There is no end to the drama of World War 2. As an American, I have always viewed WW2 as a clearly just war, where the Good Allies put down the Evil Axis Powers, who were bent on destroying an entire race and a biblical religion while imposing their will on a huge part of the world. The defeat of Hitler was necessary and urgent.
Missionary and author Dan Byrum's new novel, My Day to Die adds depth the this WW2 narrative by telling the story of a German soldier who struggles with his faith and the justice of this war he's caught up in. When Klaus Sankt, a student at the University of London in the 1930s, gets a letter from his home country of Germany notifying of his conscription into the German army, he dutifully wraps up his studies and returns home. When he takes an oath to follow the commands of the Führer, Hitler, he sincerely does so. As he gradually becomes aware of the true evil agenda behind the German war machine, he struggles with doing what is right.
Byrum chooses to tell the story as a series of flashbacks. A team of researchers from The Jewish Holocaust Justice Fund has turned up Sankt's name, and want to gather evidence to try him as a Nazi war criminal. He agreeably grants them an interview, which turns into a series of lengthy sessions during which he tells his story. They thought they had evidence that Sankt was a war criminal, who killed Jews and others at an infamous concentration camp. While that did turn out to be at least partially true, as they gathered Sankt's full story, they saw that the truth was much more complex.
Byrum presents Sankt's story not to excuse the evils of the Nazi terror, but to personalize the struggles of Germans living under Nazi rule. Sankt's combat experience would be familiar to any soldier: the flag you're fighting under means less to a soldier than the men he's fighting next to. He took action in the battlefield and as a concentration camp guard that put his life and family at risk while defending innocent lives.
As Sankt's story progresses, his paths cross again with his buddy from college days, and Englishman named Darby Oakley. Darby falls in love with one of Sankt's German friends. Their marriage provides additional complexity to the question of war and allegiance. When the enemy is your in-laws or your old college roommate, the fight takes on another dimension.
In the course of the interviews, Sankt reflects on the choices he made as a soldier, a citizen, and, at times, a vigilante. "Where there is no law some men become lawless. Where there is lawlessness there is no restraint and when there is no restraint there is no way to stop a lawless man except by killing him so he can't hurt another." War time wreaks havoc on ethics. Powerful, insane dictators force innocent, moral people to face horrible dilemmas. Sankt's story is fictional, but it surely reflects the experiences of a large number of Germans during WW2 who were forced to find a way to live ethically under an unethical regime.
(As a final note, I must point out that Dan has self-published My Day to Die. Readers will agree that he could have used a proofreader and editor. Even with the resulting "rough draft" feel of the text, the merits of the story outweigh other factors. It's definitely worth a read. Dan has a gift for a great story.)
Thanks to the author for the complimentary electronic review copy!