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Lead up to the review: The Lost Girls of Paris by Pam Jenoff

Carl Cozier Elementary School
In fifth grade our teacher told us about being stationed in Germany during his time in the service. We didn't call him a veteran, just a balding guy with dandruff who taught us German words and phrases: Mr. Fish.

He went up and down the rows of formica topped desks with attached chairs and assigned German names to us at Carl Cozier Elementary School I was Christel and dreamed of handing that beautiful name over to the daughter I hoped some day to have. It didn't turn out quite that way, as things that were important when you were ten, are not as valued when you're thirty-eight.

Photo Dachau: Václav Pluhař 
One afternoon, Mr. Fish showed a movie, it was in French with English subtitles. So horrific, I thought it must be made up. Emaciated living, piles of shoes, clothing, the dead. Complete, utter fantasy. But it was a documentary: the Holocaust.

Ten years later, I perfected my German language skill in Germany before enrolling for a year at the University of Vienna, Austria.

Inspired by Mr. Fish, I'd foregone learning Spanish or French, both taught in middle school, and waited until high school to take German from Frau Fincher, then at Clark College from Frau Schmalenberger, and at Linfield College from Dr. Kurz, where I double majored in German and Piano Performance, which led me to apply for the Vienna program through Central College.

Photo Dachau: Terence Burke 
Thirteen months away from home allowed for plenty of time for travel amid my European studies, including a side trip to Dachau. My girlfriend, from the study program, her sister and I took a bus to the camp location far from town, and hitchhiked back, catching the 30-minute ride back to town with a German gentleman distraught that the only thing we might know of his city was the concentration camp and not the beauty surrounding his hometown.

Perhaps it is the distance between that youthful, study abroad adventure and today, but I keenly felt the loss of the girls who died in the camps in Pam Jenoff's book The Lost Girls of Paris over what I remember feeling when visiting the actual camp. The tension Jenoff built made me put the book down for a break. The girls walking arm and arm to their deaths brought tears.

And now, moments from the end, I dearly want to know, want to understand the truth in our world – of women making bold decisions, taking risks and being in the end merely women, not heroes.


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