Friday 29 July 2011

More on the Hitler Youth

I’ve been watching some old films about the Hitler Youth, much of it on You Tube. The rousing marching music caused my husband to shut the door of his study. Apparently, it could be heard in Detroit and India, as Martin was on a conference call. Two things struck me immediately:
- The rallies looked like mass hysteria
- The boys – and the girls of the BDM - were incredibly fit and healthy-looking and also very disciplined.
It was disturbing, though, to see some of the comments on You Tube. Not only are the fascist sentiments vicious in content but also in the language used.
There was no doubt massive indoctrination. By the time the boys were recruited for the army they had listened to four years, at least, of Nazi propaganda. The BDM girls were given some more homely, spiritual perspectives. They were still encouraged to take part in sports. However, actual combat was discouraged. Yet some of their sewing was to do with making helmets for soldiers.
Often, the children in both organisations were encouraged to spy on their parents and correct any anti-Nazi behaviour.
The physical discipline, especially for some of the boys, was gruelling and often included 50 mile marches without food or drink.

The girls, boys and the Hitler Youth

I’m rapidly getting towards the real letters. I’m now up to March 1941 and the real letters begin in December 1941. This is the last round before I get on to the real ones.
The girls are now 14-15 and are beginning to get interested in boys. In fact, a couple of the older ones have quite serious boyfriends. There may well be questions to do with conscription coming up later.
I’ve put in some instances of the Hitler Youth that I learnt from yesterday’s research – including some incidents with Charlotte’s quite troublesome younger brother, Thomas. I will have to find out some more about the BDM. (Bund Deutscher Mädel) There isn’t much mention of it in the letters, though I’m sure the girls would have been involved when they were younger.
I’m getting a sense of this “duty” year that young unmarried women used to have to do. It seems form the letters that it’s quite easy to find an opportunity within the family. Hence, Charlotte manages to look after her own blind grandmother. Gerda’s work on the family farm will probably also count.
The more I write, the more questions I ask myself.
Well, I’ve managed over 2000 words since breakfast again today.

Thursday 28 July 2011

Food shortages, the Hitler Youth, conscription, the German Home Guard, the Steiner Schools, 1940s trains and exciting news about the Wilhelm Löhe School

Yes, I’ve got through a variety of topics today.
It seems that food shortages weren’t as severe at the beginning of the war in Germany as they were in the UK. They did have problems with their harvest and they also introduced rationing. But they did not suffer too much because of the blockades and there were plentiful sources of food in the countryside. I’ve already got that in the girls’ earlier letters so I’m pleased I seem to have guessed correctly.
I do need to bring in some more instances of the Hitler Youth. Membership was compulsory for boys aged 10-14 from 1936. However, people could get away with just paying the subscription. By 1930, attendance was expected as well. So the boys in the book would have been in the movement.
Conscription started off being for those who had already done their military service. Then young men 18-25 were called up, then 27-33 then when those died up to 34-44 then 45-54,55-64, then he would start by 15-20 all again.
There was a Heimwehr, very similar to our Home Guard, but in 1944 the Volkssturnm was formed. This was a final attempt to scrape together an army. This may also feature in the novel.
I’ve also found out more about the Steiner schools and what trains were like in 1940. I may also have found a contact at the school that was closed in 1938, the Wilhelm Löhe school. It was the closing of this school that caused the letters to be written.
Not a bad day’s work.

The German girls’ personalities

I’m cracking on now with the early, fictionalised letters. The girls are really getting their personalities and stories formed now. I’m really also getting a very strong feeling for Hanna Braun, their former teacher. I guess I’ll be on to the real letters by the time I go back to work on 8 August.
When I get into the 1941-1944 period, I’ll use actual facts from the real letters but assign them to the most appropriate character. Hanna Braun is, however, herself, so I have to be quite careful about how I use her. At the moment, she is almost being a commentary on what is happening. She doesn’t give too much about herself away.
As a separate project, the letters ought to be translated. And wouldn’t it be great if we could find volumes I and III?
Today’s work has posed some more questions: I need to find out more information about the Hitler Youth movement, the Bund Deutscher Mädcehn, military service – including what it was called – and conscription. When I do find out more about these, I may have to weave some extra material into the text so far. Such is creative writing research.
I’m very pleased that the Wiener Library has got in touch with me via Twitter, offering help. I’m certainly going to visit once they’re open again.

