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Libby Fischer Hellmann
Max's War
As the Nazis sweep across Europe, Jewish teen Max and his parents flee German persecution to Holland, where Max finds friends and romance. But when Hitler invades in 1940, Max escapes to Chicago, leaving his parents and friends behind. When he learns of his parents' murder, Max immediately enlists in the US Army. After basic training he is sent to Camp Ritchie, Maryland, where he is trained in interrogation and counterintelligence. Deployed to the OSS, Max carries out dangerous missions in Occupied countries. He also interrogates German POWs, especially after D-Day and the Battle of the Bulge, where, despite life-threatening conditions, he elicits critical information about German troop movements. Post-war, he works for the Americans in the German denazification program, bringing him back to his Bavarian childhood home of Regensburg. Though the city avoided large-scale destruction, the Jewish community was decimated. Max roams familiar yet strange streets, replaying memories of lives lost to unspeakable tragedy. While there, however, he reunites with someone from his past, who, like him, sought refuge abroad. Can they rebuild their lives… together? This epic, suspenseful coming of age and war story is Libby Hellmann’s tribute to her late father-in-law who was active with the OSS and interrogated dozens of German POWs.
This intense and suspenseful historical thriller continues Hellmann’s Revolutions Sagas series (which includes A Bend in the River) with another story of global conflict and courage. In 1933, German Jew Maximillian Steiner, only 13 years old, witnesses antisemitism on the rise in his country, with more and more Jews leaving public school education and opting to finish their studies in the synagogue school. When Max’s father is taken into “protective custody” by the Gestapo, the Steiner family decides to escape to Holland and start life anew. However, their dream is short lived when Germany invades in 1940, and Max is forced to leave his parents and migrate to the United States. In Chicago, Max focuses on a single objective: “killing Nazis.” He enlists in the Army, participating in several missions in the Netherlands, France, Belgium, and England.

Hellmann’s extensive research is apparent throughout this gripping novel that dramatizes the fascinating history of the Ritchie Boys, who were mostly immigrants from Germany and Austria trained to interrogate German POWs and gather intelligence to help further Allied efforts. Max’s personal struggles with love, family, and friendship also are pivotal. His perception of home is broken because of his continuous displacement, but his determination to survive stems from this loss of home and family. “You must do everything in your power to survive,” his mother tells him before they separate, and throughout Max’s War that urgent charge sees him through every obstacle and attack.

Action is crisp and clear, and the touch of romance has an appropriately desperate edge, a welcome reprieve as Max faces the worst of humanity and at times suffers anguish over the impact of his choices. A page-turning reminder of the horrors of fascism, Hellmann’s novel informs as its story surges ahead, through tragedies and breathless escapes, and the personal cost of vengeance. This thriller will resonate with history enthusiasts but also anyone seeking stories about standing up against hate.

Takeaway: Urgent thriller of a Jewish refugee taking on the Nazis with the Ritchie Boys.

Comparable Titles: Linda Kass’s A Ritchie Boy, Bruce Henderson’s Sons and Soldiers.

Production grades
Cover: A-
Design and typography: A
Illustrations: N/A
Editing: A
Marketing copy: A

In this meticulously researched historical thriller, Hellmann (the Georgia Davis series) follows Jewish teen Max Steiner from Europe to America and back again as he lives through the horrors of WWII. In 1932 Regensburg, Germany, schoolboy Max observes the seeds of Nazism beginning to take root across the country. He flees with his family to Holland in 1936. Four years later, when Hitler invades the Netherlands, Max leaves his family for the U.S., where he lands in Chicago. Shortly after he arrives, Max gets word his parents have been killed by the Nazis, so he enlists in the U.S. Army to avenge their deaths. In 1942, he’s assigned to Camp Ritchie, a secret training site in rural Maryland near the Pennsylvania border. There, Max and his fellow German-speaking U.S. soldiers are trained in the art of interrogation, counterintelligence, and psychological warfare, skills that Max taps into when he’s deployed overseas to interrogate German POWs and go undercover in occupied territories. Meanwhile, he nurses a crush on a girl he met in Holland before the war began. Hellman expertly marries heaps of historical detail with a thoughtful illustration of the dangers of nationalism. This ranks with the author’s best work. (Self-published)