Charming Post-war historical fiction about German refugees
There are so many thought-provoking and well-written historical fiction stories about World War II. I even did a list of World War II Chapter Books for Catholic Kids last year to round up all my favorites in one place. But when I discovered The Ark and Rowan Farm recently, I knew I had missed out on an important perspective! I’d read so many books from Jewish, American, English, Polish, and other allied perspectives. But I had never heard about the aftermath of World War II for the German people: the average family who found themselves penniless and homeless in an impoverished and fractured country.
Margot Benary-Isbert is uniquely qualified to write about the German refugee plight. Born in Germany in 1889, she lived through World War II with difficulty due to her failure to cooperate with the Nazis. After the war, her home was given over to the Russians and she fled to western Germany where she spent many years sharing a small apartment with two other refugee families. She wrote The Ark and Rowan Farm to provide encouragement and hope to German youth. And she succeeded!
In The Ark, we meet Margret Lechow, a teenage war refugee. With her mother and three surviving siblings, Margret struggles to survive and find a home. Like many German families, the Lechows lost their home, money, father, and one sibling in the war. But the Lechows are special because they still have hope and a will to survive and thrive. You’ll love the positive portrayal of the frail mother who holds the family together. And your heart will be warmed by the teenage kids who don’t hesitate to take on adult responsibilities to keep their family fed and sheltered.
The Ark is a story about how small kindnesses can change lives. Whether it’s the Lechows befriending an orphan boy, a cranky old lady finding it in herself to give a little, or a generous farmer taking a risk and offering a job to a stranger, lives change for the better.
A year after the events of The Ark, sixteen year old Margret and her family are reunited at Rowan Farm where they set up house in an old boxcar. The joys and pains of reunion with their war-damaged father are dealt with gently. Margret struggles to move past her memories of losing her twin brother, again handled with discretion, though it is clear her brother was shot in front of her.
Animal lovers will enjoy the fact that Margret finds healing through caring for litters of Great Dane puppies, rehabilitating a Shetland pony, and growing her flock of chicks and sheep. As a farmer, Margot Benary-Isbert obviously understood the magic of nature, animals, and growing things to heal trauma and restore meaning to lives.
There’s a wonderful subplot about a group of schoolchildren working to build a home for returned war veterans.
In this second book, there’s a small touch of romance in the background between sixteen-year-old Margret and her employer’s son, but absoutely no content at all.
Clean and Charming
The Ark and Rowan Farm are two of the most charming and well-written books I’ve read in a while. I enjoyed them thoroughly as an adult. But, the intended audience is teens, for which I found them quite appropriate. No language, great discretion about war violence, and no sexual content. I recommend both books for middle school and older to provide a humanizing perspective on typical German families in the post-war years.