In a crowded field of books about the atrocities of WWII, Courage in the Face of Evil by Mark Shaw stands apart as 95% of Shaw’s text comes directly from the diary of Holocaust survivor Cecilia Rexin, a Christian German nurse who dared to oppose the Nazi regime. Having renamed Cecilia Rexin to Vera Konig, Shaw’s protagonist Vera narrates the story of her life as a political prisoner in Ravensbrück, a concentration camp reserved for women and children. Using Rexin’s first-person record, Shaw’s narrative paints a very detailed picture of the day-to-day horrors of life for those whom Hitler despised. It’s these details that distinguish Courage in the Face of Evil from other novels in the WWII genre.
As Shaw endeavors to let the words of Rexin’s diary speak for themselves, the first quarter of his text reads a bit like a news report. But once Vera’s situation has been firmly established, a compelling plotline begins to develop. The suspense builds when Vera, having received a “gift of hope” from God, strives to keep this gift safely hidden from the SS guards. This gift compels Vera, along with several trusted “friends,” to act courageously even when their own lives are at stake.
During her incarceration, Vera questions what would make a human being treat another human being with relentless violence and humiliation. She struggles to understand how God allows hundreds of innocent women and children to endure beatings, starvation, torture, and murder? On several occasions, Vera experiences this manifestation of Nazi hatred first-hand, and though God does not spare her from the Nazis’ wrath, she stays true to her faith and continually petitions Him for mercy and grace. As she attempts to reconcile God’s call to love all mankind, including one’s enemies, with the overwhelming price one must pay to show that love, He blesses her along the way with kindness and encouragement from like-minded others.
Shaw presents Vera’s story in three parts: the first part recounts Vera’s time in Ravensbrück where she works as a medic; the second part recounts Vera’s time in Ravensbrück’s jail where she’s punished for thinking she was “smart enough to get by with stealing expensive medication for those Jewish pigs;” and the third part recounts Vera’s time in Auschwitz, the infamous concentration camp known for its gas chambers. In each part of the text, Shaw includes a photo or two. Presumably, the photos belonged to Cecilia Rexin, but because there are no captions, the photographs’ context is unclear, and they don’t necessarily enhance the reader’s experience.
Throughout Shaw’s novel, Vera and others experience the worst of human nature, yet their lives exemplify this truth: love overcomes darkness, and loving others — especially those whose beliefs, values, and actions contradict one’s own — takes courage and self-sacrifice. Courage in the Face of Evil challenges those who follow Christ, whether in the face of evil or not, to capture Vera’s spirit and live according to God’s greatest command.