Publication Date: September 2013
Formats: eBook, Paperback 186 Pages
Genre: Historical Fiction/Young Adult
Munich, 1938, Nazi Germany. War is on the horizon. A timid Hitler Youth member contracts polio. Photographs she takes of fellow polio patients are turned into propaganda, mocking people with disabilities. She is now an outsider, a target of Nazi scorn and possible persecution. Her only weapon is her camera. This well-researched historical fiction novel unveils a seldom-seen side of the Nazi agenda. A sequel is in the works.
Praise for Risking Exposure“...an engaging, well written, thought provoking book. It reminds us of the responsibility we have to one another.” “The story is true to history and would be ideal for a classroom studying this time period.” “...you find yourself think thinking of the young character, Sophie, long after the last page.”
“... lets us see a world in which we know what happened, but Sophie does not yet. Our knowledge makes us want to read to the very last word--and wish the story would continue.”
“This book felt like I was reading a biography, the characters and story were all very real. Risking Exposure was certainly geared towards young adults, but this story captivated me from the beginning til the end - so it most certainly can hold the attention of an adult audience.”
“Ms. Moran is opening the door to this thought: if more (maybe only a handful more) people stood up and did small things too, could some of the awful suffering of this era been averted or lessened? And more poignantly, how about today? The book ratifies the importance of small actions done with love, bravery, and purpose.”
“Sophie is still on my mind days after finishing this book.”
”...the book was a beautiful collection of thoughts, historically accurate bits of data, and a easy read in terms of the flowing writing style, but deals with a lot of heavy topics in a censored way. This is definitely a great book to study, for school students, as it's written in a simplistic yet effective writing style, and provides a brilliant coming-of-age story for all types of audiences.”
“There is so much to talk about in Sophie's story - - what we accept as normal, what society thinks of its less able-bodied citizens, whether one person can really make a difference... we read it for our own book club discussion next month -- and we're all well past our teen-age years, so that shows the power of this small gem.”
he drizzle lessened as we threaded our way through thickening crowds of spectators. Vendors hawked balloons, flags, and snacks from pushcarts. A perfect start to my assigned photos. “Please stop,” I said at a busy corner. “I see some children.” Anna complied but watched my every move, so I was careful not to let her see the papers and photos stuffed in my oversized camera bag. I focused on a small boy as he approached a vendor, a coin in his outstretched hand. The vendor exchanged his coin for a bag of nuts. Click. The boy skipped away, his snack bouncing perilously in a chubby fist. Click.
Anna nodded. Her endorsement was good. With any luck she’d pay less attention to photos I took later. Hopefully I’d find something worth shooting. I tried not to think about my lack of a plan.
And then, there it was. While I was focused on some ladies and their fussing babies, I caught sight of a paper tacked to a pole. It was the familiar rectangular poster, Klaus and Erich on the top, Elisabeth on the bottom.
Seeing the horrid thing out in public shocked me, and I nearly dropped the camera. But after a deep breath or two, I worked the focus dial to draw the image in. Click.
Click again, for good measure.
Papa had taken photos of Jews, showing how they’d become targets. I’d add photos of cripples. They, I mean we, were targets too. The people of England and all the people in the world needed to know. One mistake of sharing your canteen with a sick girl, one illness, one injury, even for a German citizen or former Youth member, and we were written off as useless, same as the Party’s other targets.
To avoid Anna’s suspicion, I focused on boys in knickers as they chased girls in Sunday dresses. Click.
As Anna pushed me toward the parade route, I noticed another three or four posters. Each time, I asked her to stop. Each time I focused long and captured that poster’s horrifying message again. And again.
Even at this celebration of national history and pride, the posters oozed their poison all over Munich. And the people who read those posters, saw those pictures, might actually believe that cripples like us were no good for Germany. That we were useless eaters.
I had to get these images to the free press in England. I had to find Peter Massey.
When Anna and I came off the side street and onto Prinzregenten Strasse across from the art museum, a wall of people blocked our path. She inched me through the dense crowd. I clutched my camera bag against the onslaught of elbows and hips.
The crowd ended abruptly and we faced a row of wooden barricades. “Where are you going?” a brown-shirted officer demanded.
“We’re working under the orders of Scharführer Werner Müller,” Anna said. “Now let us cross.” Her voice had a tone of authority, and without further question the officer slid a barricade aside for us.
