The War Within, The Story of Josef: A young man's wartime journey through cruelty and kindness, hatred and love, despair and hope.
Patricia Walkow expertly weaves a biography into a book that reads like a classic novel. In The War Within, the Story of Josef, we meet Walkow’s father-in-law during his time as a slave laborer for the Third Reich. Conscripted in his native Poland in 1939, Josef works first in construction on roads in the vicinity of the concentration camps. He’s then shipped to Germany to work in a factory. There, a deadly accident with a barrel incapacitates him severely enough that he cannot work. He will be executed by his captors when they discover his injury.
In defiance of the rules, Willie Mirz, a German ambulance driver, arranges for Josef to receive medical care by a German doctor and recover in a German home for a long enough time that Josef begins to fall into love with a German girl. This is a side to Nazi Germany that is rarely reported. Josef struggles not only with the amputation of his leg, but also with the concept of receiving aid from compassionate Germans at a time and place where they could be imprisoned or worse for helping him.
As Josef adjusts to losing a leg and grows to appreciate and understand his benefactors, he asks the question, “Heart to heart, are there any enemies?” It’s a profound and deeply philosophical question for a young enslaved Pole to ask. And it truly is the heart of this well-written and insightful book. Other threads that make up the warp and woof of this remarkable story are the themes of determination, courage, hope, fear, despair, love, joy, and new beginnings.
Meticulously researched and skillfully written, this novel begs us to depart from what we think we know and open our hearts to what can be. Josef Walkow and Willie Mirz have shown us the way. Patricia Walkow has faithfully recorded it. What will be our response as we make our choices throughout our lives?
By Betsy Beard, MWSA Reviewer
The War Within, the Story of Josef, is a creative nonfiction biography of Josef, a teenage Christian Polish slave laborer, forced to work in Nazi Germany during World War II. The setting is Nazi Germany, French Occupied Germany after the end of World War II, and New York City. The span of years for the story is 1943-1954. Josef was a real person, and experienced all of the events in the story. At the outset of the story, Josef awakens after his left leg was amputated due to an accident in the factory where he worked in Southern Germany. A talented mechanic, even at his young age, Josef has a natural ability to understand, repair and fabricate machinery. Because of his usefulness, his life is spared, although slave laborers are normally considered expendable, and when injured, are summarily executed. German citizens are prohibited from helping slave laborers. Yet, Willie, a German ambulance driver only a few years older than Josef, saves Josef's life by taking him to the hospital and allowing him to recuperate in his own home. Willie lives with his mother, Sonya, a loyal German. Through the course of his recuperation, Josef fights his hatred of the Germans; Sonya roils with emotion as she comes to see the injured boy as a human being, rather than an enemy, and Willie questions his own motivations for helping the young Pole. Ella, a young German girl who is a cook and maid in a nearby house, befriends Josef. She struggles with her own mother's decision to remove her from school, forcing her to work as a servant. Josef and Ella fall in love and keep their love a secret through the war. When the war ends, they remain in French-occupied Germany, marry, and start a family.
Author: Patricia Walkow
Book Format(s): Soft cover
Number of Pages: 357