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Literature / The Kommandant's Mistress

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1992 novel by Alexandria Constantinova Szeman (formerly writing as "Sherri" Szeman) set in World War II, told in a stream-of-consciousness style akin to Pulp Fiction.

Set in three distinct parts, with Kommandent Max telling his part first, Rachel/Leah's side of the story, then the historian's reading of the obituaries. There are three different endings, all three of them are true— it's up to the reader to figure out why they are told this way.

Tropes present in this novel:

  • Artistic License – History: A majority of the novel is historically accurate and used real events such as Heydrich's assassination and the Nuremburg rallies where Hitler, Himmler, and Goebbels spoke, but Word of God has stated that she intentionally picked several events with temporal conflicts so that it would've been impossible for Max and Rachel to have attended all of them; so that Max would be representative of all Nazis and Rachel representative of all Jews rather than them based on two specific people.
    • The Jewish Resistance plays a role as well. In real life, the resistance existed in the camps and the surrounding woods and would try to smuggle weapons, food, and other items into the camps or liberate inmates. The resistance didn't move as freely in real life as they did in the book, but the Sonderkommando actually did blow up one of the crematoria in Auschwitz.
  • Babies Make Everything Better: Is what David seems to believe. They adopt baby Althea, and Rachel is reluctant to go near her. It's open for interpretation if the baby really does make everything better.
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  • Child by Rape: Leah gets impregnated by Max. Max is unaware of it because she refuses to ever hold a conversation with him and he doesn't come to her consistently enough to suspect it. She makes Rebekah give her a back-alley abortion, and Max mentions seeing blood on the bathroom floor but he's too drunk and apathetic to comprehend where it could've come from.
  • Creepy Child: Ilse follows Nazi ideology to a T, but ironically Marta teaches more of it to her than Max. Ilse then takes absurd pleasure in playing games like "Kommandant" where she puts all her paper dolls in the fireplace to mimic sending Jews to the gas chambers.
    • She does a slight Heel–Face Turn in Rachel's side of the story, whereupon she borrows Marta's hairbrush, fixes Rachel's hair, and says "Now you're pretty." Kindness or creepiness? YMMV.
  • Even Evil Has Loved Ones: Max's pre-Kommandant, and early Kommandant, days he seems full of loving adoration for his wife and young children. He also has an illegitimate child, Klaus, with his old mistress Diane, who lived in the Nazi-sponsored maternity home Lebensborn. Klaus dies in an air raid in 1944. Max appears impassive in his side of the story but Leah is there when he gets the phone call, and the way she tells it is that he cries heavily after he hangs up. She also finds a poem called "Love Song For Klaus" in his desk, which she mentions in her own book...and Marta demands to know more about it upon reading the book.
    • Max subverts this later in his story, in that once he's on the lam he seems more obsessed with tracking down Leah/Rachel than finding Marta and their children.
  • Gorn: Not to a heavy degree but the sex scenes (from both perspectives) are intended to be shocking and disturbing, rather than stimulating.
    • The scarification/mutilation scene is definitely Gorn though, and shows an incredibly twisted side to Leah that she is clearly ashamed of after it gets her sexually aroused.
  • Greyand Gray Morality: Max is not entirely a villain, Rachel/Leah is not entirely a victim. The way they both tell their sides of the story lets you decide what shade of gray each one is.
    • Though, Rachel/Leah is definitely A Lighter Shade of Grey, as is her entire side.
  • Lima Syndrome: Max to Leah, he was drawn to her the second the train arrived in Auschwitz.
  • Happily Married: Subverted with both Max and Leah, but very subtly. Max and Marta seem happily married at first, but then as both sides of the story unfurl, it's quite obvious that he only married her reluctantly and for putting up appearances. Marta has severe Tsundere tendencies in that she goes from fawning all over to Max to outright stating she hates him, then begs him to stay with her. The slapping stream-of-consciousness style gives it magnitude.
    • Contrast Rachel and David, where she doesn't realize how much she loves him until he's gone. He thinks she's dispassionate for the most part, stuck in the past, and is also jealous of Max, believing she still carries a torch for him. He hates that she still has Max's gun.
    • But, Max and Rachel both frequently lie to their respective spouses. Rachel not only denies she was in the camps to her own husband, but she doesn't dare tell him of the botched abortion that turned her barren. She claims she went to a doctor and was told she couldn't have children. YMMV if it was right of her to lie about aborting Max's child, but an outright lie about having been in the camps when it's VERY obvious?
  • Hypocrisy Nod: Max preaches of how the Third Reich recruited family men like him who "understood the value of commitment" and "knew loyalty, honor, love". He not only cheats on his wife on a regular basis but he acts incredibly dishonorable late in his story when running away from then killing the bounty hunter and denying having been in the camps. Oh, and refusal to acknowledge his children's letters or even making any mention of loving or missing them once the Nazi regime has toppled and they've fled but he stays in Europe.
  • Matzo Fever: Max, and to a lesser extent Dieter. To some incredibly Squick-worthy levels, but they can possibly subvert this because they don't believe Leah is a Jew at first.
  • Nice Jewish Boy: David. He's a kind, sweet, albeit jaded man that any Jewish Mother would love.
  • "Not If They Enjoyed It" Rationalization: Max portrays the sex scenes as consensual, and even that Leah enjoys it.
    • Leah describes it as the exact opposite and that she only does the things he describes to get it over with. The only exception is the mutilation scene when he shows her the Star of David scar and her hatred turns into shameful lust after she gets to abuse him.
  • Punch-Clock Villain: Max tries to portray himself and Dieter as this, then he plays this card when evading the authorities under a fake name. "Just following orders", after all.
  • Shout-Out: Many of the names of poems or books are purely fictional, but the poetry collections and memoirs Rachel has written like Survivor: One Who Survives and The Dead Bodies That Line the Streets are real poems that Alexandria Szeman has written.
  • Spiritual Successor: To Szeman's poem, then short story, "The Kommandant".
  • Truth in Television: Quite a bit of it throughout this page; as the author based many of the events on historical accounts, actual Nazi correspondence and other documents, as well as several memoirs of Holocaust survivors. She interviewed many survivors as well. See individual tropes for many Truth in Television links.
  • Your Cheating Heart: Max. It's alluded that he's cheated on Marta several times, and it's quite plain to the reader that there are at least two women he has carried on long-term affairs with.

Alternative Title(s): The Kommandents Mistress


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