History comes alive in two new books

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Two new books make for fascinating nonfiction reading.

“A Good Place to Hide,” by Peter Grose, tells the story of an isolated French community that saved the lives of some 3,500 Jews during World War II. Hannah Nordhaus’ “American Ghost” explores the writer’s own family history in the American Southwest.

In 1940, the Nazis occupied the northern half of France and its Atlantic coast. The unoccupied southern part of the country, led by Marshal Pétain in the central town of Vichy, was in fact a puppet government that collaborated with the Germans. By 1942, the Jewish population realized there was real danger.

Grose writes about a remarkable group of French Protestants in the isolated upper Loire Valley who helped Jews and resistance fighters escape deportation to the camps.

André Trocmé, a Protestant minister and pacifist, and Édouard Theis, a school headmaster, organized the effort. Both men are honored as Righteous Gentiles at Yad Vashem. 

The villagers asked no questions and welcomed the newcomers, providing food and shelter when both were scarce.

Grose, a former journalist, tells this story well: It reads like a thriller but is a well-researched book with a bibliography, notes and an update on what happened to the major participants.

“A Good Place to Hide” is an excellent addition to history collections in all libraries and a good selection for book clubs interested in World War II.

In “American Ghost,” Nordhaus discovers that her great-great-grandmother Julia Schuster Staab is presently viewed as a sad-eyed ghost in a hotel that had been the family home in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Trying to learn more about Staab’s life, Nordhaus, a journalist, interviews relatives, then turns to diaries, historical records, newspaper archives, psychics and ghost hunters. The result is a spirited memoir of one of the earliest Jewish pioneer families in the West.

After establishing himself as a dry goods merchant in Santa Fe, Abraham Staub returned to the town in Germany where he was born to fetch a wife. Julia, his new bride, crossed the Atlantic on a luxury liner to New York, boarded a train and finished her trek on stagecoach to arrive in dusty Santa Fe, where she found cowboys, Indians, soldiers, outlaws, missionaries and very few Jews.

In addition to the family history and relevant events, Nordhaus interweaves her modern-day odyssey, retracing her great-great-grandmother’s many journeys across the United States and Europe, to create a delightful travelogue. The smooth, almost casual style reads like a novel.

Reviews provided by the Jewish Book Council, www.­jewishbookcouncil.org