Friday 28 October 2011

Contacting the Stolperstein Organisation

I have just spent about an hour writing to the Stolperstein organisation in Stuttgart. I confirmed that Clara Lehrs was deported to Treblinka in 1942 – they had only presumed this in their description. I also suggested a reason why the Hilfsklasse school in Clara’s house may have survived. This relates to a story my mother-in-law used to tell us about a school in Stuttgart. The home guard refused to burn it down. The Hitler Youth did as well. The BDM had to do it in the end – and they would have been severely punished if they had not – but not before they’d got all of the children out and rescued all of the books. The school opened again immediately after the war. It actually did rather better than the normal Waldorf School.
And thank goodness my German is fluent. Yes, I had my big dictionary at my elbow as I worked.  I haven’t done that for a while and I quite liked the familiarity of it. I’m also rather pleased that I only had to look up two words – one of which wasn’t in the dictionary so I had to improvise and the other which I’d guessed right in the first place.     

Fitting the Timelines Together

World War II is still the glue that fits the three story liens together.  It can’t be the Holocaust as such because the players at the time did not know there was a Holocaust. There is a growing suspicion of something being not quite right. Readers will understand, of course but we have to allow the girls their innocence – especially the German girls.
Today we’ve had an incendiary bomb destroy the few valuable belongings that Kathe and Renate managed to bring out of Germany. Bing Crosby has recorded White Christmas and everyone is singing it at Christmas 1942. The Christmas treat is going to see Holiday Inn. The girls form the Post office has disappeared – she became nineteen just after women of nineteen were called up. Berlin is being hammered.
On a more personal level, and in line with Kindertransport trauma experience, Renate finds she has forgotten the words to the German Christmas carols. In fact she is beginning to forget her German entirely. And she wonders whether her friend Angela-from-the-Post-Office will soon be organising the dropping of bombs on Nuremberg and on her father.               

Thursday 27 October 2011

The War Papers

I have spent quite a bit of time today cataloguing these facsimile newspapers and seeing where they fit into my timeline. They were published by Peter Way and Marshall Cavendish Part Works. They include considerable detail. The first 25 are simply facsimile papers.  Thereafter, they are grouped together by theme and some extra information is given.  For example 66 is all about Hitler, and includes papers  from 1934 and 1945, the former being about his rise to power and the latter reporting his death.
I’m taking a very quick look at the papers as I’m flicking through. As these contain all of the features of the original newspapers, there are all the usual components – including some spin about some purpose-built flats for rent that would have “reasonable rents and good ARP cover”.
We are used to being told sunset and sunrise times in newspapers these days. In the 1950s and 1960s we had “lighting up times”. War-time papers displayed “black-out” and later “dim-out” times.                          

World War II as a Character

World War II certainly has a shape and an influence on the girls in this story, and is as important as the Holocaust itself. The Blitz is over but we are now into the Baedeker raids where historical cities are getting hammered. Dunkirk has happened and we’re beginning to recover. The provinces are no longer immune. The Germans are beginning to suffer in the East and they’re now talking about the Final Solution though none of the players in my story are aware of that yet. The readers, of course, most likely will be.  
I have a truly useful resource. The War Papers. There are facsimile newspapers produced in the late 1970s. They are so useful as they supply in the moment information.
I was looking for some information about June 1942 and found myself recording the number of each paper on my Timeline chart that pulls the three strands of my novel  together.  Most of the dates match exactly! Did I somehow remember that?
The papers are not ordered chronologically but rather in loose themes. Sometime later today, I shall finish going through them.                    

Wednesday 26 October 2011

Good Germans

Of course there are good Germans. Thousands of them- millions even. I’m sure there are many Germans amongst the 250 good people I know well. And there were good Germans, too, between 1938 and 1946.
I’ve just come back from seeing the play Good by C.P. Taylor at the Exchange Theatre. John Halder is a doctor and he believes in euthanasia for the terminally mentally ill who have no quality of life. He comes towards a Nazi ideal through the highest motives. On the other hand, his friend Maurice, a Jew who refuses to save himself, loves Frankfurt and hates other Jews apart from his wife and children. Both Halder and Maurice think that Hitler is an aberration that will soon pass.  The racism against Jews is just a moment of madness that will also pass.   
And in my story Kathe Edler is defending some of their German friends.  “There are good Germans too,” she tells Renate.  She quotes Renate’s father, their former servants, and their friends in Stuttgart.   
Did I include this scene today because I knew I was going to see Good? Or do I have a similar message to Taylor? That the whole situation is complex, that it is not possible to judge and that it cannot be defined in black and white terms.   
The play was brilliant and I can recommend it. It made very clever use of music.           

Tuesday 25 October 2011


I’ve been looking at some documents and film footage today about this rather disturbing group who played a significant role in the Holocaust. At first they were mistaken as Nazi collaborators. They did indeed work with the Nazis. They would show other Jews into the gas chambers, pull them out afterwards, help with the burning of the corpses, cut off women’s hair, and sort clothing and jewellery. However, they did not volunteer for these duties. They were forced to do them. If they refused, they would be killed in a particular nasty way.
Many Jews realised what was happening. Able-bodied young men were picked for this job and though many of them would rather die than do this work, if they refused, they would not die comfortably.   
The SS actually did the killing and it was the Sonderkommando’s duty to help cover up the Nazi crimes and recoup as much material wealth form the Jews as possible.
One group did rebel and there was an uprising at Auschwitz where one of the crematoria was destroyed. They had been helped in this by a young woman who had managed to smuggle small quantities of gunpowder form a munitions plant.