the Odds: A Boyhood Under Nazi-Occupied France
By George M Burnell, MD
by Vincent J Felitti, MD
IN: 1st Books Library, 2002, 396 p $19.95 [paperback]
the Odds is the autobiographical story of a Jewish adolescence spent
in Nazi-occupied, World War II France. The author is former Hawaii Permanente
Chief of Psychiatry, George Burnell, MD. Another of Dr Burnell's books,
Final Decisions, was favorably reviewed in The Permanente
Journal's Spring 1998 issue1 and provided a broad, sensible
look at end-of-life decisions by and for dying patients. Although Final
Decisions and Beating the Odds describe lives at opposite
ends of a lifetime, both books share a theme of people doing their best
under conditions of mortal threat.
readable book discusses survival in situations where people have lost
most personal control over their lives. The story illustrates the long-term
effects of losing key attachment figures during childhood and of unexpected
salvation by others--and how those events have impact decades later.
On a larger scale, the book is a firsthand commentary on the most societally
significant event of the twentieth century and raises questions that
are relevant even today. Speaking of the tragic political inaction that
led to a more advanced German military position when the United States
entered the war, Dr Burnell comments, "It was not just the politics
of isolationism in America that was responsible for the inertia, but
also the fact that the Western [European] countries were not interested
in getting help from the United States."2:p32 Dr Burnell
uses the same analysis for current events: "Again nations are debating,
who should intervene? Whose problem is it? How much money, weapons,
arms, soldiers can we spare? Why can't diplomacy resolve this problem?"2:p214
Although the story of the Vichy government, Marshal Pétain of
the French Resistance Movement, and Nazi collaborators in France will
not be remembered firsthand by all readers of this book, the story is
one in which we all are actors: The names change, but the same story
has been repeated throughout human history and undoubtedly will be again.
We must therefore now ask ourselves the same questions asked about World
War II: When is a horrible situation our problem? At what point
should we resist and fight? When is it too early and when is
it too late to intervene?
course of recounting the early part of his life, Dr Burnell has described,
on an individual level, the universal problems we all face. "I
was a child playing with toys when the war started and [was] going on
sixteen when it ended. Like thousands of French Jewish teenagers, my
growing years were filled with episodes of fear and terror, which would
remain dormant and buried inside for years to come."2:p350
Dr Burnell closes this interesting book by finding in war an epigram
for psychiatry: "In the end, I think it is truly a wonder of the
human spirit that people, when thrown into pits of despair, can rise
against all odds and create a life of hope and meaning."2:p355
RE. "Final choices: to live or to die in an age of medical technology,"
by George M Burnell, MD: a book review. Perm J 1998 Spring;2(2):77.
GM. Beating the odds: a boyhood under Nazi-occupied France. Bloomington
(IN): 1stBooks Library; 2002.