiegnitz, a small village located in the Sudetenland - a predominantly German speaking border area of Czechoslovakia that was annexed by Hitler in 1938. Steingnitz is a mere 10 miles from the border of the Czech Protectorate. During the week, Anna studies at a school in Schonberg where she boards with Frau Gisela Beranek. On the weekends she travels home via train to Mellersdorf and then walks to Steignitz where she lives with her mother Marie Hanisch, her grandmother and her 14 year old brother Felix. Her father, Felix Brunner, a circus conjurer, committed suicide when Anna was young and her older brother Seff is away fighting on the Eastern Front.

One day on her way home to Stiegnitz, Anna Brunner discovers tracks in the snow weaving in and out of the forest. She follows them home to her family's barn where she discovers a cold, emaciated and ill man hiding their hayloft. Puzzled and believing him to be a lost mental patient from a nearby institute, Anna gives him shelter and clothing. Her family doesn't know and Anna still doesn't clue into who she is helping even when she learns that seven escaped men have been shot and the eighth man is still being sought.

However, Anna is horrified to discover that the man in the barn is the sole survivor of eight Russians who escaped from a prisoner of war camp days before. Anna now faces a serious dilemma. If she turns him in, he will be shot. If she helps him, she is helping an enemy of Germany and she will be a traitor and executed.
"To deliver up a terrified, half-starved man to shot like an animal -- how could she reconcile that with her conscience? She couldn't live with guilt like that, and she didn't want to!"

Anna experiences intense inner conflict based on what she sees in the escaped Russian soldier - a helpless man who is grateful, respectful and suffering and what she has seen in posters that portray Russians as bloodless murderers. She recognizes that people can have both bad and good in them and that this is not just restricted to people of a certain race.

"Frau Bernaek had objected that all the good was never on one side, not all the evil on the other. Not even now. She was of the opinion that 'Next to the good in every individual, there is also evil."

Unlike Felix who acts as a foil to Anna, she does not have others tell her what is right. She is not so accepting of the indoctrination of the Hitler Youth and the German Girls League and the German government and tries to think for herself. While thinking about what her father would have done with the Russian soldier she ruminates on the problem of good and evil:

"You knew it too, she thought, this problem of good and bad. If you were still alive, you could see it in your son. In Felix, whom you never knew. He's convinced that anything that benefits the German people is good. But he lets others dictate what that is....But he leaves it to others to decide for him what's good and what's bad. That's why I'm afraid of him, Father. I'm afraid of my little brother!"

Anna sees that Felix is becoming more and more radical and that her grandmother and mother are afraid of him. For Felix, Russians and Czechs are not people. They are expendable. Hitler is Felix's hero and he would die for him.

Eventually as her emotional burden increases and Anna struggles to find food for the soldier, she tells a friend about what she has done and this woman agrees to help her supply the hidden soldier with the necessities of life. But as the Germans lose the battle after battle and their country is invaded by the advancing Russians, Felix becomes more radical and Anna, although happy that the Russian soldier will finally be able to meet up with his advancing army, is worried about how she and her family will survive into the peace.

This novel has a shocking ending which I won't reveal and which the reader would never anticipate. Gundrun Pausewang has written a stunning psychological thriller right to it's unexpected and horrific end. I highly recommend this novel, although don't be surprised if teen readers are not satisfied with the ending.

Book Details:
Traitor by Gudrun Pausewang
New York: Carolrhoda Books 2004

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