May 8th, 1945. 74 years ago. After years of war, peace reigned supreme once again across Europe. We think of curtains signalling the close of an event. Rather than curtains pulling the world into darkness, though, they were flung open, to once again welcome the light. This particular day and the imagery of welcoming light again after so much darkness (both physical and metaphorical) plays an important role in my debut novel: Flight Before Dawn (now an Amazon bestseller in the USA, UK, Canada, Australia, and France). It tells the story of Victoire, a leader in the French Resistance, as she battles for her homeland to be returned to peace and freedom. Her light at the end of the tunnel, near impossible to see at times, is this day.
That’s Victorie’s story, but what about mine? Why have I returned to write about World War Two time and again? The answer is complex, but the key is this: if amidst such terrible darkness and unspeakable cruelty, the human spirit could endure, if peace could ultimately triumph, then there is always hope. Stories of bravery and courage, against flesh and blood yes, but more so against ideologies, is why I think this era remains captivating for many. It stands as a cautionary beacon: don’t let this happen again. remember. Be vigilant. We gave our yesterday, for your today. Don’t give away your tomorrow.
I lived in Germany for nine years, from the ages of nine to eighteen, and spent time on the battlefields and in the cemeteries. Each year, I took part in decorating the largest American cemetery from WWII in Europe at the Lorraine American Cemetery in St.-Avold, France. I’ve walked the beaches of Normandy. I’ve visited the museums for the Battle of the Bulge and the place in Reims, France where the surrender to the Allies took place to end the war.
Loving Germany and yet hating extremism that gripped it in World War Two is explored in my novel, Framed (now an Amazon bestseller in the USA and the UK). Anna is Swiss, but her mother is German. Her divided emotions are explored in this passage:
She’d steamed at Hitler. She’d been livid, outraged, and wholeheartedly thrown herself into his defeat, into freeing Germany. But, this was simply asking too much. How could she destroy what she loved, those she loved, a piece that was so much a part of her?
“I really don’t know that much,” she said, “I wasn’t trained to look for such things, you understand.” She said it with her most charming smile, in hopes that he’d not press her on the knowledge.
“Anything you can think of, Miss Schmidt,” he said, nodding at her, still smiling but marking the boundary.
“The people are serious, more so than from my childhood.” That much she could say without betraying everyone that she loved. That much she could say and still be herself.
“Yes, I’m sure,” he said, nodding that he understood and wanting her to continue. She wondered if he really did know. His country was in this war as well. The United States had even been attacked, their naval base anyway at Pearl Harbor. But, that was just a territory. The United States itself was not occupied though, like Florent and Magda, or at least surrounded. He had never dreamed in German. Anna had. Sometimes, she still did.
In Vow of Gold (now an Amazon bestseller in the USA ), another facet of World War Two is explored. This time it’s 1943 in England. Graham Doyle, with the war around him, dreams of finding the longed-for story of his childhood: a book of gold. His secretary finds herself dancing with the American soldiers and even falling in love.
Painted Faces (now an Amazon bestseller in the UK, the USA, and Canada) takes place in 1938, the year before the second world war began, and yet its building momentum is palpable on the page. This is particularly true for the characters in Budapest, who find themselves targeted by antisemitism.
The stories of the war that I have written are diverse, spanning many nations and years within the war. The characters each must face their own circumstances as they struggle against the darkness. For all of them, though, VE Day is what they longed for, what they prayed for. For all of them, the peace that came is what they fought for, each in their own way.
That peace, 74 years on, is something that we should not take for granted, something that we must strive to maintain. Because, you see, in addition to visiting the sites of World War Two, I’ve walked the trenches of Verdun and the Maignot Line, and visited the cemeteries of World War One. That was supposed to be “the war to end all wars”. And yet, we know, that sadly it did not. History serves as a guide, if only we will listen. To maintain the peace, we must stand up for the right thing, foster brotherhood, and deny those who would seek to destroy through radicalism and hatred. For victory can only be about peace.
My best to you all,