Friday 30 September 2011

Confessions and Ghettoes

The Spielberg collection did me proud again yesterday.
There was some interesting footage from inside the ghettoes. Many of the players, though, were quite obsessed with appearing on camera so it was hardly fly-on-the-wall material. It did strike me though how different these people seemed from the ones I’d seen earlier enjoying a Sunday afternoon in Vienna and a family summer holiday in Zandvort. Yet they were presumably the same types of people. Those people not angling to be included on the film could be seen in the background. Many looked bored. Others were working hard at something – inevitably with the wrong tools – often suing a sledge hammer to crack a nut.
It was sobering listening to the interview with MauriceRossel who was one of the Red Cross inspectors who had visited Thereisenstadt and approved what was going on there. He admits he was wrong. However, arguably, the Nazis had made a good job of making it look fine whilst inspectors were there and no inmate dared say otherwise.
There was also a lot of footage of interviews with RichardGlazar who had worked in Treblinka. He had come to realise what was going on and where the tunnel that went to the gas chambers was leading. Yes, people were hit on the head and sent straight into the ovens. This happened especially to children. The inmates in the know feared having to do work that involved them in the death of others. They feared this more than dying. Glazar did manage to escape.                

Cheese Cake and Lemonade

Peter Hunt lists food as being one of the vital ingredients in literature for children. It gives a feeling of home. My novel is actually for teens / YA and it’s the love of home meeting the anxiety about losing it that causes some of the tension in the scenes I’m writing now.
Nevertheless, the thought of the homemade cheesecake and the homemade lemonade had my mouth watering as I wrote.
I’m portraying Clara Lehrs as a good homemaker yet she is just about to sell her home. Hani loves her cakes, even though at the moment she can’t enjoy the excellent cheese cake offered by Frau Lehrs. The cake really is symbolising home here for her. Perhaps I’ll include recipes on the web site or in the appendices in the book… 


Thursday 29 September 2011

Steven Spielberg Video and Film Archive

This is totally awesome. Yet another invaluable resource provided by the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. I can tell I’m going to be a long time going through all that this archive has to offer.
Yesterday I spent a couple of hours looking at some amateur footage. This can give an authentic record of history as it happened. Most disturbing probably was a few minutes’ film about death and the dying at Dachau.
There were quite a lot of reels about daily life for Jewish families – before the Holocaust really got a grip. Of course, these were well-to-do families – who else could afford their own cine camera? Maybe one can understand there would be a little jealousy and resentment. Nevertheless, it is quite sobering to think that within five to ten years of these very light-hearted little scenes, the players would either all be dead or scarred for life.    

Adding sup-plots and making connections

Some of the research I did yesterday and a remark by another academic have made me consider a small sub plot. In fact, I’ve done more than consider it; I’ve pretty well decided to go ahead with it. I’m going to include a lesbian couple. This gives a chance for some reconciliation between Hani and some of the girls who bully her in the BDM. Towards the end of the book she will find out that they are lesbian and they will need her help. She will not be vindictive. Gay and lesbian people were as much abhorred by the Nazi regime as non-Aryans, gypsies and other people the Third Reich considered tarnished.    
I have also got to the part now where Clara Lehrs is about to have to sell her house. She realises that it is too late for her to escape as her daughter and granddaughter have. She also supposes that things can’t get any worse – they can only get better. She does realise that it might be dangerous for Hani to write to Renate, but because Germany is not yet at war with England she herself is still getting letters from Renate and Kathe. She shows Hani a letter Renate has sent. Thus I can pull something from the Renate thread into the Hani thread.  I’ll have to be careful about dates and content but it already seems to make the novel more coherent to me.             

Wednesday 28 September 2011

Fascinating Archives at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum

This museum contains some fascinating archival material that can all be viewed on line.
I have found particular useful the photos of staff fromAuschwitz, and the accounts of various survivors. The highlighted collections change every day. Yesterday they were showing one about Theresienstadt, which I intend to look at today. It is possible that Clara Lehrs- or should I say Klara Sarah Lehrs – was there for a while. In looking for this, I came across several more archives that I now need to look at.
I envisage being on this site for rather a long time.        