Wednesday 27 July 2011

The Blackout, more Kindertransport, flowers, passports and Steiner education

A varied day’s work. I’ve been reading up a bit on the Blackout – and how it caused many accidents. It was later “dumbed” down and became the dim-out. Reading up on that did emphasise how sure people were that we would soon be at war. It actually started on the 1 September. That was also the day that many schools were evacuated.
I’ve revisited the Kindertransport. This time I was lead to many of the mentions of how the Quakers had helped and now at last I’m beginning to read some reports of how well the Jewish children managed to fit into the English homes. There was another type of exclusion as well. Many “Mischlinge” – like my mother-in-law, were excluded by very orthodox Jews they travelled with. There was much recognition that the host families were very kind but there is also a remaining sense of unease. My mother-in-law did not talk much of her foster family, though she did say that they were kind. She was separated from this family when her school was evacuated to Minehead.
I’ve not had so much luck with the autumn cut flowers – I guess they’re just going to have to be some sort of large daisy- type thing. I may have to revise that whole scene anyway because I possibly have the time of the school evacuation wrong.
I’ve had a good look at some German Jewish passports. I’ve registered on a Jewish genealogy site – but so far found nothing. I’m keeping an eye open for information about Clara Lehrs also.
I’ve just also started an investigation into Steiner education. This is going to be so important for some of the school scenes and also later if I do decide to continue with work on Clara Lehrs.

Some themes in the girls’ letters

I’ve been fictionalising some more of the letters to cover the period 1938-1941 and am now in the period just after the war started. I’m taking my clues from the later letters and I really do notice that there is much talk of the weather and the seasons.
I think also I’m picking up a bit of style from the voices of the girls. This is no bad thing, actually. It may give a greater sense of time and possibly even of place. However, in order to cater for a modern readership, I’m actually making the extracts shorter than the original letters.
Many of the letters also mention the girls’ social duty – the equivalent of military service for the boys / men. Aha, another topic to research.
And so it goes on.

Tuesday 26 July 2011

The Wiener Library and the Holocaust Centre, Laxton (Beth Shalom)

These two museum / archives are going to be extremely useful. They both have so much material. The Wiener Library is a real academic’s dream of an archive. It houses many primary resources and some academic books. I may be able to find some of the records there that I need. It would be useful for instance, to find out exactly when Renate came over and whether she was an official part of the Kindertrasnport or not. They also have a rather good collection of photographs. These will no doubt be very useful in helping to understand daily life.
Sadly, they are closed until September 2011. They are moving to Russell Square. Still, that at least is handy for Euston station.
The Holocaust Centre, Beth Shalom, Laxton, is more of an education centre. Nevertheless, they have identified some excellent theoretical texts about genocide and why it happens. I think my novel explores this in a way as well. I hope I might be able to offer them a talk when I’m further along with the project.

The Girls' Letters

I’ve been working on these quite a bit today and have actually written 1287 new words. I’ve decided to keep the content pretty much as is for the 1942-1944 years, though may have to make them more interesting. I’ve changed the names of the girls and given them fictional personas but retain the same innocence.
I’ve been working on the 1939-1940 letters and am creating the personalities of the girls. This is of course throwing up even more questions about what it was like then and I think I may have to write a little more about the development of the Hitler Youth and the Bund Deutscher Mädel (BDM).
I was pleased that I had found a shape to the novel, though now I realise there are several gaps. However, at least I’ve now been able to start writing again.
I’m shaping the fictional letters in Parts I and III around the significant events in the Renate and the Hanni and Clara stories. Part II will largely be based on the actual letters and will show what is happening to Renate, Hanni and Clara though additional significant events will be told and fictional letters invented if need be.
I’m going to allow Clara’s gruesome end to remain a mystery –as it does to all concerned, though if I do include the epilogue, where the girls meet up as middle-aged women, I may discuss it then. Certainly it will be told in an appendix.
I’m fairly certain I’ll allow Renate to know about her imprisoned teacher by the end of Part III.

