Review of Emilia: The Darkest Days in History of Nazi Germany Through a Woman’s Eyes by Ellie Midwood

Warning: contains spoilers.

emiliaEvery so often, a novel feels so real that the characters seem to be breathing right off the page.  Emilia is one of those stories.

The title clearly states what this book is about, but it doesn’t give away the horrors that the protagonist, Emilia Brettenheimer, endures during World War II.  Emilia is a young Jewish woman who grew up in Germany, but her family is forced to relocate to a ghetto.  She lives with her parents and three brothers, two of whom are considered useful workers in the ghetto.

While living in the ghetto, she thinks her life has surely taken a turn for the worse.  Food is hard to come by, at least enough food to thrive.  She begins, out of desperation, to give away the family’s hidden gold and then her services, in the sexual sense, to an SS guard named Richer, in exchange for enough food to feed her family.

She becomes pregnant with his child.  Just when she is on the brink of wondering what to do, things turn even darker.  Her mother, Hannah, and she are carted off to a labor camp in Poland after the unthinkable happens.

We all know the horrors of concentration camps.  Emilia’s baby is aborted, and she is put through a harrowing procedure that renders her no longer able to have children.  I cannot imagine the physical and emotional pain that would have involved.  Being a mother, having my children is one of my greatest blessings.  To take that away from a person is to say they are somehow not worthy of being a parent, that they are subhuman and should be allowed to be neutered or spayed like an animal.

The one saving grace poor Emilia has is her new friend, Magda, a red-headed girl about her age who finds something to be grateful for in the midst of hell.  Magda explains that an attractive young woman like Emilia could use her looks to get on the good side of the SS guards and get more food.  It’s a matter of survival.  The game they’re playing has no real winners, for a young woman loses her innocence to get a piece of bread.  Some of the guards are no less than bears, the sex nothing less than pure rape.

What Emilia had with Richer was heavenly bliss in comparison.

Things continue to unravel.  Emilia’s life spirals downward, for how can she hope to survive this horror, let alone hold to the belief that there is any mercy to be had?  

The war ends, but the price of survival is too much to pay.  Embittered to the point of hatred for her tormentors, and understandably so, Emilia tries to make her way in this new world.

Yet there are people in Emilia’s life who have been the balm of healing, those who have shown her a better way.  Will Emilia, broken and battered from her experiences, choose to hold onto her shattered pieces, or will she manage to rebuild her live, one piece painstakingly at a time, to create the masterpiece of forgiveness, wholeness, and love?

Ellie Midwood’s extensive knowledge of World War II is evident throughout.  She writes Emilia’s experiences with gut-wrenching rawness.  It hurts to read, but you can’t stop.  Perhaps to experience just a small fraction of the pain a Jewish woman would have endured during those years is a testament to us all of the horrors of humanity and one of the lowest points of history for mankind.  To think there are things going on like this in the world today is an atrocity.  This fictional book raises awareness to a very real evil.

5 out of 5 stars

Buy Ellie’s book here.

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Beginning of Auditorium 6(66) – Horror Short Story

“Hill Valley Cinema – Grand Opening,” proclaimed a banner spread beneath the marquee.  Jesse Franklin pushed his black hair out of his face, stepped back, and marvelled at the newly renovated theatre.  As a boy, he had frequented the old cinema, seeing all three original Star Wars movies, Indiana Jones, and E.T.  Those had been the golden years of the only movie theatre in the county, but then the newspaper headlines claimed: “Rapist and murderer Randall Hines found dead in Appleton Cinema.”  

Jesse caught a movement to his left and turned to see Rob Garrison next to him.  

“Big day,” Rob said in that over-the-top voice of his.  His dark eyes and tan skin glowed.  He flashed one of those grins that rumor had it could coax most girls into his bed in less than twenty-four hours.

“Yeah,” Jesse breathed, his head still swimming from the night before of a smoky bar infused with shots.

Rob clapped his buddy on the shoulder.  “Well, you did it.  Your old man’d be proud.”