We moved into the empty street, all traffic halted in anticipation of the parade. From there I saw the true size of the crowd. As far as the eye could see, people clotted the available space between curbstone and buildings. Thousands and thousands of people pressed together, blurred, fading into an anonymous background. Black, white, and red Party flags sprouted like weeds from every imaginable spot – small ones cradled in hands, large ones draped on buildings, hung from balconies, wrapped around statues. Several groups of uniformed Youth stood along the curb, each member grasping the stick of a tiny Party flag. Click. Click.
We reached the opposite sidewalk, and with it another wall of officers and wooden barricades. We again explained our purpose at the park and we worked our way through a mirror image of that first crowd.
Finally, we entered the staging area for the procession’s participants, the leafy refuge of the English Garden Park. Anna’s frantic pushing and steering relaxed and her pace slowed. “I can take it from here,” I said, and we moved side by side along the paved path.
As I expected, groups of costumed participants had clustered at the park as they readied for the procession. A dozen giggling ladies lounged on plaid blankets beneath a shade tree, their white taffeta dresses draped around their legs, bare feet thrust beside their waiting shoes. Young girls in uniform stood nearby weaving circlets of daisies for the women’s hair and wrists. I seemed to be the only photographer in sight. Anna nudged me. Click.
A cluster of men struggled into the cloaks and tunics of ancient Roman soldiers. Two skinny boys in uniform held metallic helmets and shields while the soldiers dressed. The boys fixed their eager gaze first at the armor, then up at the costumed men. Anna pointed. Click.
I wanted to get to the pickle jar. And I had to find Peter Massey and give him the film. I tried to not feel overwhelmed by my own lack of a plan.
We approached a group of a dozen men dressed as tournament knights. Several HJ helped with details of their armored costumes or readied the knights’ nearby horses. Click.
One Youth, a tall boy placing a saddle on a horse, caught my eye. Erich. My heart quickened and I wanted to rush to him, but I stopped myself. For the first time ever, I hoped he didn’t notice me. I didn’t want the distraction.
The horses, obviously accustomed to the noise and fuss involved in parades, waited quietly as the men clanked about. A knight mounted his horse and posed, javelin vertical in his gloved hand. Some women on nearby park benches applauded and ran to surround him. Anna joined the other women gawking at the knight.
That left the benches empty and exposed a plaque I hadn’t seen before. Nur für Arier. For Aryans only. I made sure Anna’s attention was still diverted. Click.
A second vacant bench also had a sign. Juden sind nicht erwünscht. Jews not wanted. Click.
Anna started toward me. She must have seen me turning away from the bench because she scowled and hastened her steps. “What did you photograph, Sophie?”
I answered honestly. “The signs. I’ve never seen them before.”
Her scowl deepened. “They’ve been here for months.”
But I hadn’t been. Munich had changed. Or more likely, I had changed.
Somewhere down the path, a gruff voice shouted. All heads turned, including mine, to watch dozens of men mount horses and form a line along the path, two abreast. Each man held a tall flagpole bearing the Party’s colors, each flag about three meters long and two meters tall. The effect was overwhelming. The men and their horses and even the beauty of the park were lost – the red and black flags were all I could see, snapping like fish in the talons of eagles.
The Führer would already be in the Grandstand, surrounded by Party officials and SS by the dozen. The international press would be somewhere near the Grandstand as well, including Peter Massey. My insides jittered. Unless by chance he was here in the park, I’d be in full view of the Grandstand when I gave Herr Massey the film.
As flag-bearers on horseback moved up the path toward us, Anna pulled my wheelchair back into the grass. Small clusters of spectators stood nearby, obviously enjoying this less structured prelude to the parade. One man hobbled alone through the grass, leaning heavily on a cane. Between the crowd and the irregular surface, he walked slowly, a step-drag pattern much like my own. When he reached the empty bench a half-dozen meters from me, he sort of collapsed into it. In moments though, he straightened and leaned forward with hands atop his cane, watching the approaching riders and smiling.
I wondered if he had polio or if some other disease or injury had left him weak and crippled. Erich approached him and saluted, then spoke and pointed toward the riders. I held my breath and steadied my camera.
The man didn’t return the salute but nodded and continued to smile. Erich leaned toward him and said rather loudly, “The flag, sir. You need to stand before the flag.”
I focused my camera on the crippled man and drew his image closer. I glanced at Anna beside me, but she was looking at something else. Good. She wouldn’t interfere. I faced the bench. Click.
“What’s this?” a high-pitched voice said from behind me. Werner strode up the grass past me, toward Erich and the man.
The crippled man continued to sit forward with his hands leaning heavily atop his cane, smiling evenly. “Surely you don’t begrudge a weak man his rest,” he said.
