Friday 25 April 2014


In our story we read about bombs dropping on Nuremberg and London. There are no actual scenes, except in Renate’s nightmares, where bombs are dropped. We might suppose Renate has experienced them during visits to her mother in London. She was naturally worried about what might be happening to her mother in London, her father in Nuremberg and her grandmother in Stuttgart. It was partly this concern, alongside her confusion about her identity and her overwork, that caused her breakdown.
Actually, all three were spared injury and death from bombs. However, some of the property that Renate and her mother had managed to bring out of Germany was destroyed by an incendiary bomb.     
The Blitz on London began on 7 September 1940. The war had been slow to get started but began to feel real in March 1940. The beginning of the Blitz marked a change in German tactics; they were now prepared to attack British civilians. The Blitz, this intense time of bombing, ended on 11 May 1941. Other bombing raids still happened but they were less intense. 3000 Londoners were killed on the final night of the Blitz.
There are plenty of short films on You Tube to give you an impression of what a raid on London felt like. The Imperial War Museum North sometimes shows 360 degree films of the Blitz.
Nuremberg was in ruins by the end of the war. Two years after the war ended, when Renate went back there, there would still have been more rubble than whole buildings. See here. The most significant raids took place on: 
29 August 1942
26 February 1943
9 March 1943
28 August 1943
30/31 March 1944
3 October 1944
2 January 1945
20 February 1945
16 March 1945
5 April 1945

Friday 11 April 2014


This took place during the night 9-10 November 1938. In the Hani strand of the novel, Hani remembers seeing the aftermath of it during the morning of 10 November. She recalls this when her BDM leader is talking about the enemies of the state – the Jews.

Käthe and Hans Elders’ divorce papers indicate that Käthe left the family home of 15 November 1938. We know that this was not true. Yet it seems a reasonable date to use as this would have been a few days after the Kristallnacht. The fictional Kellermann cake shop is destroyed in our story but reopens after the war.

Kristallnacht is sometimes translated into English as “The Night of the Broken Glass”. Shops and businesses belonging to Jews were ransacked by SA and SS personal and civilians. The Police condoned it. Synagogues were set on fire and whilst fire crews prevented the fires from spreading to neighbouring buildings- so long as they belonged to Aryan Germans – little was done to put these fires out. The fire crew that attends Haus Lehrs in our story show a similar attitude.
 The trigger of the attacks was the assassination of German diplomat Ernst vom Rath by Herschel Grynszpan, a German-born Polish Jew in Paris. Ernst vom Rath was considered to be quite a mild Nazi who had in fact resisted anti-Semitism. This seemed to add insult to injury in the Nazi’s eyes. The Jews were already having quite a hard time under Nazi rule: the 1935 Nuremberg Laws had already taken many of their rights away. 
The event on 9 November 1938 is well named. It was a night of broken glass – Kristall – but it also crystallised the Nazi attitude. It is often named as the beginning of the Holocaust. One international reaction to the Kristallnacht was the setting up of the Kindertransport. Obviously Hans and Käthe

Edler had given this some thought. Six weeks later they at last told Renate that she was Jewish. Six weeks after that she was on her way to England. 

A lot of the shops could be looted. Who would do that? 
Why do you think the Germans felt so angry about the Jews? 
Was Ernst von Rath's assassination a justification or an excuse? 
Sometimes we are surprised that certain people, ourselves included, actually join in looting parties. Why do people who normally keep to the laws  suddenly start doing something so peculiar?        


Enemy Aliens

Both Renate and Käthe Edler were defined as Enemy Aliens, Class B. This meant that they did not have to be interned. They were allowed a certain amount of freedom but they did have some restrictions. They couldn’t travel more than ten miles away from home without special permission, be out after a curfew of 10 p.m. or be near the coast or a munitions factory without special permission. However, this permission was usually granted. Renate really did have a similar incident with a bike to the one in the story.
Renate did not become an “enemy alien” until her sixteenth birthday.
A Class A alien was considered a danger to the state and was interned. This included some of the people who had originally come on the Kindertransport, which is slightly puzzling as many refugees were classified as C – no threat at all. However, several male internees later joined the British forces.
Perhaps it was because Renate and Käthe considered themselves German rather than Jewish that they were not given complete freedom.      

Food for thought: 

Why do you think the rules about what Enemy Aliens Class B could do were made?
How might these rules have affected someone like Renate?
How might it have affected her mother?  (She lived in London for much of World War II.)     



