Traitors for the Sake of Humanity

A Novel of the German Resistance to Hitler

Fiction - Historical - Event/Era
567 Pages
Reviewed on 06/14/2021
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    Book Review

Reviewed by Romuald Dzemo for Readers' Favorite

Traitors for the Sake of Humanity: A Novel of the German Resistance to Hitler by Helena P. Schrader is a well-researched, historical novel that tells the story of the few brave people who opposed Hitler. The story follows a cast of interesting characters from different backgrounds, from professors to the clergy, from a General Staff Officer to homemakers, from ordinary men and women to generals in the Nazi hierarchy. These people shared a common denominator: their hatred for Hitler and everything he stood for. As each storyline in this novel develops, the characters begin to understand that there are many others like them and that there are people within Hitler’s organization that are as willing to sink him as they are. Follow these characters as they build up a shadowy resistance in a world filled with oppression and moral poverty; but can they succeed in damaging Hitler’s war machine?

From the very beginning, the author shares information about how the research for this book was done and provides very interesting facts, both about the stories and her sources, including the German military archives and interviews with people who lived through the era, people who became her friends in the process. The novel is well-plotted and the setting is beautifully written, with the locales, the social atmosphere, and the things that punctuated life in the era skillfully captured. The author fills the writing with strong imagery, and from the sound of the train to the image of Altdorf and its styles, the reader gets a clear image of place and time. The themes are well written and they include the nature of evil, the strength of moral conscience, the power of self-deception, and humanity.

Helena P. Schrader has a wonderful gift for character and I enjoyed following Philip Freiherr von Feldburg, a German General Staff Officer, and his mother Sophia Maria Freifrau von Felding, the coachman Josef and other staff at the Feldburg Schloss, Father Matthias, Prof. Dr. Moldenauer, and his wife, and other characters. The exploration of these characters as they navigated a dangerous and treacherous environment is wonderful and the author captures their emotions, their fears, and hopes in a way that conveys their humanity brilliantly. Traitors for the Sake of Humanity takes readers from Altdorf to Berlin, to West Prussia, to Crepon, France, to Yulov, and many other places. This is a novel with compelling historical elements and characters who communicate the message that evil does not triumph over the goodness of the human heart. The characters are nuanced, the writing is superb, and the plot is so well written that it forces the reader to keep on turning the pages. This is one of the best books I have read about the Nazi era.

Tom Gauthier

We are told that history is written by the victors, ergo the vanquished receive short shrift. What little we were taught about World War Two in Europe features the evil of Hitler and the Nazis, a superficial mention of Valkyrie, then skips to D-Day and the epic battles of Europe. All facts, precious little feelings – the human element. Helena P. Schrader has produced a brilliant view of this history through the eyes of the German people who lived it, agonized over its evil, and suffered its consequences. Traitors for the Sake of Humanity is written as historical fiction so that we can hear the words and thoughts, and feel the fear, anger, longings, and deep human emotions of real people who are forgotten by a conventional record of the war in Europe and Hitler. This is a novel about the German Resistance to Hitler.

Beginning in 1938 in the village of Altdorf in southern Germany, we meet Philip Freiherr von Feldburg, a German Army Officer, and his family as he returns home on Christmas leave. Through the eyes of his mother, Sophia Maria, his brother Christian, a Luftwaffe fighter pilot, and Theresa, his younger sister, and extended to friends, spouses, and compatriots, we see Hitler’s war through a different lens.
A lens that magnifies the experiences and attitudes of those who opposed the diabolical Nazi regime on moral grounds and who fought to restore the old rule of law and defend basic human dignity sacrificed to an evil ideology. Traitors for the Sake of Humanity is a journey set in violence and despair, but with the core of the human fight for survival always upfront. From Philip’s meeting and marrying Alexandra to their circle of friends in various walks of life, we experience the deep feelings of hopelessness and isolation that slowly evolve into the discovery that their concerns are shared in the highest echelons of the German High Command. The end for some is tragic, but for many others, it is vindication and freedom.