Monday 25 July 2011

The Kindertransport

I’ve watched some interesting archive films about the Kindertransport today. It is quite extraordinary that the German authorities actually allowed it to happen. They were probably happy to be rid of some of what they considered to be the superfluous Jewish population. Children were allowed one suitcase, one piece of hand luggage and ten Reichmarks. When they reached the German border, the German authorities were quite brutal. However, Dutch and English officials were much friendlier. Some Dutch women even brought the children hot cocoa.
On the whole, the children were well received in England though one or two were made into servants. They did have to have sponsorship - £50.00 each – the equivalent of about £1000 in today’s money. Some were fostered straight away, whilst others had to go to holding camps to start with. Note, in the film, there were flowers on the breakfast tables. Was this effort made just for the film? A little like Theriesienstadt all over again?
Once the war started, it was harder for children to keep in contact with their parents. Lengthy letters were replaced by 25 word telegrams. A few more characters than Twitter, then?
Those over the age of 16 became enemy aliens and were interned – in many cases transported to Canada. Later, because of poor conditions in those internment camps, they were allowed back to England provided that they joined the forces.
The hope remained that the end of the war would bring reconciliation between parents and children. It often didn’t, because the parents had been killed in the death camps. And even where parents did survive and parents were reunited with children, it was difficult. Six years is a very large slice of a child’s life. Most of them had become very English.

Reshaping the story

I think I’m getting this under control now. I have actually remarshaled everything so I can carry on shaping the story forwards. The middle section I’m very much shaping around the girls’ letters as I have these, and then showing the parallels that happen in Renate’s and Hanni’s story.
I’ve spent some time rereading the letters today and some bits and pieces my mother-in-law – Renate – had written. She has translated about half of the letters and written about the same amount out in modern German. I still have to decipher the rest. The German isn’t a problem, but decoding the gothic script is tricky. Some girls write more clearly than others.
Each new bit I write seems to ask more questions. It reminds me very much of doing my PhD. Of course, often, what I find out then reshapes the story again.
I thought I’d actually made up more of Renate’s story than I had. In fact, though, it was all there in her letters and the autobiography she had started writing.
This really is turning out to be a rewarding project.

Friday 22 July 2011

On the trail of Clara Lehrs

This lady, my husband’s great-grandmother, has been on my mind much today. I’ve been looking at some documentation about Theresienstadt where she went before she was later transferred to Treblinka and killed. Before that, she lived in the Jewish community in Rexingen. This wasn’t exactly a ghetto, but may well have seemed like one then. The Jews were already severely supressed and living in poverty though this was probably preferable to being in a proper ghetto.
It’s a little chilling seeing some of the old photographs. Can one of the people in them be her?
I’ve found some quite moving films about Theresienstadt, though information about life in Rexingen is quite hard to find.
I’ve also been in touch with the people from the Michael Hall school. I’m hoping I can find out more about what it was like when it was evacuated to Minehead.

Revisiting the texts

I’ve really taken the novel so far to pieces. I wasn’t too happy with the shape and I’d got some information from the girls’ letters in the wrong place. Today, however, I’m pleased to say, I’ve found an overall shape for the novel. It will be in three times as well as three strands.
The first part will show the beginnings of the Holocaust as the girls perceive it and the outbreak of World War II. A second section will show a period of relative stability, though not a comfortable period: acceptance of Jewisheness by main character and some familiarity with life during a war. The German’s girls’ innocence will be at its sharpest here. The third part will be about the gradual realisation by all of the players of what is going on – and this will include a nervous breakdown of the main character. The resolution is of the main character accepting Englishness, the German girls wanting to do something to rectify the situation and the efforts of Clara Lehrs paying off –even though the reader has to come to terms with her horrific death. The challenge will be making the ending upbeat but not in danger of playing down the horror.
I may include an epilogue later on: I may describe the reunion of the women who wrote the letters.
As usual, when one looks at what one has written previously, one finds a thousand faults with the writing. It’s hardly surprising that this time the faults are even greater: I’ve not touched the text for over three years. Hopefully, my normal editing routines will rectify this.
I’m now almost certain that my next project might be a biography of Clara Lehrs – possibly written for young adults.

