A deeply moving and masterfully written story of human resilience and enduring love, The Plum Tree follows a young German woman through the chaos of World War II and its aftermath.
“Bloom where you’re planted,” is the advice Christine Bolz receives from her beloved Oma. But seventeen-year-old domestic Christine knows there is a whole world waiting beyond her small German village. It’s a world she’s begun to glimpse through music, books—and through Isaac Bauerman, the cultured son of the wealthy Jewish family she works for.
Yet the future she and Isaac dream of sharing faces greater challenges than their difference in stations. In the fall of 1938, Germany is changing rapidly under Hitler’s regime. Anti-Jewish posters are everywhere, dissenting talk is silenced, and a new law forbids Christine from returning to her job—and from having any relationship with Isaac. In the months and years that follow, Christine will confront the Gestapo’s wrath and the horrors of Dachau, desperate to be with the man she loves, to survive—and finally, to speak out.
Set against the backdrop of the German home front, this is an unforgettable novel of courage and resolve, of the inhumanity of war, and the heartbreak and hope left in its wake.
Ellen, as I read your book I was so touched and brought to tears by your story. What was the foundation for your story?
The Plum Tree is loosely based on my family’s experiences during WWII. My mother grew up in Nazi Germany, the eldest of five children in a poor, working-class family. When WWII broke out, my grandfather was drafted into the Wehrmacht and sent to the Russian front, where he was captured and sent to a POW camp in Siberia. Eventually he escaped, but for two years, my mother and her family had no idea if he was dead or alive until he showed up on their doorstep one day. During the four years my grandfather was off fighting, my grandmother repaired damaged military uniforms to bring in a small income. She stood in ration lines for hours on end, made sugar out sugar beets, and bartered beechnuts for cooking oil. She cooked on a woodstove, made clothes out of cotton sheets, and raised chickens and vegetables to keep her children fed. Under the cover of night, she put food out for passing Jewish prisoners and listened to illegal foreign radio broadcasts—both crimes punishable by death. She put blackout paper over the house windows so the enemy wouldn’t see their light and when the air raid sirens went off night after night, she ran down the street to hide with her terrified children inside a bomb shelter.
These stories and more were the inspiration behind The Plum Tree.
Your character Christine has inspired me to be a better person and to stand more firmly in my faith and my walk of life. Is there a person in your life/family that inspired you to write about her in your story?
I guess I would have to say my mother. She always inspires me to be strong. She lived through WWII in Germany, came to America alone at the age of 21 to marry an American soldier, and survived and escaped an abusive marriage. Then, after my sister suffered a severe head-injury in a car accident that left her unable to communicate in any way, my mother took care of her at home—for twenty-three years. Through it all, my mother was, and still is, the first person to take food to a sick neighbor, the best mother and grandmother anyone could ask for, and the strongest woman I know. Even while her heart was breaking, she gave me a rock to stand on.
There is clearly several messages in your story that readers will grasp. Is there a main message that you want readers to come away with that might change their lives?
One of my main intentions in writing The Plum Tree was to get people to realize that retrospective condemnation is easy, that collective guilt as opposed to individual guilt is senseless, that being German doesn’t mean you were a Nazi. Few people know that at its peak, the Nazi party consisted of only 10% of the German population. My hope in writing my novel was that people would begin to look at the Germans of that time on a case-by-case basis, instead of painting them all with the same brush. I think that lesson might be even more important today as our world is getting smaller and more diverse. Everyone should stop and realize they don’t know what other people have been through before they pass judgement.
There are many deeply and emotional scenes in your story. Which scene did you find most difficult to write?
I would have to say the most difficult scenes to write were in the concentration camp, specifically when Isaac and Christine first get to Dachau and families are being separated by the guards. I can’t imagine how utterly devastating it must have been to have your child ripped from your arms. I’m not sure I would have survived it.
Where there any research challenges?
No challenges really, but it was a little bit of a trick to get the timeline of the war and the Holocaust right, due to the story covering nearly seven years. I guess the only real challenge was trying to keep myself from getting lost in the research because I was fascinated by the subject matter. I had to make myself stop reading and get back to writing!
What book project do you have coming up next or are currently working on?
Right now I’m working on my second novel. It’s about a young woman who discovers a former insane asylum attic filled with suitcases left behind by patients who checked into the institution but never checked out.
What are you currently reading?
The Rules of Inheritance by Claire Bidwell Smith.
What do you plan on reading next?
The Unfinished Garden by Barbara Claypole White
E-book or Paperback?
Coffee ot tea?
Author Bio & Links:
Ellen Marie Wiseman was born and raised in Three Mile Bay, a tiny hamlet in Northern New York, A first generation American, Ellen has traveled frequently to visit her family in Germany, where she fell in love with the country’s history and culture. She lives peacefully on the shores of Lake Ontario with her husband and three dogs.
Thank you Ellen!