Helena P. Schrader earned her Ph.D. with a dissertation about German General Friedrich Olbricht, a significant participant in the German Resistance to Hitler. This and her extensive research, which included interviews with survivors, have come together in Traitors for the Sake of Humanity and delivers a spectrum of personal experiences and gut-wrenching individual struggles to retain dignity and sanity in a world gone mad. A meticulously detailed history is interwoven with touching personal interactions amid the eternal struggle for survival and self-worth while under the yoke of evil. One example is the chapter on the butchery and inhuman treatment of the Jews in the Warsaw ghetto. Schrader relates it through the eyes of a young German girl who struggles to match what she has been taught with the horror she sees. Utilizing the format of historical fiction, allowing her to engage us in the interactions and communications of the people in context, Helena P. Schrader avoids the usual report of history of the vanquished, dehumanized, and facts only. The usual “war story” pales as we hear the German airmen and soldiers amidst the vivid battle scenes speak, groan, sometimes scream their fear, their hate, their love, their emptiness of hope.

Schrader masterfully mirrors those feelings with the civilian counterparts to the warriors as she describes in aching detail the cognitive dissonance that bedevils all of them – caught between their beliefs and traditions and the behaviors they are forced to display in order to simply survive in what Germany has become. We are guided through this world through the eyes of Philip Freiherr von Feldburg. And Helena P. Schrader guides us through a tense and vivid conclusion as the Traitors for the Sake of Humanity crash through fear, face horror, and make the final sacrifices in the name of all that is decent. Some survive, many do not. My recommendations for this brilliant work cannot be higher. I offer personal thanks to Helena P. Schrader for her poignant and sensitive treatment of the human side of the vanquished.

Grant Leishman

Traitors for the Sake of Humanity: A Novel of the German Resistance to Hitler by Helena P. Schrader can best be described as a history lesson of World War II from the German perspective, softened by the fictional characters who breathe life and humanity into the often violent and maniacal machinations of the Fuhrer Adolf Hitler and his SS and Gestapo henchmen. Baron Philip von Feldburg was the archetypal German aristocrat, wedded to a career serving his country in the nation’s army. Determined to succeed and attain his dream of serving on the German Army’s General Staff, he heads home for Christmas 1938 to the family estate at Altdorf, having just received notification of his selection for General Staff training. The discussion that Christmas would center on the probability of war as Hitler continues his expansion into Europe, reclaiming the lost territories from World War I and the Treaty of Versailles, and more besides. With Philip’s brother Christian, a pilot in the Luftwaffe, the future direction of Germany and the possibility of war weigh heavily on the family. We will follow Philip, his family, and many well-known historical figures from the successes of the Blitzkrieg through to the abject failure on the Eastern Front and the ill-fated invasion of the Soviet homeland. Disgusted by the excesses of the Nazis, many high-ranking German officers were looking at ways of ending the war honorably and the idea of assassinating the prime mover, Hitler, was foremost in their minds. Philip, his beautiful wife, Alix, and many of his colleagues would find themselves caught up in a desperate fight for survival and to restore the dignity of the German people by eliminating the madman in charge.

Traitors for the Sake of Humanity is an outstanding read, partly because it gives such a fascinating insight into the psyche of the German soldier and the German population during World War II that so often we view from an Allied perspective. However, also because it is an excellent history lesson of the many battles that we may have read about but never from a German perspective. Author Helena P. Schrader has done a masterful job of putting together real-life drama, overlaid with fictional characters that humanized and softened the horrors of war, highlighting the immense moral struggle many of the German officers were fighting with as they weighed their consciences and their strict Army traditions against the extreme excesses of the Nazi regime. In Philip and Alix, she has produced two superb characters that embody the principles of equity and equality that were so ruthlessly repressed by the regime, with their emphasis on racial stereotypes and the concept of Aryan superiority.

I particularly enjoyed the breakdown of familial relationships explored by the author where competing emotions between love of country and adoration of the Fuhrer sat at the same dinner table as family members who condemned the excesses, the lack of humanity, and the power-crazed Nazi regime. I also loved that the author explored the background to Hitler’s rise to power in a country that had been so humiliated and whose people had experienced such shame at their loss in the First World War and the crippling sanctions and reparations that made Hitler’s ascension so palatable to the average German citizen. A lesson from history here that we would do well to heed, even in the twenty-first century. If you love historical novels laced with reality and if you like a story that makes you think and question your perceptions and beliefs about a period of history, then this is the book for you. I call it a thinking man's novel and I can highly recommend it.