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Determined to Fight the Nazis - an Editorial Review of "Max's War"

"Max's War" by Libby Fischer Hellman cover

Book Blurb:

A sweeping World War 2 saga in which a young German Jew flees Europe, emigrates to America, and joins the Army to fight Nazis.

As the Nazis conquer Europe, Jewish teen Max and his parents flee persecution in Germany for Holland, where Max finds true friends and a life-altering romance. But when Hitler invades in 1940, Max must escape to Chicago, leaving his parents and friends behind. When he learns of his parents' deportation and 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 as well, Max carries out dangerous missions in occupied countries. He also interrogates scores of 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 has been 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 story about a Ritchie Boy is Libby Hellmann’s tribute to her late father-in-law who was active with the OSS and interrogated dozens of German POWs.

Sure to captivate readers of Kate Quinn and Kristin Hannah, Max’s War echoes modern-day decisions made during periods of conflict and explores what happens when hate seems to be winning.

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Author Bio:

Libby Fischer Hellman

Libby Fischer Hellmann left a career in broadcast news in Washington, DC and moved to Chicago a long time ago, where she, naturally, began to write gritty crime fiction. She soon began writing historical fiction as well. Seventeen novels and twenty-five short stories later, she claims they’ll take her out of the Windy City feet first. She has been nominated for many awards in the mystery and crime writing community and has even won a few. She has been a finalist twice for the Anthony and four times for Foreword Magazine’s Book of the Year. She has also been nominated for the Agatha, the Shamus, the Daphne, and she won the The Chicago Writers Association Book of the Year in 2021. In the past she has won the IPPY, Foreword Magazine’s Indie Awards, and the Readers Choice Award multiple times.

Editorial Review:

Max Steiner wanted to kill Nazis. He had reasons. The Nazis had killed the people he loved. They’d forced him to flee Germany, then, a few years later, Holland as well. Hitler had stolen his life. He was not—and would never be—like other twenty-two-year-old men.

It wasn’t always that way. He’d been a good-natured, bright, carefree boy. A boy who respected his parents, enjoyed his friends, and loved sports. Because of Hitler, however, he grew into a man who was plagued by uncertainty and fear. He anticipated the worst. He carried a rage he couldn’t tamp down.

But now everything would change. He was about to take control —control he’d wanted for years. He stood outside the gates of Camp Ritchie, tucked away in rural Maryland near the Pennsylvania border. After months of running, marching, doing push-ups, and learning to shoot in basic, someone realized his fluency in German and pulled him out of the group. He wasn’t quite sure why he was here or what he would be doing, but he hoped to take revenge on the Nazis.

From the first lines, we are transported back to December 1942, Camp Ritchie, Maryland. We are instantly introduced to our main character Max, and this will be the first steps of a long journey with Max.

Libby Fischer Hellmann's Max's War is a powerful illustration of the resilience of the human spirit even during some of the darkest moments of the 20th century. From the first line, it draws you right into the central character’s world by adeptly setting up the foreboding backdrop of an approaching war. Part I takes us back in time, ten years earlier, to Regensburg, Germany from 1932 to 1935.

Hellmann takes us on a turbulent journey alongside the life of a young German Jew named Max. His life is permanently changed by the emergence of Nazism, giving us a unique World War II story. From the heartbreaking flight from Europe to the final struggle against the very government that had uprooted his life, Hellmann creates a story that is both thought-provoking and profoundly moving.

Opa Steiner used to say that animals had a sixth sense that helped them predict the future. Opa would have known; he’d been a successful racehorse breeder. Now, as Max Steiner hurried out of his father’s shop into the frosty winter air, his pony, Klara, whinnied and tossed her head. Was she impatient because Max had kept her waiting in the cold? Or did she know some significant event or change was about to occur? Max checked his wristwatch and groaned. He’d have to ponder Klara’s foresight later. He was late for Shabbos. Max scrambled up to the carriage bench, lithe and agile as only a twelve-year-old boy could be.