“I’d like to hope so,” Jesse murmured, his eyes falling to the keys in his hands.  “We saw a lot of movies here over the years.  Big, successful guy like him might not think owning a movie theatre’s that huge.”

“Nah, he’s be proud, Jesse.”

Jesse smiled in pain, memories of frequent visits to the nursing home surfacing.  Ron Franklin lay staring straight ahead, his eyes vacant.  His whole right side hung limp, his mouth drawn.  His answer to any question was “twenty-three.”

“Still can’t believe you did it, man.”

Jesse laughed.  “Audrey isn’t happy about the second mortgage we had to take out on the house, but she supports my dream…crazy movie-lover that I am.”

“Still, d’you think, you know, people will remember the rumors?”

“It’s been years, you superstitious freak.”  Jesse scoffed.  “Those were rumors, nothing else.  Besides, we were kids.  The old folks loved to say ‘a series of unfortunate events,’ like that new book series by that Lemony guy.”

“Yeah, but you can’t deny the past.  Look it up, buddy.  The articles are real.  After old man Hines up and croaked, too many people followed in his footsteps and all in auditorium six.”

“Superstitions.  Coincidence.  Call it what you want.”  Jesse shrugged.  “It’s opening day and I have a theatre to run.”

“It was dubbed auditorium 666,” Rob called after him as Jesse approached the building and waved his friend away.

“Don’t you have a girlfriend or something to get back to?” Jesse called, his back to Rob.

“Maybe…one or two.  See ya around, pal.  Let me know if anyone dies today.”

The heat of June beat down on Jesse’s shoulders as he fumbled with the keys to unlock the door.  The humidity was awful that first year of the new millennium in northeastern Ohio.

As he stepped inside, the phantom smell of popcorn assaulted Jesse’s nose.  He rubbed his rough chin and studied the lobby.  He beamed.

The place was unrecognizable.  Jesse had a job in the concession stand in high school, back when the old owner stopped using auditorium six.  The lobby now was mostly a new addition, with a closed-in box office.  No more complaints about freezing in the wind while waiting to buy tickets.  No more cramped lobby with lines out the door for popcorn.  

Jesse went to the room behind the concession stand and turned on the lights.  Neon signs came to life in the lobby.  He stepped into the hallway that led to auditoriums one through nine.  A whole other wing held ten through eighteen.  Only the first nine had been here back in the day.

Jesse walked down the carpeted hall toward the infamous auditorium six, unsure why except for curiosity.  He hovered near the doors, the wood shiny and unblemished.  He entered and walked to the front of the auditorium.  The seats were stadium-style now.  No sticky floors or dark, depressing colors.  Jesse chuckled to himself, shook his head, and left.  He had work to do.

After the doors closed behind him, the projector turned on and illuminated the screen, but no movie played.  The speakers hummed, whispered…  “Come to Papa, darling.”

 

Excerpt from Latent Infection – Part Five (Horror Short Story)

You can read part one here, part two here, part three here, and part four here.

Note: This is the last installment I will be placing on my website, which equates to the first third of the story.  I will be publishing the entire story at a later date (for purchase).  I hope you’ve enjoyed this preview.

 

Cora was sitting on her bed, willing Facebook to load faster on her phone as she let the music take her away from this dungeon.  The song where a young woman wailed about her broken heart ended, another on the cusp of starting, when she heard the thud.

She stopped her iPod and removed the earbuds.  “What the hell?”

She listened, but nothing came.  Still, there was no mistaking the noise.  It sounded like something heavy had fallen.  With all the people working on the house, it was possible that someone had gotten hurt.  With a sigh, she left her room and went to the top of the stairs.  Over the balcony, she gazed down into the empty foyer.  No voices drifted upstairs.

“Mom?” she called.

A few seconds later, Marcy stepped into view.  “Did you hear it, too?” she asked.

“Yeah.  What happened?”

“I thought maybe you’d fallen off the bed.”

“No, I’m fine.”

