Recently, I read Facing the Lion, by Simone Arnold Liebster. I enjoyed and appreciated this book. The author, Simone shares her experience of being a Jehovah’s Witness during a time where they were banned. Although being threatened many times, Simone stayed faithful and loyal to her God. she always looked to her God, Jehovah, for help and relied on him, to endure all her persecution.
The protagonist is Simone. Her story is set in the 1930s in between Germany and France, specifically in Alsace Lorraine, a region right on the border of Germany and France. The significance of the Alsace setting is that it was invaded by Hitler and German Nazis. Jews and Jehovah’s Witnesses were persecuted, anyone who didn’t accept Hitler as savior were sent to concentration camps. There was a war going on between Germany and France.
The significance of the setting shifting from her home in Alsace to the Wessenberg’s Reformatory for Girls is that speaking to her classmates was not permitted, and she was forced to do physical labor while looking after and taking care of a little girl in her school. She didn’t have much opportunity to read her bible, and she barely learned anything educational wise. Simone faces certain forces and pressures. At age 13, she was forced to help cook for all the students in her school, while sewing and patching up holes in old socks, and forced to do laundry, while babysitting a naughty five-year-old girl that always tried to get her in trouble. Simone had to make her bed and help wash with her laundry as well as clean her teacher’s bedroom and bathroom. She had to do all this in total silence, and on an empty stomach, the food rations were barely enough. She wasn’t allowed privacy, and her personal belongings, gifts and letters from her family were often taken away from her. She had to read her bible in secret, if she got caught she would have been punished with hand whippings. She meets these forces and pressures by deciding to follow all of her teachers instructions, praying to her god and secretly reading her bible when she has the chance. You can see this early in the memoir on page 102.
The tension rises when her mother and father are both arrested. Her father was first sent to the Dachau concentration camp, then later sent to Mauthausen, a harsh penal camp meant for exterminating inmates by means of extremely hard labor. Her mother was sent to the Gaggenau camp, and they both faced many hardships. This was all happening during a war between Germany and France, so this made it even harder for her aunt to visit and to give any updates on her parent’s conditions.
After Simone receives a letter from her mothers prison mate, instead of the letter coming from Simone’s mom herself, and after sending many letters to her father without getting a response, she believes that they are dead. it’s understandable for her to react this way and jump to conclusions because of all the chaos of the war going on and constantly hearing war machine guns. Because of this, more restrictions and precautions were taken at her school. All the changes no doubt gave Simone a lot of added stress, fear and sadness, it must have been hard for her to think positive at this time. “One day, I received a letter from one of Mum’s prison mates. Why didn’t Mum write? I suddenly feared the worst. Surely she was dead. Dad hadn’t written either; he too must be dead. Maybe aunt eugenie was killed in the battle of alsace, and perhaps Bergenbach was burned to the ground! Frightful images flashed through my mind.”
Thankfully, Simone’s prediction of her parent’s death turns out to be false. Although in rough conditions, sick and malnourished Simone gets to see her parents again. The happy family is reunited, after the war ends.