Alexandra Lehmann's Reviews
I spent last weekend reading With You There Is Light from cover to cover and was deeply moved by the lives of Sophie Scholl and Fritz Hartnagel and the spiritual journey they shared as they both struggled to be faithful. Alexandra Lehmann has shared an important and complex story with masterful writing that puts flesh and blood on the German Resistance. She has succeeded in making these important historical figures live for us."
- Gregg Mast, President. New Brunswick Theological Seminary
Growing up in West Germany during the 1960s and 70s, I learned very little about those brave individuals who had decided to act against the National Socialists. One reason why Germans found it so difficult to acknowledge these “heroes” had to do with the uneasy psychological effect that the existence of resistance fighters had on the wounded collective soul of Germany: if these individuals could muster the courage to stand up against evil, why were there so few of them? Every act of resistance remains a reminder of the widespread enthusiasm for Hitler, assimilation to his murderous policies, and obedience to a totalitarian regime among ordinary Germans.
Alexandra Lehmann’s book, With You There Is Light: The True Story about Sophie Scholl and Fritz Hartnagel, confirms how important it is to include the stories of resistance fighters in our educational work today in order to strengthen awareness of human rights and tolerance as the foundation of a just society.
Why should we read Lehmann’s novel in addition to all the historical research about Sophie Scholl and the White Rose? She accomplished something that academic writing cannot do: Alexandra's writings will appeal to readers' feelings. It takes a gifted writer like Lehmann to create an emotional bridge between those brave people and us.
This novel creates a beautiful portrait of Sophie Scholl as a spirited young woman with a strong Christian identity. It is her faith in the existence of God that lends her conscience the power to resist Hitler’s evil empire of nihilism.
I could not put Lehmann’s book down without asking myself some very important questions.”
- Roland Dollinger, PhD, Princeton University. Professor of German Studies, Sarah Lawrence College
Alexandra has substantial knowledge of the facts about Munich's student resistance group. More impactful, however, is how her powerful narrative brings the facts to life. The story of how Sophie Scholl learned first hand about Nazi atrocities on both fronts from Officer Hartnagel provides not just a vital historical account, but an essential understanding of the German experience during World War II."
- Nicholas von Moltke, grandson of Helmuth James Graf von Moltke (1907-1945), founding member of the Kreislau Circle Resistance Group, executed by the Nazis for treason.
"The White Rose Foundation is grateful that With You There Is Light will help keep the memory of resistance alive. Ms. Lehmann has dedicated much time and effort to making her book factual and its narrative fascinating for all readers."
-Hildegard Kronawitter, DenkStaette Weisse Rose am Lichthof der Ludwig-Maximilians University
When Hitler came to power in the early 1930’s, Nazi ideology pervaded the German education system, leading to the indoctrination of an entire generation. When war enveloped Europe less than a decade later, that same generation trailed their maniacal leader into the abyss. A small group of Munich students, however, refused to follow. Instead, they wrote and distributed leaflets decrying the evil of the Nazi state, and implored their fellow Germans to rise up against it. They were the White Rose Resistance Group, and theirs is a story of courage, moral fortitude and pathos. More importantly, despite the catastrophic consequences of their actions, theirs is a story of light; a light that has been skilfully inhumed in the literary work of Alexandra Lehmann, allowing its pure brilliance to shine forth.
Lehmann’s book chronicles the relationship between Sophie Scholl – founding member of the White Rose Group - and Captain Fritz Hartnagel - a Wehrmacht solider whom, under the sway of Sophie’s intelligence, idealism and burgeoning womanhood, comes to question his sworn allegiance to Hitler and to see with moral clarity the true nature of German wartime atrocities.
Providing the framework of the book are letters Sophie and Fritz wrote to each other over a 4-year period - beginning 1939 when Sophie was 18 and Fritz, 22 - around which Lehmann weaves historical fact – gained through years of extensive research – with the imagined voices of Sophie, Fritz, and Sophie’s friends, family and fellow White Rose members. With flawless writing and delicate prose, Lehmann renders her own voice indiscernible, letting the people she brings to life speak for themselves; this, coupled with her meticulous adherence actual events, provides the reader with a poignant and deeply moving narrative of truth.
With You There is Light is a masterful work: powerful for its realism and touching in its intimacy. Sophie’s story and that of Fritz and the White Rose Group is highly significant, not only for the study of totalitarianism – its impact and responses - but also for its universal appeal and relevance. That this small group of young people had wherewithal to see beyond their childhood indoctrination and grow to challenge the machinery of the Nazi state, amid widespread obedience and moral decay, is as astounding as it is inspiring. This being so, Lehmann, with her exceptional talents as a researcher and writer, has done the world a great service in making their story accessible to all.
-Rebecca Odessa, The Wisdom Daily
The story of a young couple in love during wartime also unfolds gracefully: “[Sophie] wanted to take every detail of those hours and put them away in a box which she could always open. A place where the memories of the trees and flowers, the gardener, the birds, wouldn’t fade.”
A poignant story full of historical insight.
In Germany, Sophie Scholl is celebrated as one of the most influential people of the twentieth century. Yet, sadly, her courageous spirit is barely known to the English-speaking world. In 1942-43, as Hitler’s brutal political and military campaigns raged on, Sophie, just 21 years old, joined her brother, Hans, and several other Munich university students, to form the White Rose—a resistance group that published and disseminated a series of leaflets critical of Hitler and the Third Reich. In 1943, the core members of the group were arrested and executed for treason.
These are the historical facts. What Alexandra Lehmann’s novel does is flesh out the people involved, focusing on Sophie and her sweetheart, Fritz Hartnagel. When their relationship begins, in 1937, Sophie is a lovely, independent girl of 16. Fritz is a 20 year-old cadet at a military academy, and goes on to become a communication’s officer in the German army. Their curious romance developed largely through their letters to each another. Unfortunate for them, but fortunate for us. For these documents, many of which are translated into English for the first time in the novel, reveal the intimate thoughts and feelings of these two young people, who were living in the nightmare world of National Socialism.
Fritz describes to Sophie the horrible destruction and carnage he experiences, first in Holland and France, and later, in Russia. These accounts were certainly among the motivating factors in Sophie’s ultimate revolt against, and critical attack upon, National Socialism. On the other hand, Sophie’s descriptions of the stifling government control and paranoia of civilian life led Fritz to question his own commitment to the war and his participation in it. The author does a superb job showing both the love and the ambiguity of feelings each expresses to the other. Fritz loves Sophie, but fears for her safety in light of her growing hatred of Hitler’s Germany. Sophie loves the warrior, but deplores the war.
The pacing of the book, from the pathos of Sophie’s experiences of the brutal Nazi terror of Kristallnacht, to Fritz’s seemingly hopeless rescue from the German defeat at Stalingrad, is done with extreme artistry and control. The author’s portrayals of places and events express a Flaubert-like richness. And her descriptions of the characters’ psychological and emotional insights convey to the reader a sense of real, thoroughly believable, flesh and blood people in extraordinary circumstances.
Writing good historical fiction is a unique challenge. Overemphasizing the historical can make a book informative, but lacking in charm. Overstressing the fictional can make it charming, but fantastic. In this novel, Alexandra Lehmann has struck a masterful medium between history and fiction. From the book, you will learn much. And you will feel deeply. What more can we ask of historical fiction?
-Dennis Sweet, PhD. University of Iowa