Maria Gulovich, OSS Heroine of World War II: The Schoolteacher Who Saved Lives in Slovakia Reviewed By Kathryn Atwood Of Bookpleasures.com
Reviewer Kathryn Atwood:Â Kathryn is the author of Women Heroes of World War II: 26 Stories of Espionage, Sabotage, Resistance, and Rescue:Â Click Here To View More Of Kathryn'sÂ Â Reviews.View all articles by Kathryn Atwood
Author: Sonya N. Jason
In a way, Maria Gulovich was an accidental heroine of WWII but in a profound way, she was a very deliberate one. No one forced her to hide Jews in the Slovakian grade school where she was a teacher, but when a leader of the Slovakian underground discovered what she had done, he gave her a choice: either face Nazi arrest for hiding Jews or work as a courier for the Slovakian underground. She chose to become a courier.
When the Slovakian Uprising collapsed before the unrelenting Nazi war machine and one of its strategic centers, the town of Banska Bystrica, became (in Maria’s opinion) like a scene out of Dante’s Inferno, Maria was abandoned there by the Soviets, she had been working for and invited to join the Americans, who had been working in the town for the OSS Dawes mission.
The Dawes mission was in Slovakia ostensibly in order to rescue downed American airmen and provide assistance to the Slovakian Uprising, but it was also an intelligence mission. It was designed to discover, among other things, the exact nature of the USSR influence on the area and also the USSR relationship with the Czechoslovakian government-in-exile.
When the Nazis took possession of Banska Bystrica, the Dawes mission base, the Americans were forced to flee. They had already met Maria briefly, and when they saw that she had been abandoned by the Soviets, they invited her to flee with them.
The Americans from the Dawes mission never once regretted that decision. Over the next months, while they endured the Slovakian winter, freezing treks through the Tatra Mountains, starvation, and the constant threat of betrayal and capture, Maria worked as their guide, interpreter, cook, and valuable liaison to the Slovakian villagers, who often supplied the Americans with food and shelter. Maria was often urged by these villagers to leave the Americans in order to save her own life, but she steadfastly refused to do so.
Author Sonya Jason interviewed a myriad of knowledgeable people while researching Maria Gulovich and the book emerges as not only a riveting, detailed wartime biography of the central heroine but also of the Dawes mission itself. Ms. Jason has absolute control over the myriad and potentially confusing alliances, espionage missions, and ethnic groups involved in the story of the Dawes mission and she is able to convey all this quite clearly to her readers in what is often a near-cinematic experience.
But unlike the cinema, where one can always recognize a familiar face, one cannot always recall names precisely while reading a book, especially when there are as many characters as are present in Maria Gulovich..
However, to highlight the work of the Dawes mission and its central heroine is a notable and worthy undertaking and Jason has done an excellent job of bringing this often-marginalized story – and its major players – to life in an unforgettable way.