Werner lifted a polished boot and kicked the cane. Click.
Without the cane’s support, the man toppled forward off the bench and landed hard. Blood gushed from his mouth and nose. Click.
Several women in the crowd screamed. Erich gasped and crouched beside the man, cradling his head and pressing a handkerchief to his nose.
Anna stood frozen, staring at the man. I shook her arm. “You’re a nurse. That man is bleeding.” Her eyes moved from Werner to the man but she remained motionless.
The Youth leader stared at Erich and the man without offering help. Click.
Anna watched her boyfriend as if waiting for him to speak. To give permission?
If she wouldn’t help, then I would. I pushed toward the man and Erich glanced up, his face registering recognition and surprise. My hands began to sweat. “What can I do?” I asked him. He was speechless.
Werner turned and snapped his fingers. “Anna,” he commanded, “be a nurse.” Only then did Anna crouch beside the man.
She made me sick.
The Scharführer’s next order was, “Fischer, tend to your own duties.”
Erich hesitated, looking from the injured man to Anna, then to his Youth leader and to me. Anna assured him she was in control and Erich said a few words of reassurance to the injured man before he left. Just once, he glanced back at me and smiled. Werner left us moments later.
While all this happened, the flag-bearers had continued up the path at a slow, steady pace past hushed groups of saluting bystanders. The flag-bearers were still a dozen meters away when I pushed a safe distance onto the grass and placed my sweaty, trembling hands on my camera.
The lead rider called, “Halt.” The entire company of horses stopped within a pace or two. All movement and sound vanished except the pounding of my heart and the snap, snap, snap of those huge flags.
The rider glowered down at Anna and the man. She seemed to understand what was expected because she lifted under the man’s arms to force him to his feet. Someone handed the man his cane and he stood, swaying slightly and obviously dazed, a scarlet-stained handkerchief pressed to his nose and Anna’s support around his waist. Click.
Once the riders moved forward, the man collapsed on the bench. Click.
I wondered how soon a “No Cripples Allowed” or “Useless Eaters Forbidden” sign would decorate one of these benches.
Anna handed the man his cane. “Can you walk?”
He nodded and took a step or two, wobbling perilously. She supported under his arm and furrowed her eyebrows, looking at the crowd. “Can someone help?” The people left in the park were mostly costumed participants, all with a job to do. None offered help.
“I think his nose is broken and he might have a concussion,” Anna told me. “He needs to go to a hospital. I’ll look for an ambulance.” Good. She was acting as a nurse again, too.
“I’d only slow you down.” I gestured to my wheelchair and Anna nodded. She and the man weren’t more than a few faltering steps away when I spun my chair and pushed toward the pickle jar.
Since the path was clogged with costumed people, I was forced to push on the wet grass. That was slow going. I passed a dozen other Youth members, all engaged in various tasks helping parade participants, but I didn’t take any more pictures.
The deeper I got into the park the emptier it grew, so a hundred meters in I was again able to use the path. A minute or two later I saw it – the scruffy clump of pine trees. I glanced around. No one in sight. I pushed as quickly as I could to the base.
I lowered myself so my bottom sat on the footrests then brushed away pine needles. I grabbed the lid of the pickle jar and wiggled and pulled, hoping to work the jar free from the soil. No luck. I tried using a stick as a lever, jamming it around the jar and lifting. Still not working. Rennie must have stomped the soil down with her shoes. I needed a better tool, a wider one. I lifted back into my seat and grabbed my pipe crutch from its holder behind the chair, scooted down to the footplate, and used the crutch as the lever. The jar lifted free.
Clods of wet dirt and needles coated both the jar and my hands, so I used my poncho to grasp the damp lid and unscrew it. Inside was an envelope rolled into a half-circle, Rennie’s gift to me – eighteen photos plus negatives. Hopefully all the shots her brother had taken from me, including the one of Elisabeth he’d misused. I unfolded the small square of paper tucked inside.
As I promised.
Good old Rennie.
Twenty minutes had passed. No doubt Anna was looking for me. I slid Rennie’s envelope into the inside pocket of my poncho. Then I rewound the used film in my camera, stashed it in its tin, and pocketed that as well.
In case I decided to take more pictures, I loaded the second roll of film and dropped the empty tin in the bag. I was proud of the photos I’d taken, ones of the poster and ones that showed how cripples like that poor man and Elisabeth and me were treated by the Reich. My photos were as important as Papa’s.
