Margot Baumann is a typical German teenager in 1944. She has been raised to have an unquestioning devotion to Adolf Hitler and the supremacy of the German race. Her two brothers left to fight in the War and her sister has been working in the mailroom of the Sachsenhausen concentration camp. When her sister is promoted, Margot eagerly steps into the position to play her part.
The mailroom, where all mail entering and leaving the prison is processed, is outside the gates of the concentration camp. The prisoner’s outgoing mail is the lowest priority and quickly accumulates. Margot is entrusted with the regular reduction of this build-up by burning some of the letters. Sifting through the letters, she thinks of her brother who has not contacted them since he was imprisoned at Stalingrad and wonders if the prisoners’ letters are processed in a similar manner at Stalingrad. Recognising how much the letters mean to the writer and the intended recipients, she hides a few in her jacket and secretly forwards them on herself.
As she reads the letters she begins to see the prisoners as people very similar to herself. ‘They showed me that there’s love in all of us, that it is a human thing and pays no attention to race or religion.’ As a result, she starts to question the patriotism she has been raised on.
One letter catches her attention. It is a love letter from a prisoner, Dieter Kleinschmidt, to his girlfriend Margot. As she reads it, she imagines that the letter was meant for her. Even though she knows that Dieter is writing to a different Margot, she starts to wait eagerly for his letters. She commences a dangerous charade and begins to take risks she would have never imagined. As Germany’s position weakens, her obsession with the letters leads to shocking consequences.
Moloney has written a powerful and moving story that explores the attitudes within Germany during World War II. The protagonist, Margot, clearly identifies as a Nazi in the beginning of the story. As she sees the horrors of the concentration camp and the suffering of her family and neighbours, she begins to question the beliefs that she has been raised with. Her doubts initially are clearly in contrast with most of the adult world around her. Her hope and love counter the hate and despair. Through this comparison, Maloney demonstrates how the Germans dehumanised certain races, and the way their prejudice fuelled the atrocities that occurred and made people numb to the suffering of others. ‘Once you no longer see a man as human, you can do what you like to him. That’s one war the Nazi’s did win: the battle to change how Germans saw their fellow man.’
The story is broken up into three parts, so the reader is also exposed to the perspective of a prisoner of war, the horror of the concentration camp and the impact that imprisonment in the concentration camp had on those that survived. It also describes the loss and destruction that was left, and the way families were separated or destroyed. The story of Margot’s debut into the adult world and her relationship with Dieter are a suitable counterweight.
The Love That I Have is aimed at upper secondary students and adults. It was both confronting and compelling. From the first chapter I was caught up in the story and swept along. It challenged and informed me, teasing out a variety of perspectives. I do not tend to gravitate to stories set during war, but after reading The Love That I Have, I am open to exploring this genre more.