YA Pace in a Novel Set in 1939-1945

I’m currently trying to balance keeping to the truth as far as I can, trying to make my text as authentic as possible and trying to bring in the necessary pace to make this novel acceptable to young adults.  I’m working on the Hani thread, and this involves a 14/15 year old girl – she will be 20 by the end of the novel – helping to look after some “hidden” children. They weren’t Jewish but they did suffer from mental illnesses. No one knows how they got away with keeping this little school going. But as soon as the war was over, the Special Class came back out into the open.
I guess quite a lot of tension will come from some near misses. I am going to have to fictionalize that. I guess, though, I’ll be basing a lot of my material on other similar stories.
Hani will be a little strange to some 21st century readers. She is definitely upper middle class. No internet or mobile phones, of course. Yet I’m making her a typical young adult at the moment – mood swings, self-centredness, awkwardness, worry about appearance etc.
Also, some German words are creeping in and certainly some cultural elements. Sometimes the way the characters speak pick up the nuances of German syntax and reflect a generally slower way of life. On the other hand she thinks Hitler is a “nutter” and she uses the word “gross” when she thinks about some of the girls offering to sleep with him.
It is also clear that although Hani is sympathetic towards the mentally ill children she does not understand mental illness. I will probably have to make Doctor Schubert more knowledgeable – more research will be needed here. That, however, might be for a second project – a biography of Clara Lehrs.                        

Tuesday 27 September 2011

The Horst Wessel Song

This song is actually banned in Germany and Austria and I feel slightly daring in even mentioning it here. I’m certainly not going to provide a link. I’m not even going to advertise this particular blog post. If you’ve stumbled across it, you’ve stumbled across it. I worry a little that I played a recording of it on my computer yesterday. Yet I don’t really need to worry: even in Austria and Germany, mention can be made of it if one is investigating history as I know I am now.
It became the National Anthem during the Nazi time and at the same time was the Nazi theme tune.  The words have been adapted to suit many causes, some of them opposite in intention from the Nazi idealism.
It started life reasonably innocently. The tune is anyway a well-established folk melody. The words are from a poem by Wessel. Even though he was probably deluded and fanatical when he wrote the words, he had probably not intended them to be used for propaganda. The song was adopted in memory of Wessel.
Does he deserve such an honour? Probably not. He was dismissed form university because of his relationship with a prostitute. He actually died of wounds sustained when he was involved in a street brawl.
So many of the Nazi leaders who were idealised at the time were actually conning the people. Hitler himself gave the impression of being a never-tiring, hard-working soldier-leader. In fact, he rarely got up before midday. It was reported at first that he had died resisting the liberators whereas in fact he had shot himself.
I do feel this song has to be mentioned.  All of the people in my novel would have heard it frequently. I also feel that it is part of the horror of that time. We need to know what this was and we must not just totally repress it.          

Writing, research, writing research

I seem now to be involved in an ever-expanding cycle of writing and research. For example, today I worked on the scene where Hani turns up at Haus Lehrs and finds the Special Class from the now closed down Waldorf School in full swing in the cellar. Now, I’m not sure whether this class was held in the cellar, though I’m guessing it probably was because it had to be hidden. So, immediately I had to know what Haus Lehrs loked like. Did it have the type of cellar that you could use as a normal living space?  Many German houses do have such cellars, but not all of them. Would the porch door be open, but with a chain on the actual front door as I’ve portrayed it? How many children were in this class? What were they like? What was Karl Schubert, their teacher, like?
Many of the questions don’t actually arise until you start the writing and then you want a fairly immediate answer. Thank goodness for the Internet! But of course, that is only the start and is not all that reliable. It can, nevertheless, lead you to all sorts of more critical, more reliable articles and papers.
And, on a more mundane level, I’ve had to fiddle with a bike so that I can remember what it is like when you have a really bad puncture.
All part of the writing life!