Anna Schmidt. All God’s Children. Uhrichsville, OH: Barbour Publishing, 2013.
Full disclosure: Anna Schmidt was a board member of the Center for White Rose Studies for our fiscal year 2012/13. We provided feedback during the writing process to help her get the “White Rose” parts of her book as accurate as possible.
When Anna Schmidt asked us to read her YA historical fiction novel before it went to her editor, we were skeptical. She said she wished to incorporate White Rose resistance into a story about a young Quaker woman living in Munich in the 1940s. There are so many ways that a good idea like this can go terribly wrong.
Then we started reading and quickly became fans. Schmidt takes advantage of two basic and very true facts associated with the history of the White Rose. First, that medical studies and the professors in the Natural Sciences department at the university in Munich were critical to the thought processes of those students. Sophie Scholl (though not a medical student) majored in Natural Sciences, enrolling in courses taught by professors like Sommerfeld and Gerlach, who had exercised a bit of backbone and did not toe the Party line.
The second White Rose “gap” that Schmidt exploits centers on the nameless faces on the fringe. Even Gisela Schertling, who betrayed fringe of the fringe participants in her damning interrogations on March 31 and April 2, 1943, was unable to recall all the names.
Schmidt uses these two Givens to create a fascinating fictional universe. The male protagonist is a medical student, son of a Gestapo agent, who doubts his father’s politics (or does he?) and moves in with the family of a professor of Natural Science. That professor and his American niece (shades of Mildred Fish Harnack, since the niece hails from Wisconsin) happen to be Quakers.
All God’s Children should not be read as a historical treatise about the White Rose. But Schmidt’s story provides an interesting perspective – that of outsiders viewing the White Rose friends almost from arm’s length – on a story we otherwise know quite well. Schmidt’s Quaker “eyes” allow us to appreciate what Elisabeth Hartnagel nee Scholl described as a group of friends where all were equal, all had equal say. For a Quaker, that aspect of White Rose friendship would have been most appealing.
Schmidt also focuses most of her attention on Willi Graf, Alexander Schmorell, and Lilo Ramdohr. She chose these friends not because they were more important than anyone else, but because of everyone in the core group, they were the most accessible. She used Willi Graf’s actual contemplations in his discussions with the fictional Josef, even incorporating Bach Chorale and a mutual love of music as a major plot point.
This is an unapologetically religious treatment of the Shoah in general and White Rose resistance in particular. Schmidt frequently invokes the faith and values of the Society of Friends (Quakers) in her story. Readers who are uncomfortable with religious literature probably should not read All God’s Children.
But as an example of plain old-fashioned historical fiction where the “history” part is written well? Schmidt shows how it’s done.