Friday, October 30, 2015

Snow Moon Rising, Lori L. Lake

The atrocities committed against the Jewish people in Europe during World War II are well-covered ground in the literary world. The history of the Jewish genocide is well-documented in history books, and the human toll of the war and its depravity are demonstrated through the thousands of fictional accounts that have been written in the decades since the concentration camps were liberated. This is as it should be. The extreme example of xenophobia, greed, and racism displayed by Hitler and his Nazi followers is something that should never be forgotten.

(We often say that the Holocaust should be remembered so that we as a global community can make sure it never happens again. Sadly, we as a human family have failed in this aspiration time and time again-the Rwandan genocide, the crisis in Darfur, and the massacre at Srebrenica are but a few of the examples of modern day ethnic or religious violence.)

While the experiences of the Jewish people of Europe during the Holocaust is very well known, less talked about are the experiences of other groups that were persecuted and brutalized by the Nazis. Physically and mentally disabled children, Jehovah's Witnesses, the Roma people, and homosexuals were some of the groups that were singled out for "special" treatment. It is the Roma, known pejoratively as Gypsies, that are the subject of the book Snow Moon Rising.

The Roma people were a nomadic group, traveling the roads between European countries in large family groups called kumpania. The kumpania, made up of caravans and carts which were both the homes and workplaces of the Roma people, traveled from village to village, finding work when possible, hunting and gathering when work was hard to find. Some members of the caravans became artisans and craftsmen, selling their wares along the way.

Unfortunately, the Roma developed a reputation as thieves and con men. During the early part of the 20th century, many countries had laws banning the Roma people from traveling to certain places, or from being allowed to do certain jobs in the community. There was a deep distrust of the Roma, who were seen as a race separate from the "purer" European people, and were considered inferior, much like the Jews were.

It is into this culture that we are dropped when we read Snow Moon Rising. The book follows two
women, Mischka and Pippi, during the time period from World War I through World War II. Mischka is a young Roma girl at the beginning of the book, already chaffing against the rigid gender expectations of her clan. Pippi is the sister of a young German soldier who is rescued by Mischka's kumpania after he stumbles away from a bloody battle. Mischka and Pippi meet and become bonded in a way that is more than just friendship. Fast forward to World War II, and Mischka ends up in a German labor camp. Pippi, who must pretend to be a a German loyal to Hitler to survive, is sent ot the camp to oversee the production of uniforms for German soldiers. Here, the two women are reunited, and must work together to ensure that the prisoners get out of the camp alive. But the end of the war is not the end of the challenges for these women, because Europe is soon divided between the Soviets and the rest of the western world. Will Mischka and Pippi find a way to be together?

I found the description of the Roma way of life and the persecution they suffered fascinating. It also led me to many a discussion during this Halloween season as to why "gypsy" costumes were maybe not a good idea. Aside from being an exploration of the experiences of the Roma during the first half of the 20th century, this book is a lesbian love story. Mischka and Pippi take turns telling the story, which is actually a series of flashbacks spun out over the course of one evening to their grandson, who has never heard the story of his family's journey to America. Aside from the Roma history I learned, I appreciated an insight into what the life of the average German may have been during World War II. The final scenes of the book left me in tears for all the right reasons.

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