As part of the North Dakota Library Association annual conference, a book is selected for the Conference Book Club.*
This year’s selection is Under the Twisted Cross by Margaret M. Barnhart, a novelized account of her father’s experiences when he was a POW (prisoner of war) in Germany during World War II. Her father, Nick Schuld, was held at Stalag II B, just outside Hammerstein in Pomerania (now Czarne, Pomorskie, Poland), “where treatment of prisoners was considered worse than at any other camp in Germany established for American POW.” In January 1945, he and other POWs were forced to go on a “death march” to the Western Front. This was ordered by their Nazi captors in an effort to avoid surrender to the Russians on the East. It was one of Germanys’ worst winters ever; hundreds of POWs perished along the way.
The book’s main character, Nick Bremer, is patterned after Barnhart’s father.
“Lying in a shelter on an Italian battlefield, Nick Bremer wakes to the sound of German voices. Without ammunition, his squad has no choice but to surrender. Thus begins months of peril as the men go from prisoners-in-transit to permanent internment in Stalag II B, reported by 1943 Military Intelligence as the worst POW in Germany. Heartened by memories of home, buoyed by a brotherhood of prisoners, Nick combats suspicion and hopelessness, endures near-starvation, physical torture, psychological terror, and mind-numbing monotony. His tenacity and wit help him survive the brutal European ‘death march’ to the Western Front.” — Back cover
Author Margaret M. Barnhart has taught literature and writing courses at Dickinson State University since 1992. Under the Twisted Cross is her first novel; she has also written and published many short stories, poems, and essays. An excerpt from a personal essay, “Ghosts,” was included in the nationally-released anthology, Leaning Into the Wind (1997 Houghton Mifflin).**
Barnhart knew about her father being a POW from stories he shared when she was growing up. Late in his life, she discovered documents from his war experience, including a military intelligence review of conditions at Stalag II-B, and three typed pages of memories of the death march. An historical memoir was not possible without more information and exact detail, so Barnhart wrote a novel based on her father’s memories instead. Her father did not get to read the book; he died in 2003 before the book was completed.
I finished reading Under the Twisted Cross last night and look forward to the author-led discussion at the NDLA Conference in September. The book is well-written, interesting, and thought-provoking. It made me think about the power of the human spirit, war and why we fight, and how conflict and hardship can bring out both the best and the worst in people.
I recommend Under the Twisted Cross. We have a copy at the BSC Library … check it out!
— Marlene Anderson, Director of Library Services
*Note: The 2011 conference book club selection was Dakota, Or What’s a Heaven For by Brenda K. Marshall, which then became a selection for BookTalk at BSC 2012.
**Note: A poem, “Display Grounds” by BSC’s own Janelle Masters, is also included in this anthology.