I was not familiar with the Cook sisters or their role in helping people escape Nazi Germany, but I found Ida Cook's memoir (of the years from their youthful discovery of opera, through the efforts to save those who tried to escape Hitler's Germany, through their personal experiences of the Blitz) a touchingly human experience of courage and resilience.
First published in 1950 as Safe Passage, republished in 1976 as We Followed Our Stars, and again in 2021 as The Bravest Voices.
In the 1920's the sisters discovered opera and were dedicated fans of both conductors and opera singers. The first of the book deals with this era of saving meager salaries to attend performances. I'm not an opera aficionado, but the love of these two young women for the music and for the performers was impressive.
The second section deals with how some of their operatic friends became involved with aiding escapes from Nazi Germany in the late 1930's. Austrian conductor Clemens Krauss and his wife his wife Viorica Ursuleac first introduced the sisters to the dangers of those trying to escape before being killed or put in concentration camps. The sisters used the excuse of attending operas to get in and out of Germany to arrange safe passage for refugees until war broke out. Krauss scheduled operas that aided their efforts.
After war closed the borders, and it was no longer possible to aid refugees, Ida describes her own families experience with the Blitz. At one point she mentions the bombs hitting the book centers and the books and burning pages spread over London. It reminded me of this photograph of a boy reading books outside a bombed book shop.
Ida Cook also wrote Harlequin Romances under the name Mary Burchell, and I'm tempted to see if I can find a book still in print.
There is a certain innocence in this book and a freshness of voice that kept me engaged. I may never fully appreciate opera, but Ida Cook's descriptions of different voices intrigued and surprised me.
I truly enjoyed this book which gives another view of WWII experiences.
In 1965, Israel s Yad Vashem named Ida and Louise Cook Righteous Among the Nations. Ida died in 1986 at the age of 82, and Louise in 1991 at the age of 90. In 2010, they were posthumously honored as Heroes of the Holocaust by the British Government.
History/WWII. Jan. 19, 2021. Print length: 256 pages.