Sunday 20 December 2020

The Stammtisch and Newspapers


Most German inns have a “Stammtisch”.  This is a table reserved for locals. For the people who “stem” from the place. And that is where the locals gather to set the world right. They will discuss a mixture of factual news, urban myths, fake news and conspiracy theories and perhaps play cards. Amateur politicians and well-meaning philosophers alike will gather and chat.

In the time that my novels are set it would be very rare for a woman to attend a Stammtisch.

I have two characters in the novel I am writing at the moment who attend the Stammtisch for morning coffee, a beer or two and to read the newspapers and chat about them.  It was quite common before everyone had smart phones for cafés and bars to stock newspapers as well. Both characters are older brothers. One is home on leave, the other has been invalided out of the war.              

The girls and women are shut out and don’t even read the newspapers. This came up a few times in the original letters by the girls.  They relied on fathers, brothers and fiancés to interpret the news for them.

We could argue that much of the “news” was in fact propaganda. Would they then turn to fiction? Again there is a problem here. Much of the fiction supplied to the girls was also propaganda and other literature was destroyed.

We have it a lot better today, don’t we?  Or do we? We have fake news, urban myths and conspiracy theories all over our social media. Computers work out what we are likely to be interested in and target advertising and other types of articles.

Could the Holocaust have happened if there had been social media? Or would that have been censored and might we face that danger today?

Are the Stammtisches, the benches under the orange trees, the sociable cafés and benches that are springing up now safer communicative spaces than our social media platforms?              

Thursday 3 December 2020

Bystander Guilt


So, the girls in Book 5 are bystanders. I’ve just been going through some of the chapters after which their teacher has told them about some of the things that happened:

·         A school friend had to flee to England at about the same time as their school was closed because it would not teach the Nazi curriculum

·         One of their teachers was imprisoned because she had failed to denounce Jewish children in her school.

·         A priest was arrested because he had hidden two Jewish children in his cellar. He was due to be executed but actually died of a heart attack the night before his execution.

·         Another Jewish school friend fled to Holland.  No more has been heard of her. We assume the worst.

In my latest edit I’m looking particularly at dialogue. What did these girls say? How did they say it? As they spoke German I can take a few liberties and include more modern English than I would if I were writing about British girls.  I have to try to replicate what the Germans would have seemed like to them.

Some interesting vocabulary emerges.  Der Giftpilz - the poisonous mushroom -  is mentioned quite a bit.  This was an illustrated story used as propaganda for the BDM. The Jew was seen as a poisonous mushroom that they must be rid of.

Also frequently occurring “We didn’t know.” “We didn’t think.”  They try to make amends:

  • By  researching what happened to the missing school friend
  • Offering holidays to deprived children and particularly to Holocaust survivors
  • Using method acting to create empathy
  • Putting on satirical plays to put the Nazi regime under the microscope
  • Meeting and apologising to the survivor they know
  • Sustaining international relationships.
  • Analysing it in detail.

Will the guilt ever go away? 

Image by Alexas_Fotos from Pixabay  

Tuesday 1 December 2020

Wild Spirit by Dawn Knox


Wild Spirit

Wild Spirit


Dawn Knox (More Titles by Dawn Knox)



Publish Date



Large Print (Soft Cover) - 328 Pages




Users must login to view pricing


It's Rae's dream to sail away across oceans on her family's boat, the WILD SPIRIT - but in 1939 the world is once again plunged into conflict, and her travel plans must be postponed. When Hitler's forces trap the Allies on the beaches of Dunkirk, Rae sails with a fleet of volunteer ships to attempt the impossible and rescue the desperate servicemen. However, her bravery places more lives than her own in jeopardy - including that of Jamie MacKenzie, the man she's known and loved for years...


Rae’s parents work hard. Her father is a consultant at a London hospital and her mother also studies to become a doctor.  Rae’s family is solidly working class. Her mother in particular does not approve of Rae’s relationship with Jamie MacKenzie who is the son the boatyard owner who builds their boat, Wild Spirit. Rae’s father has named the boat after Rae.  We certainly see that she has a wild spirit.  

Rae and Jamie gradually fall in love though there are many obstacles in their way: Mr MacKenzie’s dislike of Rae, Rae’s mother’s disapproval of James and their circumstances keeping them apart.   

We are offered quite a bit of historical detail here: what health care was like in the UK before the National Health Service was introduced, the Dunkirk rescue, the French Resistance, the attitude to women in the 1930s and 1940s. Also interesting is detail about the Dunton Plotalnds. Small plots of land were sold in the first half of the 20th century so that people could build holiday homes and run allotments. Two world wars prompted people to make the homes more permanent. Rae works on the gardens of some of these houses.          

Friday 20 November 2020

Hardships in Book Five

Life was hard for the young German women in this book. Of course it was also for young women living in Britain and it must have been especially so for the French and the Dutch.

Some things were the same. Some were different.

The Depression hit Germany particularly hard and before that the hyperinflation. These girls were born shortly after the hyperinflation but their parents would have been ruled by it. The Germans felt supressed. There was a great desire to make Germany great again. The BDM and its smart uniform would give the girls some hope of that.

Some schools were evacuated in Germany and some schools, like the ones that our girls went to, were closed because they would not offer a propaganda-rich curriculum.