Sorry, old girl.” He grabbed the reins. The horse was turning fifteen, but that wasn’t old for ponies, especially Morgans originally an America breed. Although she was older than Max, he liked to mimic his father, who called every mare “old girl,” even if she was a filly. “But there’s good news for you, Klara. My bicycle will be ready next week. Papa wasn’t there, but Jonas promised. Which means you can look forward to a good long rest.

We are taken back to early years with Max; important years that will tell us much about his personality, his childhood, and how he was raised. The story smoothly jumps from Max's happy boyhood in Germany to the desperate conditions of his flight to Holland and, finally, to his life in America, where he enlists in the Army to fight the Nazi government. The level of detail in every step of Max's trip transports us to a world that is both very intimate and rich in history.

The narrative arc is masterfully designed and carried out, taking the reader from the first calm of Max's youth to the chaos of war and, ultimately, the pursuit of justice and healing in the aftermath. Every chapter moves the plot ahead at a steady pace, keeping the reader interested the entire time.

The book is very well formatted and edited, making for a comfortable read. There are no glaring mistakes or typos that pull you out of the story. The formatting is well done and makes it easy to follow all of Max’s story, through all the twists and turns. It reads well, while also maintaining the historical accuracy.

The depth of character development in Max's War is among the most impressive parts of this book. Max is a well-rounded individual whose development is evident. Not only is his transition from a scared youngster to a determined soldier realistic, but it's also quite relatable. The supporting cast members are also masterfully written; they each bring a depth to the narrative and shed light on the various ways that people react to hardship.

Every chapter builds on the one before it, giving the plot a superb sense of coherence. The historical context is constantly evident thanks to Hellmann's adept use of the timeline, which offers a stable background for the emotional drama to take place against. Our attention is kept throughout because of this continuity, which emphasizes the cause and consequence of both historical events and individual decisions.

Nightfall was still a few hours off. He recalled Jacob leaving the shop that morning to pin down a ride to Rotterdam for him. He should go back. Decide what to do when he arrived. A block away Max inhaled the odor of smoke and fire residue. He quickened his pace. The odor intensified the closer he got. When the store came into view, he saw the charred remnants of furniture, broken glass, and debris.

The shop had been looted and ransacked. Windows were shattered, and glass shards were strewn all over what once was a cleanly swept floor. Books had been flung everywhere, most of them burned beyond recognition. The bookshelves on which they’d sat had been set on fire as well, the heat and flames twisting them into misshapen, unrecognizable objects. The table and chairs Jacob had added in the back were either burned or smashed into pieces. The cash register was open and empty. Jacob’s tiny office was nothing more than scorched two-by-fours that had once supported walls.

Not to give anything away, but Max's War ends in a way that is rewarding. It concludes the story in a way that is both somber and contemplative. In addition to providing a feeling of closure, Max's story's heartbreaking ending acknowledges the war's lasting effects. We are left feeling both introspective and satisfied, as it is an appropriate end to a voyage that crosses continents and emotions. War is never pleasant, but sometimes it teaches us things along the way.

Max's War sets itself apart with its original take on World War II, emphasizing the Ritchie Boys—a lesser-known facet of the fight. This new perspective, along with Max's personal tale, offers a unique perspective on a well-known historical era. It also dives into concepts like identity, loss, and redemption via the eyes of a young Jewish immigrant.

With a perfect blend of period-appropriate speech and evocative prose, Hellmann's work is outstanding. The story allows readers to really immerse themselves in the locales and people since it is rich in information without ever being overbearing.

In summary, Libby Fischer Hellmann's Max's War is an outstanding work of historical fiction. The book is successful in many aspects, including its deep character development, engaging plot, and careful examination of the human condition during times of strife. It is an essential book for lovers of historical fiction and gripping human stories because it is a monument to the strength of resiliency and the unwavering spirit of people who struggled against tyranny.


“Max's War” by Libby Fischer Hellman receives five stars and the “Highly Recommended” award of excellence from The Historical Fiction Company


HFC Highly Recommended Award of Excellence


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