Steiner Schools

The Waldorf School that had closed in Hani’s story and the one that Renate went to first in Streatham and then in Minehead are Steiner schools. They often cater for disabled children and that is how the Special Class that was taught at Haus Lehrs came about.
The school curriculum offered is based upon the teachings of Rudolph Steiner, an anthroposophist. Steiner schools still exist today. They offer a very wide education. In the UK they embrace the National Curriculum and take their students beyond it. In Germany, where state education has a lot of respect, the Steiner School organisation offers private schools that are highly regarded.
The school in Stuttgart was the very first Steiner school in the world. In Germany, Steiner schools are called Waldorf Schools.
There is a great emphasis on creativity in the Steiner school system. Students and staff alike produce beautiful pictures and other works of art. Renate is astonished by the colourful details of the pictures on the blackboard when she first sees them. The children in the Special Class at Haus Lehrs are often involved in art and craft activities.      
All lessons are very cross-curricular and Main Lesson each day is sacrosanct. The core subjects of the curriculum are taught in thematic blocks and all lessons include a balance of artistic, practical and intellectual content. Whole class, mixed ability teaching is the norm.
The Nazi government closed down the Waldorf Schools in 1938.

Germany does not have many private schools but it does approve of the Streiner schools. Why do you think this is so?  
In many ways the Waldorf / Steiner schools were ahead of their times. How does the school in the books compare with your own school? 
These schools are known for promoting creativity.  What do you understand by that? 

The Kindertransport

Renate Edler came to England form Germany on the Kindertransport. She didn’t realise she was Jewish until half an hour before she and her mother departed to Stuttgart for Christmas in December 1938. On 28 January 1939 she set off on a Kindertransport train to England.
Every child on the Kindertransport had to be sponsored to the tune of £50.00 – the equivalent of about £3500 today.  This was to pay for later repatriation. It was absolutely essential that the children should not become a burden on the state. There was a lot of poverty in the United Kingdom at the time and there was a great fear that allowing adult refugees in would lead to anti-Semitism.
In Renate’s case it was likely that her own family paid this. In other cases, various charities helped out. The Quakers played a huge part in this - they sponsored many children and also provided people to accompany them. If any German nationals accompanied the children and failed to return, the Kindertransport would be stopped.
There was much confusion in Germany about who was allowed to leave. Although the Nazi regime wanted the Jews out of Germany they did not make it easy for people to leave. Evacuees needed an exit visa from Germany, a passport, and an entry visa for the country they were going to. The British authorities actually only required that the children carried their own ID card.
The children were only allowed one small suitcase, one piece of hand luggage and 10 Reichmarks. Their luggage was scrutinised at the German border by the SS. Also, most of the trains left on a Saturday – 28 January 1939 was also a Saturday – which was particularly difficult for orthodox Jews.  
If the Germans were cruel, the Dutch were kind.  Dutch women greeted the children at the border with drinks of hot chocolate, cake, small gifts for the very young and blankets.
Most of the Kinder came in via Harwich and then Liverpool Street Station in London – which is why the memorial to the Kindertransport is there. At Liverpool Street it must have felt like a bit of a cattle market. They waited there for people to collect them.  They still wore their label. Some children already had families to got to – perhaps friends of the family of foster friends who had been found for them – as some were taken to a camp and were collected alter by people who were prepared to foster them. Again, we had a cattle market syndrome. Foster parents would pick out the cutest looking children – or occasionally those who looked as if they might be able to work hard. Renate was greeted by her uncles who had already found a good foster home for her.
The United Kingdom rescued almost 10,000 Jewish and Mischling children from Nazi Germany via the Kindertransport. This was far more than any other country. Yet it was only a small number – 500,000 children died in the Holocaust.
Many of the Kinder were not treated well. Even if they were – and Renate was – they might not have been happy. The initial wave of home-sickness may have included:
·         Missing central heating
·         Having to travel upstairs on a bus (though because this was a novelty it may have actually been a treat!)
·         Missing the cosy German bedroll.
·         Having to sleep on oblong pillows instead of square ones.
·         Having to eat white bread they thought was cake. 
·         Not being able to speak English very easily.
What would make you the most uncomfortable, do you think, if you suddenly had to go and live in a new country?
What would you miss most about where you live now?