“Well, there’s no one else here except Mr. Rue.”

“The exterminator?”

“Yes.  He was supposed to be checking the attic for a dead rat.”

“The attic?”  Cora lifted her gaze from her mother and turned to the left.  “The door’s shut.”

“What’s that man up to?”  Marcy took the stairs in a hurry, agitated.

Mother and daughter stood side by side and stared down the hallway, transfixed.

“It was locked,” Cora said, swallowing thick saliva.

“I know.”  Marcy took her daughter’s hand, as if Cora were the scared child.

They walked to the door.  The knob turned for Cora, but something kept the door from opening.  Both Marcy and Cora leaned into the door with all their weight, but whatever was on the other side didn’t give.

“Come on.  Open up, you fat fu–” Marcy started to say, but then they gained just enough momentum to push the door in.

Slumped back on the steps like an overlarge sack of potatoes was Mr. Rue, his eyes frozen like all the times he’d gazed upon “Funny Lips.”  Between his legs, wetness.

Marcy screamed.  Cora slammed the door closed.

“Mom, for the love of God, calm down.  So he fell down the steps…  We’ll call the police.  It was an accident.”

“Right, right… Call the police.  And I suppose the police will be able to get rid of that smell?”

Cora sighed shakily.  “Mom, there’s no smell, but there will be if we don’t get him outta here.  C’mon.”

Cora led her mom away from the attic door, wondering why she was suddenly relegated to playing the role of parent.  Before reaching her room, she glanced back at the door on the end of the hall.

That door was locked.

 

Excerpt from Latent Infection – Part Four (Horror Short Story)

You can read part one here, part two here, and part three here.

The Marsons returned from their weekend trip in better moods than they had been in weeks.  Even Tom, who was optimistic to the point of absurdity, remarked that the break was just what he needed.

The family parked their Suburban next to the house and piled onto the driveway.  The stones crunched underfoot as they made their way to the porch.  When Tom managed to push the door open with a shove, he laughed — but not before cursing first.  “Prob’ly should’ve had that repaired first.  Damn door.”

“This house is a laundry list of repairs, Dad,” Cora said, shaking her head.

Marcy entered first and frowned.  “I thought that shifty Mr. Rue was supposed to have removed all the vermin from this place.”

Tom and Cora were right behind her.  

“I don’t smell anything,” Cora said, sniffing.  “Maybe it’s just in your head, Mom.”

“Well, it’s possible a stray rodent might’ve gotten caught in one of the traps,” Tom remarked.  “I’ll call him and have him come back tomorrow.”

“Ugh,” Marcy said.  “I knew my good mood wouldn’t last.  I hope he finds whatever’s making that smell and gets rid of it once and for all.  I don’t–”

“There’s no smell, Mom!” Cora snapped and stomped up the stairs before Marcy could protest.

x x x

Mr. Rue was only too happy to return on Monday morning.

“I can make an exception for a beautiful lady like you,” he told Marcy over the phone.

Marcy refrained from saying something snide.  “Just come out to the house and get the job done, Mr. Rue.  My husband would’ve called you himself if he didn’t have to leave so early.”  She ended the call and glared at the gutted kitchen.  “Tom, you’re in hot water for this.  This house was your idea.  Your project.  Now it’s become my problem, and that problem has a name — Walter Rue.”

Ten minutes later, Mr. Rue arrived at the front door.  Marcy hoped the workers would arrive shortly.  Being in a large house with a slithery man and a teenage daughter who tuned out the world with her music twisted Marcy’s insides into a knot.

“I think it’s coming from the basement,” Marcy said, letting him in.

Mr. Rue gazed around the house.  He stopped all pretense and frowned.  “You said there was a putrid odor, Mrs. Marson.  I have to be honest, I don’t smell a thing.”

“I’m telling you.  There’s a smell, and it’s all throughout the house.”

“Then why do you say it’s coming from the basement?  It could just as easily be the attic, in the walls–”

“Then check the attic!” Marcy shouted.  “What do I care?  Do something!  That’s what you’re paid for, isn’t it?”

