Why Maid, Mother, Monster?

Or: WHERE THE GIRLS ARE

I grew up breathing history. My father, a history teacher for more than thirty years, was also a Revolutionary War re-enactor and some of my earliest memories are standing on the sideline of a battlefield, hearing the roar of cannons, and tasting the black powder in the air. I learned we had relatives who’d participated in the Revolutionary War, the Civil War, World War I, World War II, Vietnam… My family history includes a lengthy legacy of warriors, but as a young woman, I wondered distantly where the girls were.

After getting my BS in Social Studies education I was more concerned with where the Natives were in our textbooks, and how the Africans dragged across the ocean to do rich white men’s heavy lifting were being represented–or underrepresented. But I did not make a fuss over any of it–as a social studies teacher I quickly became aware of how replaceable I was. So, sadly I must admit, I did not even rock a boat that truly needed tipping.

I took students on a fieldtrip to the Holocaust Museum in St. Petersburg, Florida and there heard about a little girl’s golden ring found between the slats of a cattle car. To this day the mystery of that child haunts me, but I set her aside years ago, continued teaching, moved north, had my son, and wrote.

My husband and I visited Germany early in the 2000s and stayed almost two weeks in Stuttgart with a lovely older couple. Partway through our time there, our hostess decided to tell us about being a young woman in Germany as Hitler rose to power. Her words were startling. No matter what I knew of World War II, I’d never heard it from a German who’d been little more than a child as Allied bombers turned her world to rubble. She and her husband–though young at that time–had been Nazis. Nazis were all simply evil, weren’t they? My paradigm shifted. My world, once black and white and comfortable, was graying at the edges. I left Germany feeling torn, shaken. So I did what was natural and boxed up the strangeness in my mind.

In 2008 I won the first-ever cell phone novel contest in the western world and quickly found myself with two novel series through St. Martin’s Press. I was writing and being listened to (even if it was about hot Russian-American werewolves and a girl who was a competitive shooter). At one event a young girl said although she loved my books she wished there was someone like her in them. She was African-American and her words again shifted my paradigm (and, yes, I created a character for her–yes, he’s also a hot werewolf–baby steps, people).

Fiction pulled me away from fact, and it was a young woman’s voice which again called me back to answer a need. I began researching her grandfather (a survivor of Dachau) and his family (as well as I could–many mysteries remain) and spent hour after hour reading, researching, listening to survivors, listening to rescuers, and wondering about bystanders and collaborators. I took MOOC classes on the Holocaust every chance I could. Last year my curiosity threw me into the Belfer Conference at the USHMM in D.C., and I researched in their library every time I had a break.

And, while I was researching to answer questions about a Polish man now passed on, the voices of women from all classes and countries rose up around me. Their stories found me and challenged me to share them. They arranged themselves in traditional categories in my mind: maid/en, mother, but I stumbled at “warrior” and “crone.” Couldn’t a maid be a warrior? Did one need to be old to be wise? And then the monsters appeared–women like Ilse Koch and Dr. Herta Oberheuser–and my vision cleared.

Maid, Mother, Monster. Three distinct categories of women. And yet, sometimes categorizing someone isn’t so easy after all…

So here I am, hip-deep in women’s stories, sifting through thousands upon thousands of worthy voices that serve our young men and women even today. Perhaps you even have a story to share with me about a woman alive during World War II. If so, hit the Contact link in the Menu and leave me a message.

I know where the girls are, the maids, the mothers, the monsters, and I’m bringing them to you–to inspire you and astound you–because women can’t be simply boxed up and set aside. They deserve to be remembered, and for the history they lived to breathe again in our minds, our hearts, our textbooks, and our stories.

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