How lucky are we all to have people like Ruta Sepetys in the world who refuse to allow us to forget humanity’s tragic past? With her newest novel Salt to the Sea we are forced once again to examine things that history would prefer we forgot. World War II and all the atrocities that went with it are an ugly stain in the twentieth century. All throughout my school career I’ve heard what was done to the Jews in Europe and how they were slaughtered simply for what they believed in. What I had never heard about until I read Between Shades of Gray was what happened to the people of the Baltics. Their story is something we were not allowed to know. Just like the story of the Wilhelm Gustloff was not something we were allowed to know.
It was a single moment in history that killed thousands of people and yet it took until Ruta told me about it for me to learn about it. We’ve had tons of movies and books and specials about the Titanic hitting an iceberg and sinking. On that ship between 1,500 and 1,700 people perished in the ice-cold sea. The Wilhelm Gustloff sinking by a Russain submarine caused around 9,000 deaths. This was wartime though, the Germans couldn’t report about the sinking of this ship because it would cause those fighting for Hitler to lose hope so they let the memories of all the victims drown too. I live in a 2016 world and I had never heard of this until Ruta mentioned it, most people have never heard of it at all. When I got to the point of the sinking in the book some of the characters mentioned how this was going to be huge news and how no one would be able to forget it. That part hit me more than any other part of this story. It should have been news. We should not have forgotten it, but we did.
This is a heartbreaking story of truth that has been covered up for so long. It’s part of our history and I knew going into this book that history is sometimes ugly and Ruta was not going to cover that up. She does a fantastic job of showing up the realities of the lives of people living in Europe during the war. It makes you wonder how many other stories are out there that we don’t know about yet. How many more voices are begging to be heard?