Mr. Rue held up his big hands.  “All right, Mrs. Marson.  Whatever you like.  No need to yell.”

“I’m sorry, but you try living in this dump for three weeks with that stench and see how you feel.”  Marcy deflated and turned away with a throbbing headache.  

Mr. Rue nodded and backed away toward the stairs.  He reached the top and shrugged.  Funny thing about the attic was that it had been locked.  No one had a key, and to cut corners, he hadn’t gone up there — despite his claim otherwise.

He frowned at the door at the end of the hall, his every nerve on fire.  When Mr. Rue was Wally and about two hundred and fifty pounds lighter, he wet the bed every night.  He told Mama it was the “boy wit’ the funny lip” who scared him.  Little Wally knew a thing or two about old houses and how some of their inhabitants never really left.  He’d wake at 2:00 AM to find “Funny Lip” floating nose-to-nose with him, that broken grin on his lopsided face.  He’d piss himself yet again, knowing he was in for another lashing with Pop’s belt come morning.  A blink and “Funny Lip” would be gone.  

Years later, Mr. Rue knew “Funny Lip” had a cleft lip, which explained his strange smile, but that didn’t explain why “Funny Lip” visited him every night until he moved out the day he turned eighteen.

Something about the Marsons’ attic reminded Mr. Rue of “Funny Lip.”  That same tingle on the skin, like something was there but not.  But then deeper, a snake constricting his vital organs to the point of asphyxiation.  

He now stood in front of the door.  His hand trembled as he gripped the knob with his sweaty palm.  He could just stop and leave.  They weren’t paying him enough for this.  

The handle turned.  The door opened inward, a long creeeaaaak, as if just waking after a sound slumber.  The narrow staircase disappeared into darkness.  He tried the switch to no avail and took the first step.

Excerpt from Latent Infection – Part Three (Horror Short Story)

You can read part one here and part two here.

Over the next few weeks, Cora heard nothing strange in her new home beyond the usual creaks associated with older houses.  With her father gone on the road during the weekdays, he had hired contractors to begin work on the house.

Among the people who were in and out of the house was an exterminator.  He’d set traps and poison down for the rats and mice.  (“Rats and mice!” Marcy had exclaimed, nearly fainting when the infestation was confirmed.)  The bill for the exterminator grew about as fat as the man himself, for Mr. Rue also planted a bug bomb for cockroaches toward what Marcy hoped was the end of his frequent visits.  Cora tried not to snicker when the robust man flirted with her mother.  As for Marcy, she was relieved when Mr. Rue finished up on a Friday evening. Tom pulled into the winding gravel driveway, and she darted out of the house to her knight come to rescue her.  Cora followed at a slower pace.

“Should all be taken care off, but you’ll need to stay outta the place for the next day to let it air out from the bomb,” Mr. Rue informed Tom the moment he stepped out of his car.  His eyes shifted to Marcy and he winked.

Tom shook the man’s hand.  “Thanks a million, Mr. Rue.”  He kissed Marcy and said, “That should take care of the smell, darlin’.”

Marcy stepped closer to Tom, took his hand, and smiled.  “A weekend away will be welcome after all the work we’ve been doing.  More than a day, Mr. Rue.  Now, if you’re all done…”

Tom’s phone beeped, and he reached into his pocket.  “Sorry, gotta take this,” he murmured, stepping away from his wife.

Marcy frowned.

Cora couldn’t agree more about getting away.  The hotel would have WiFi.  She’d used up her month’s allotment of data on her phone, and her signal was weak and the connection slow.

“I told Erin we’d be over at 8:00 to pick her up,” Cora said.  “She hasn’t been to Cedar Point since she was ten.”  She cast her mom a meaningful look.  Erin was the one friend she had in the northeast Ohio farm town, a place she couldn’t yet call home.  She’d met Erin while working at the one screen cinema.

