In the first installment of romance author Anna Schmidt’s Peacekeeper series, All God’s Children, we are introduced to Beth Bridgewater, an American woman from Wisconsin who is now living in 1940s Germany with her Uncle Franz, Aunt Ilse and their young daughter. Beth originally came to Germany to help her aunt and uncle raise their daughter. Ilse has not been well since the birth of her daughter and she relies a great deal on Beth, who selflessly helps take care of her little cousin any way she can.
Early 1940s Germany was a perilous time. The Hitler regime was taking over and countless Jewish people were being sent to their death in concentration camps. Beth is horrified by these turn of events, and wonders what will become of her and her German relatives. She is also very concerned about her Jewish friends and acquaintances. In a somewhat hasty, yet giving move, Beth hands over her immigration papers to a young Jewish woman so this woman can escape Germany to avoid being sent to a camp. Now paperless, Beth can’t leave Germany to go back to her Wisconsin home.
Entering Beth’s life is Josef Buch. Josef is a former student of Uncle Franz’s, and is now studying to be a doctor. Josef chooses to live with Beth’s uncle and aunt so he can be close to his medical studies at the university. Despite the proximity to the university, it is a wonder why Josef would choose to live in a cramped apartment attic rather than parents much more spacious home. Josef’s father is also a high ranking official in the Gestapo. Hmm, could Josef also be part of the Gestapo? Is he a Nazi sympathizer? Could he possibly be a spy?
Josef is an enigma, and Beth questions his motives. Yet, she is also intrigued and drawn towards this handsome stranger. Soon she realizes Josef is also appalled by the rise of Hitler and the Nazis. Like, Beth, Josef wants to also resist the Nazi regime and help Germany’s Jewish citizens who live under persecution every single day. Non-Jewish Germans must also fear for their lives; especially those who resist the Nazi regime.
Beth knows she most do something beyond giving away her immigration papers to a Jewish friend. And it is her strong Quaker faith, known as “Freunde” in Germany, that most guides her. As a Quaker, Beth is a pacifist. She refuses to take up violent means to defy the Nazis. However, she knows she can get help in other ways.
It isn’t long before Beth and Josef get involved with the White Rose, a resistance group who pass out leaflets exposing the evil of the Nazi regime and how to defy it. Both Beth and Josef bring their considerable gifts and strong moral code to the White Rose. Whereas, Beth is impulsive, she is also hugely giving and empathetic. And Josef’s considerable planning and organizational skills are also valuable to the White Rose.
Getting involved in the White Rose puts both Beth and Josef in a precarious situation, but they refuse to be deterred even though the face mortal danger every single day.
Before long, Beth and Josef find their friendship turning to love. With their shared commitment to helping others and defying the Nazi regime, they begin to have romantic feelings for each other. Beth and Josef can’t deny their strong feelings, and soon they fall in love and get married.
Unlike most newlyweds, Beth and Josef do not spend time unwrapping weddings gifts, setting up a household and contemplating starting a family. They face danger and death on a daily basis. And before long, Josef and Beth’s activities with the White Rose are discovered and they are sent to the camp Sobibor. Beth spends her days sorting out the clothing, shoes and various items of Soibor’s prisoners. These are prisoners who have already been sent to the gas chambers, a fact that horrifies Beth to her very core.
Despite being separated at Sobibor, Beth and Josef can spend some time together, and soon they lives are upended once again when they make a daring escape.
Beth and Josef face so much turmoil in their young lives uncertainty, violence, betrayal, near death and a gripping fear that they may never see another day. Yet, they are unwavering in their commitment peace, to their family and friends, to helping others and yes, to each other.
All God’s Children is a romance. But it’s so much more than that. It’s not a “bodice-ripper,” and it’s certainly not a romance of the clichéd “chick lit” variety. Too be honest, I’ve never been a huge romantic fiction fan. I went through a brief “bodice ripper” phase in high school, and to me, most “chick lit” has all the depth of a Jimmy Choo in-step. But Josef and Beth are two fully-realized characters who you can truly believe in. Beth is a young woman of both grace and gravitas. And we need more men like Josef.
I also have to give author Anna Schmidt a huge amount of credit for all of the research she did on World War II and the Nazi takeover of Germany and the rest of Europe. I must admit my own education on this horrific time is quite limited, just what I learned in school and through books like “The Diary of Anne Frank” and movies like “Schindler’s List.” I gained so much knowledge reading All God’s Children. I’m smart enough to realize that not all non-Jewish Germans were Nazis or Nazi sympathizers. Many were truly sickened by the Nazi regime, and many of them got involved in resistance movements and worked tirelessly on behalf of their Jewish neighbors and friends. Also, non-Jewish Germans suffered under the Nazi regime, with many of them being sent to concentration camps, and many of them facing torture and death.
All God’s Children piqued my interest in the White Rose, and through the miracle of Google, I did some research and learned so much more. I can proudly say members of the White Rose are now heroes of mine and I plan on reading about their work.
I also learned more about the Quaker faith. As a lapsed Roman Catholic turned Unitarian, I was only marginally acquainted with Quakers and how they live out their faith on a daily basis. I am in total awe how so many Quakers go above and beyond to help others, and do it without violent means.
Yes, All God’s Children is a lovely romantic story of two very notable and admirable characters. But it is also a story of courage, inspiration and a very worthwhile history lesson.