Monday, August 11, 2014

LDS BOOK REVIEW: Surviving Hitler by O. Hakan Palm


Gustav Palm kept his secret for more than forty years. He’d been a young man when Hitler invaded his native Norway. After being forced to guard a Nazi prison camp, however, Gustav took his only option for escape: he volunteered for the Waffen-SS to fight at the front.

Agnes Erdös grew up in privilege and prosperity as a child in Hungary. She and her parents were practicing Roman Catholics, but they were ethnic Jews, and after the Nazis invaded her country, Agnes and her parents were sent to the death camp of Auschwitz-Birkenau. Miraculously, both Agnes and Gustav survived. And after the war, they found each other.

Told in their own words, Surviving Hitler is the story of two indomitable spirits who built on their life-altering experiences to overcome the past, help each other heal, and embrace a common faith in God that led them to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.


Like his brother and three sisters, O. HAKAN PALM, eldest son of Gustav and Agnes Erdös Palm, has been shaped by his parents’ wartime experiences. A successful management consultant in Stockholm, Sweden, Håkan has served faithfully in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints as a bishop, as a member of two stake presidencies, and seven times as a counselor in the Sweden Stockholm Mission. He and his wife, Barbro, are the parents of seven children.


I knew I wanted to read this book as soon as I heard about it.  I mean an SS Soldier and a Jewish woman!? Even more unusual is the fact that the SS Soldier was a Norwegian who volunteered to fight with the Germans and the Jewish woman lost both parents in the Holocaust.  The book did not disappoint. I especially liked the back and forth nature of the story, it allowed me to see what each of them was experiencing at the same time.

It's easy for those of us who didn't live through World War II to automatically condemn those who fought with the Germans and even condemn all the Germans for supporting Hitler and the Nazis.  But like many things in this world, it's no where near that simple.  Books like this are important because they remind us to be careful in judging others.  Gustav, as a young Norwegian farm boy, was fed lots of propaganda, and with no one really advising him what the best choice to make, joined the Norwegian version of the Nazi party. Over time he slowly realized that what he'd been told was mostly lies but by then he was on the front lines and there was nothing else to do but to fight.

Agnes, grew up in well-to-do circumstances in Hungary and didn't really face the challenges that many other Jews experienced until the Nazis took over Hungary.  She and her parents were taken to a concentration camp, where her parents were immediately killed.  Do to some rather miraculous events, Agnes survives, not the least of which is the blessing her father gives her on the journey.  The awful things she experiences would be enough to make anyone bitter and yet, she expresses again and again the feelings of peace and comfort she experienced on numerous occasions.

The story continues through Agnes and Gustav's meeting, marrying, and joining the church.  The comments at the end by their son add further perspective.  A moving, remarkable story of faith and love despite facing incredibly difficult experiences.

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