“All right, Cora,” Marcy said, forcing a smile.  “As long as we’re finished up here…”  She tried not to sigh as she glanced at Tom, who was busy tapping away on his phone.

“All good to go, Mrs. Marson,” said Mr. Rue, winking again.  “You’re paid up.  Just let me know if there’s any problems.”

“Yes, we’ll be sure to do just that,” Marcy murmured as the exterminator got into his truck and pulled out.

Tom was suddenly at his wife’s side as he watched the pickup pull out of the driveway.  “Problem, honey bunny?”

“So long as that man’s done with his job, there’s no problem.  Important work stuff?”

“Yep.  Well… Lemme just take a quick shower,” Tom said, tugging at his pants along his groin.  “Ev’rything packed?”

“The car’s loaded,” Marcy said, eyeing Tom with a strange look.  “I’ll do a sweep through the house to make sure.”

Cora followed her parents inside, wishing she could erase the last couple of minutes from her mind.  After wading through drop cloths and dust from sanding, she went upstairs.  Upon reaching the landing, Cora was about to turn to the right like she always did to go to her bedroom, but the air to her left was cool in the August humidity.  She pivoted in that direction.  The hallway was shorter that way and only boasted a single unoccupied bedroom.  But at the end of the hallway rested another door.  

“Just goes to the attic,” Tom told Cora weeks ago.

Cora shrugged it off until that moment.  The chill in the air seemed to brush past her, and she shivered.  Goose bumps covered her arms and exposed neck and shoulders.  She wondered if she ought to change out of her tank top into something with sleeves.  Shaking her head, Cora marched down the corridor with determination and stopped when she came to the attic door.  She tried the handle.  Locked.

With a scoff, she turned away and went to her room to grab her phone before they left this dingy pit of depression.  The attic doorknob jiggled an eighth of an inch, counter-clockwise.

 

Excerpt from Latent Infection (continued) – Short Story

You can read the first part here.

The first floor had a living room with furniture covered in sheets, the perfect hiding place if Cora had been ten years younger.  When Tom pulled open the heavy dark green drapes covering the large front window that overlooked the front lawn of weeds and overgrown grass, dust particles swarmed in the air for several seconds, causing the family to erupt in fits of coughing.

Marcy glared at her husband as she fanned the air in front of her face.  “It smells like something died in here.”

Tom chuckled.  “Probably just mice…or rats…maybe something larger.”

“Something larger?”  Marcy glanced toward the front door after her eyes shifted about the room.

“We’ll call an exterminator.  Pest removal.  It’s not the end of the world, darlin’.”

Cora rolled her eyes and walked over to the winding staircase.  Spilling out into the front entrance, the wooden balustrade ended with the head of a lion with its mouth open, its canine teeth like vampiric fangs.  She brought a finger tip to one of the teeth and smiled, marvelling at the decor.  Cora swung her head upward to gaze upon a chandelier hanging from the second storey ceiling.  In another time, it would have been beautiful with its thousands of crystal prisms, each an icicle reflecting the artificial light.  She tried the light switch.  Nothing.  

With no interest in exploring the first floor with her annoying parents, Cora took the first step.  The wood shifted and moaned.  With every step, she kept her left hand on the smooth surface of the rail, a security her subconscious desired.  When Cora reached the second floor, she glanced down the steps from the balcony.  The drop was at least fifteen feet — the perfect place for the desperate degenerate to end it all.

The hallway afforded little light, even in the middle of a sunny afternoon.  When Cora flicked the switch, she was awarded with the faint buzz of the old bulbs in the cobweb-laden sconces lining the walls.  Even then, only about half of the sconces worked, their lights flickering, as if protesting having to do the work of illuminating a stale corridor.  

“So the electricity isn’t completely out in this oversized shack,” Cora murmured.

As she walked down the hall, her right hand trailed along the raised contours of the wallpaper — some hideous floral design from at least eighty years earlier.  She stopped when she arrived at the first door.  An easy turn of the tea house doorknob revealed a stagnant room filled with crates.  Cora’s nose wrinkled at the mustiness as she clicked the door shut.  That room would definitely not be hers.  A vision of peering into an off-limits room at the funeral parlor when she was eight surfaced — boxes of bodies.