That jittery feeling started in my stomach again. How could I hand the Briton an envelope of photos and a tin of exposed film in front of all those SS? And the Führer himself? I’d be seen. I’d be caught. Which would give my photos to the Party. Which would leave me open to charges of disobeying orders from the Youth leader. I might be charged with treason, as my father and Doktor Vogel had been. All this would have been for nothing.
But I had already made my choice. I remembered Papa saying something about how we must decide if our choice is worth the cost. This choice was worth it, even if my photos didn’t get to Peter Massey, to England, to the world. I was trying. I couldn’t live with the guilt if I didn’t try.
I buried the empty pickle jar, then lifted myself to the wheelchair’s seat and turned to hook my crutch to its support strap behind me. A stone’s throw away, two people walked down the path – Anna and a young man in an HJ uniform.
“Ah, there you are,” the young man said, separating from Anna and striding toward me at a brisk pace.
It was Klaus.
It was too late to disguise the mud under my nails and on my clothes, too late to hide the freshly turned earth behind me. Rennie’s note still lay in my lap. I closed my fist over top of it.
“You’re easy to follow. Wet wheels leave tracks.” He picked a dandelion, handed it to me, and kissed the top of my head. “Good to see you, little cat.” His eyes scanned me. “Aren’t you a little old to play in the mud?”
My throat closed tight. I didn’t need another loyal Party member watching my every move. In. Out. In. Out.
I squared my shoulders and tried to look brave and confident but my insides tumbled, unsure which way was up.
Anna stood behind him, hands on hips and eyebrows creased together. “What have you been doing, Sophie? Why didn’t you wait for me by the bench?”
Before I could answer, Klaus took control. “The Scharführer arranged an early release for me. That way I could be here for your big day. A nice surprise, huh?” He squatted and put his hands on the sides of my wheelchair. “Now that our parents are,” he paused for effect, “are away, I’m your guardian. So tell me, what did we catch you doing, little cat?” He glanced from my clothes to the obviously moved dirt behind me and then to my filthy closed fist. He snatched my hand and squeezed it, turning the palm upward to reveal the small note. “What’s this?” His eyes moved from the note to the dirt and to me again. Then he threw back his head and laughed. “Are you still passing notes with your little boyfriend?”
“Erich Fischer. I saw him a few minutes ago, working the horses up at the front of the park.”
So Klaus still thought Erich and I were sending notes. I’d never corrected that thought of his. My heart thudded and I smiled a little. “I saw Erich today, too.”
“I’ll bet you did,” he said, laughing again. “Anna, look at this.” He handed her the note and quoted it in a mocking tone. “As I promised. How sweet.”
“What does this mean, Sophie?” Anna shook the note with one hand while the other stayed firmly on her hip.
Klaus waved off her doubts. “Isn’t it obvious? She had a few minutes to spare and hurried here to dig up the note from her sweetheart. Young romantic foolishness.”
Anna glanced at her watch. “There’s no time for this,” she announced. “The procession is underway.”
I gestured to the nearby stream. “I need to rinse my hands so I don’t get mud on the camera.”
“Ja, ja. Mach schnell! Hurry up!”
I pushed across the grass to the stream’s edge and lowered myself to the footplate as I’d done before. I glanced over my shoulder. Anna dug in the loose dirt and Klaus stood watching her, arms crossed. All they would find was an empty pickle jar.
But who was I kidding? Loyal Party members would hover over me all day. Incriminating film was in my pocket; personal letters and photos were in my camera bag. I had no idea how to find a contact who didn’t know I was looking for him.
My chance of success was nil. My chance of being caught was pretty darn good.
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Jeanne Moran reads and writes stories in which unlikely heroes make a difference in their corner of the world. In her everyday life, she strives to be one of them. For more information visit Jeanne Moran's website. You can also find her on Facebook, Pinterest, and Goodreads.
Risking Exposure Blog Tour ScheduleMonday, May 4 Review at 100 Pages a Day - Stephanie's Book Reviews Spotlight & Excerpt at Shelf Full of Books
Tuesday, May 5 Spotlight at Cheryl's Book Nook
Wednesday, May 6 Review at Mel's Shelves
Spotlight & Excerpt at Historical Fiction Connection
Thursday, May 7 Spotlight at Broken Teepee
Friday, May 8 Review at Book Babe
Monday, May 11 Review at Book Nerd
Tuesday, May 12 Review at Beth's Book Nook Blog
Wednesday, May 13 Review at Flashlight Commentary
Spotlight at CelticLady's Reviews
Thursday, May 14 Review at With Her Nose Stuck in a Book
Friday, May 15 Review at Genre Queen