With the world focused today on the trouble between the Islamic nations and Israel, and with members of the Church’s recent study of Abraham and the rift between his sons, it is easy to lay all of the blame for the trouble in the Mideast to that ancient feud. Robert Marcum in The Return, the first book in his new House of Israel, series begins an exploration of the time period following World War II and the part the Allied Nations played in bringing about the impasse that exists in the Middle east today.
Following World War II in Germany the United States wished to bring its involvement in Europe to a quick conclusion enabling the country to concentrate on the war still continuing with Japan, Great Britain was intent on retaining a hold on its vast empire, and Russia, under Stalin, was instituting a vast land grab, swallowing up Poland, Austria, several other small countries and as much of Germany as possible. Private property, confiscated by Hitler, was now stolen by the Russians who were intent on making Germany pay for the war.
Antisemitism, which had been rife in Europe, not just in Germany, for a long time and which had crept into much of America as well, didn’t miraculously go away with the conclusion of the war. Marcum begins his series with a young Jewish woman who survives the German death-camp Ravensbruck by one day when it is overrun by Allied soldiers as the SS is rushing to complete the Nazi’s “final solution”. She spends the first weeks following the war in a hospital run by gentle, caring nuns, but with the occupation of the Eastern sector by Russia, the Jews are expelled from the hospital. The German people who had taken over homes, farms, and businesses of the Jewish people lived in fear of losing the property they now considered theirs should the pre-war owners return to claim it. People who had cooperated with the Nazis or simply failed to oppose Hitler’s war of hatred had been taught to blame the Jews for the war, for the poor economic conditions of the country, and to suspect the Jews of draining the country’s assets. This climate coupled with the real suffering of the defeated people was fueled by Stalin’s anti-Semitic policies and Great Britain’s desperate attempt to maintain control of the Palestine region. Jewish survivors were still not safe and their ability to trust was totally annihilated.
Hannah, Marcum’s leading character, with a small group of women she has met in the hospital decide to make their way to Israel, their historic homeland. The war years have taught them not to trust anyone and their expulsion from the hospital by a new administrator they recognize as a former Nazi serves as a reminder that antisemitism hasn’t miraculously gone away with the conclusion of the war and their release from the death camps. Instead of making their way toward Austria into Italy where most refugees are heading and being turned back, they turn toward Berlin in hopes of obtaining passes through a soldier friend of Hannah’s New York cousin, who visited Hannah at the hospital.
Ephraim Daniels makes Hannah’s cause his and begins a process of getting the small group of women the travel papers they need. He also introduces them to the small LDS branch in Berlin, a few American soldiers who are either Jewish or LDS, and a musician one of the women becomes involved with. One of the women, Rachel, carries a heavy load of hatred toward her father who had turned his Jewish wife and their children over to the Nazis. Rachel alone survived the death camp where they were taken. She returns to her father’s home where she breaks in with the intent of stealing back some of her mother’s inherited wealth from the secret hiding place her father had shown her in happier times. The money is gone, but she discovers papers revealing her father’s collaboration with a continuing Nazi movement and with the Russians.
From searching for a way to get themselves to Palestine, Hannah and Rachel drift into becoming part of a larger movement attempting to find safe passage for their people. They face danger and death, but are no longer too frightened to look beyond mere survival; this time they fight back and place freedom for themselves and their people above their personal safety.
Hannah also undertakes a journey of reconciliation with God and finds herself drawn toward Ephraim’s God and the faith and concepts that are a driving force in his life. She is also attracted to the man himself and must make some choices between accepting his country and way of life or continuing her fight for her people and a place they can call home. Ephraim, a pilot is transferred to the Pacific, and Hannah is left to lead her friends and a group of orphaned children in a trek filled with danger and betrayal.
There are elements of Marcum’s story that are reminiscent of Leon Uris’s Exodus. The story is big and bold, covers the same time period, and takes a similar point of view. Both books include the desperate attempts made by Jewish refugees to flee Europe, taking orphaned children with them, to the land of their ancient ancestors. But Marcum’s book is no rewrite of Uris’s; instead it is an equally compelling story of different individuals facing many of the same obstacles. Marcum’s book also goes beyond the Jews as a people or race to that of them as individuals who question their beliefs and search for a closer understanding of their ethnic and religious role. Through Marcum we see individual Jews questioning why the holocaust happened to “God’s chosen people,” questioning the merits of any faith, and separating their religious culture from their ethnic culture.
Some readers may be disturbed by the brutality and cruelty that is a part of this story, but there’s no way to avoid the horror of this period of history and be true to historical fact without mention of the atrocities and cruelties this group of people suffered. Though Marcum manages to avoid dwelling on gore or using the Lord’s name in vain, he does depict enough of the violence to lend authenticity to the events and some of the slang terms he uses are a little more crude than some readers may expect.
Perhaps the most compelling concept introduced in this remarkable book is a different way of looking at the return of the house of Israel. The question is raised whether the prophesied return is to be a physical return of the Jews to the land given to them by God, or could it perhaps be a return to the God who declared them His “chosen people?”
Add The House of Israel to the growing list of top notch historical series in the LDS fiction market. If the following volumes live up to the high standard set by The Return, this will be a series worth reading and keeping.