She tried the next door and discovered the bathroom, which could be rendered charming if cleaned and restored.  A claw foot bathtub sat opposite the door in the oblong room with black and white tiles on the floor.  A pull chain toilet and a pedestal sink covered the wall to the right, both ringed with grime.

Cora left the bathroom door open and proceeded farther down the hall.  She found her room — plenty of space for her bed and dressers.  No leftovers from previous owners and two large windows that let in light.  She could watch the sunset.

Every footstep reverberated across the floorboards and up the walls in Cora’s new bedroom.  Clomp.  Clomp.  Clomp.  Cora stomped on the floor with her sneaker three times just to hear the sound again.  After the echo faded, in the silence of this closed up house, she heard it…

Clomp.  Clomp.  Clomp.

Barely there, like an imprint.  A faded picture.  A vague memory.

Cora’s heart skipped a beat and then sped up.  

She shook her head.  “No,” she whispered.  “Don’t be stupid.”

Yet she dared not stomp her foot again.

Excerpt from Latent Infection (Short Story)

The infection in the house’s rickety bones began as a latent virus.  Buried in the deepest marrow, the first stirrings were creaks, like a joint popping and settling.  Age hid secrets with wrinkles of peeling paint and a history forgotten by a foregone mind.  The disease was dismissed as the consequence of being time-worn, the house a skeleton, a dead thing sealed in a tomb.

Until the Marson family moved in.

“Ain’t she a beauty,” Tom Marson boomed in that Kentucky backroad twang he’d used to charm eighteen-year-old city gal Marcy twenty years earlier.  He removed his ball cap and ran a hand through sweaty, thinning salt and pepper.

“She’s a fixer-up, more likely,” Marcy replied, her pouty lips saturated in the newest striking red her daughter so detested.  She smoothed down her freshly trimmed brown bob.

Cora popped her gum and rolled her eyes.  “It’s a piece of sh–”

The three-storey house was large.  Cora would give it that much, but the faded yellow paint was flaking off in huge chunks on the wooden siding, revealing a non-virgin white underneath.  It reminded her of a stained toilet seat.  Black shutters hung on like a mountain climber clutching the edge of a cliff for dear life.  The roof was balding as much as her father.

“Language, young lady,” Marcy scolded.  She glanced toward her husband in the hope he’d have something to say about their only daughter’s choice of vocabulary.  Ever since getting her license to kill by driving on roads without adult supervision, the entitled child had developed a larger cup size and a fully-loaded arsenal of trucker language.

But Tom was ogling the 1830s house like a scantily-clad pole dancer.  He’d certainly be forking over enough dollar bills for her welfare.

Cora groaned.  She thought she saw something like drool on her dad’s week-long unshaven chin.

“When are you going to have time to fix this dump?” Marcy asked.  “You’re gone five days a week.”

“That’s what weekends are for, honey bunny.”  Tom wrapped a thick arm around his wife and pulled her toward him, planting a juicy one on her cheek.

Maybe in spite of herself, Marcy laughed.

“So are we just gonna stand around here all day, or are we going in?” asked Cora, twirling her purple hair about her finger.  Her middle finger, which was aimed at her parents.

“Let’s check her out,” Tom said.

“How about this, honey?  You can pick any room you like for your bedroom.  It’s a big house.  There are plenty.”  Marcy coated every word like maple sugar candy in the mouth.

“Yeah, whatever.  Sure.”  Cora followed her parents to the front porch.  The railing shook when she went to hold onto it, and when she released it, she nearly stepped into a rotted place on one of the boards.

Tom fiddled with the lock and began swearing under his breath as the July sun beat down on him.  Marcy knew where Cora had picked up her choice words.  The door opened with a sigh, a groan.

They entered.

Two storeys above, the eyes opened.