War on the Margins, by Libby Cone is quite the illuminating book, based on her own Master’s Degree thesis in Jewish Studies. The novel depicts the effect of World War II on the English landscape of Jersey.
Little known facts abound within the pages, and the correspondence and documents that are depicted throughout the book (of which there are many) are copies of actual public notices and letters from that time period. A few actual individuals who lived through the Nazi regime are portrayed within the pages. The documents and real-life individuals enhance the drama of the daily lives forced upon the Jewish residents who remain behind on the island of Jersey.
Marlene Zimmer is a clerk working for the Aliens Office, and tries to hide her Jewish heritage from the authorities. She not only does so, but becomes friends with Claude Cahun and Marcel Moore, two females who are not only artists, but lovers, also. Through their persuasion, Marlene joins the Resistance, and the story then radiates more compelling dynamics and interactions.
Not everyone is who they appear to be, and not everyone who Marlene thinks is against her is in fact against her, but on her side. Yet, there is an individual who doesn’t appreciate the kindness bestowed upon her, and looks at the glass as half empty. People are doing what they can in order to survive through the horrific events forced upon them by the Nazis, and those who are deemed in a negative light are not necessarily so, and vice versa.
The scenarios within the pages are structured around the documents, adding fact to the lives intertwined within the pages. The foundation of War on the Margins is firmly set through these historical documents and through actual radio announcements. The coldness and harshness of the statements and demands in the letters from the Aliens Office and other authoritative entities left me with chills. To think that the Jewish population in Jersey was considered less than human, is disheartening. But, through it all, they had the will to survive.
From the workers at the Aliens Office, to the non-Jewish population, the exploration of behavior is thoroughly examined. There were those who obeyed the edicts formulated against the Jewish population presented to them, and those who deemed them unethical and immoral, and did their best to help. The morals mandated and exhibited by some were exemplary.
Step by step, letter by letter, we are shown how the lives of Marlene, Claude, Marcel, and all the Jews in Jersey are stripped of their citizenship, their civil rights and their humanity. We are shown how goodness reigns in some of those who are not Jewish, and how they tried to help, as best they could. The story line is compelling. It is gripping to read the substantial content of the documents, and see how it interplays within the social aspect of life as the Jewish population once knew it. The demeaning and diminishing verbalizing and public notices, as harsh and atrocious as they are, do not lead to the Jews giving up on life, in fact it further enhances their desire to survive.
If anything, the Jews continue to find viable ways to survive the horrific advances and torments of the Nazis. Time and place is enhanced through Cone’s writing. Identity and assimilation are prime themes, as well as loss. We are able to get a sense of the realities that existed for the Jewish residents of Jersey, and how they were treated and/or mistreated. Had Hitler actually won, England as a whole would have been encapsulated within the grips and horror of what happened to the Jews on the Channel Islands. The Nazis would have extended their power throughout the nation.
Cone has written an incredible accounting of the occupation of Jersey by the Nazis in War on the Margins. She has infused the novel’s story line with facts and evidence of what actually occurred during the Nazi stronghold, and how the people were affected over time. With the gradual increase of demands set upon them by the Nazis, the reader sees how Jews were belittled and demeaned, threatened and scorned upon. She brings to light the darkness and devastation of the lives of the Jews, yet within the bleakness and realities, illuminations of hope and strength radiate vividly.
Libby Cone is brilliant at depicting the struggles and adversities the Jews of Jersey had to endure during the Nazi regime’s takeover during World War II. She introduces many little known facts and historical references within War on the Margins. I was deeply touched by the plight of those whose lives were devastated and/or those who were killed. The intelligent, compelling and sober book is a must read for World War II and Shoah/Holocaust history buffs, and for those who want to gain a more in-depth insight into the mechanics of the events and daily struggles that occurred on the Channel Islands.