Gianfranco Moscati Collection

This is housed at the Imperial War Museum, London. Fortunately for me, most of the documents are displayed online and they are all described.
I am finding this a most useful and a most interesting collection. It contains some of the documents that one of the main characters and her friends and family would be familiar with at the time the story took place. We have a few of my mother-in-law’s papers and they tell their own story. They look very similar to the ones in the collection.
Naturally, it’s not quite the same looking at the collection on line as it is actually seeing the papers for real. The actual papers speak to the other senses as well. I guess to handle the papers in the collection, one would need white gloves. We never use white gloves at home. Maybe we should.
On a more general note, I’m observing how revisiting my fictional text has raised dozens more research questions.
Bottom line, I guess, though still is: How did teenage German girls understand the Holocaust?

Gianfranco Moscati Collection

Saturday 9 July 2011

School visits offered

I am offering school visits to do with The Potatoes in Spring project. There is a two-fold purpose to this:
- To raise funds to help me complete the project
- Disseminate knowledge gained from the research to date
Cost is whatever the school can afford, and as long as that at least covers my travelling expenses I’m happy to come to your school. No amount is too small, once expenses are covered but bear in mind that the Society of Authors recommended rate is £350 a day.
You may be interested to know that:
- I have public liability insurance up to £10,000,000
- I am CRB checked (enhanced)
- I am an experienced teacher and workshop provider
- I write for children and young adults.
The talks / workshops on offer cover:
- The viewpoint of 13 year old German girls during World War II and about the Holocaust (based on letters written between 1941 and 1943) We shudder at the Holocaust but here we might find some explanation of how it came about even though people are basically and usually big-hearted
- The extraordinary story of a Catholic woman, Jewish by nationality, who helped to keep a school for disabled children going. This woman was later forced to sell her home, was moved to a ghetto, then to Theresienstadt and was later killed at Treblinka
- The story of her granddaughter who was one of the first to arrive on the Kindertransport. This young woman had to endure a break-down as her mother was being bombed by the Germans in London and her father by the Allies in Berlin, before she began to recognize Britain as her home.
If you are interested in booking me for any of these talks please contact me via comment box or email me. 

Inspection Copy Offer

If you are interested in one of my workshops based on The House on Schellberg Street, I’m offering you a copy of the book. If you go on to book a workshop, you may keep the book free of charge.  Otherwise, you may return the book or if you decide to keep it but not book a workshop, I’ll invoice you for the book.     

A new approach to funding

Although I am resigned to the fact that I will now have to be self-funding, I am still looking at other opportunities. My strategy is, therefore, to:
Continue to look for new funding streams
Offer school visits for donations
Monetize this site – something I’ve been unwilling to do, but will for a while at least.
I’ll also set up a page that gives all of the terms and conditions about the school visits.

Friday 1 July 2011

Disappointment re Funding

I did not get the British Academy grant I applied for. 1,500 people applied for them and only 25% were successful. They had to turn down some very strong applications, they said.
Was mine one of those? Or did it continue to fall between two stools? It is a creative project yet it includes some rigorous historical research. It’s always quite difficult to get funding for that sort of project.
Well, I’ll just have to look elsewhere. Time is rolling by, however. It is generally more difficult to get funding. More people are chasing fewer pots.
The British Academy said that they had turned down some projects in areas that have been well researched. Well, yes the Holocaust had been investigated over and over, but I think this project differs in two ways:
- It gives an unusual German point of view - a genuine innocent one.
- I have such a good primary resource – the letters the German girls wrote 1941-1943.
It is extraordinarily relevant today. Many Germans, including these 13-17 year old girls, found what was said to be happening so terrible it couldn’t possibly be true.
Like I find myself thinking that the present government has got it so wrong they can’t possibly last. Yet I have a fear that they will. Because look what happened in the 1930s and 1940s in Germany. Amongst other disturbing actions, our government is getting rid of libraries in towns and schools and humanities form the universities. Isn’t that the equivalent of burning books? Possibly even worse because it’s more subtle. And now they’re talking of refusing work to non-British people. What next? Isn’t that how it started with the Jews? Let’s hope we remember. I’m trying to work out why ordinary people could have done that.
So, the project must go ahead.
I’ll try microfunding. I’ll even put a donate button on this sight.
One intention anyway is to do a series of school visits. I’ll offer these for a donation.
I’m looking to raise just under £5000. If I raise more, it can go to one of the Holocaust charities.
Please let me know if you come across any likely funders.