Young people who were evacuated in Germany did not live with other families; they were kept together so they slept in dormitories and ate in canteens. The indoctrination could carry on beyond the classroom.

The RAD found many young women working on farms and some did work the land and gather in the harvest.  Very often, though, the girls took on the housewife’s work so that the farmer’s wife could then work on the land. Was this more practical or not?

War work was very similar.  My research found girls working on military air traffic control, the post office, hospitals and continuing the sort of work they had done for the RAD. In this novel I have one girl working on the family farm, one acting and two running their father’s firm after he died. The factory for the latter is run mainly by women and a couple of men who are too old to fight. And in any case they are working in a reserved occupation: they are making spectacle frames and cases. This latter I based on my own mother’s war work.  Twins I came  across in my research took over the running of a factory after their father died. And one girl become an actor, putting on satirical plays in an underground theatre.

There was rationing but were the food shortages so bad? Germany is on a huge landmass so supply may not have been so much of an issue – especially as she was occupying several nearby countries. The farming girl hardly has a problem. The actor’s mother forages and pickles.

Two of the girls have brothers who are injured and two of them have a war-damaged fiancé. The twins welcome first two neighbours to their home and then later their aunt and uncle and cousin’s fiancé after the home of their aunt and uncle is destroyed. Tragically, both of their cousins also die.

The class teacher has to give up teaching because she refuses to deliver the new curriculum. She ends up doing war work, looking after supplies at a local hospital. She also turns her home in a guest house and offers accommodation to young women who have to work away from home and to families who have lost their homes.


Possibly worse for people on the continent was displacement. On our relatively small island we cannot wander so far from home. The girls in this book do not lose contact with relatives but they do have to wonder what happened to one of their school friends.          



Thursday 29 October 2020

The nature of the bystander


My latest Schellberg novel is about the bystanders. There is nothing judgemental in it but it explores how this comes about. So let’s have a look at how this works out for the cast.  


Anika has more of the narrative than the rest. She encounters a puzzling cruelty to Jews before she even joins the BDM. She cannot understand why anyone would be cruel to Herr and Frau Kohn who used to run the village sweetshop.  Her brother Fritz rejoices that he and his fellow Hitlerjugend companions find Herr Kohn dead in the local woods and assume that someone has killed him because he is Jewish. Later she becomes involved in producing satirical underground drama.  She is the first to realise later on that Renate is just Renate; being English, German or Jewish does not define her.   

And is her Tante Gabriela a German resistance worker? She has walked uninvited on to the stage but cannot be ignored.  She is reserved for the seventh book.    

Gerda and her husband decide to offer free holidays on their farm to Jewish children after the war. Is this from a sense of guilt? Yet there was only excitement when they are all but given the neighbouring farm that the authorities take off a Jewish family.

The twins Erika and Ilse seem blissfully unaware of anything untoward having happened. They are absorbed in running their father’s factory after his sudden death. They do their bit for the war effort: they produce spectacle frames and cases for the men at the front.

Their teacher, Hanna Braun, knows a lot but does not tell until it is really too late. Only after the war has ended does she tell the girls about Sister Kuna, who kept Renate and the other Jewish girl, Elfriede, safe, and about Father Maxfeld who hid to Jewish boys. Nevertheless, she quietly carries on refusing to teach the Nazi curriculum and she continues teaching what she thinks is right. She warns the girls about what they should and what they shouldn’t put in the letters. She resists meeting them until after the war has ended. She keeps herself safe but she keep them safe as well.

The girls are bought up with sense of duty and a delight in camaraderie. They were born in the years of the hyperinflation and that had an effect on how they and their families lived their lives – always wondering whether what they had would be taken away again soon. They lived through a debilitating Depression that was worse in Germany than elsewhere. Joining in BDM activities gave them hope – though I understate the latter. In this organisation they are introduced the Giftpilz – The Poisonous Mushroom – an anti-Semitic picture book- as well as much other propaganda. They are encouraged to tell tales about relatives who mix with Jews.

Life was very different for these girls from what it is like for young women today.  They were often prevented from reading newspapers by the menfolk.  There was no social media.  It was more difficult to access information and other opinions. They tended to just get on with the task in hand. They didn’t particularly do anything wrong. They didn’t or didn’t know how to put anything right.      

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay   

Thursday 15 October 2020

A comical figure and a serious boy

As it became clearer during World War II that the Germans were going to lose, the equivalent of dad’s army and the Hitler Youth were motivated to organise the defence.  I’ve included two characters who are involved with this. Onkel Heinrich, portrayed below, who is a bit of a comical character. Even this passage, thought ends on a more serious note, we are reminded that Heinrich has lost two of his sons to the war and that many German soldiers were killed by the cold in Russia.      

“Erika could hear him already. She hung her coat up and took her briefcase into her room and then stood outside the lounge door without going in. She wanted to hear what he was saying. If she went in he might stop to greet her and irritating though he was there might be something important she needed to know.

Oh, yes Onkel Heinrich was on form. As usual he was spitting his words out. He almost sounded like Herr Hitler himself.

“I tell you, Liesel, Helga, we shall soon be overrun by those tall swaggering blond Americans. At least they are blond. But that means that they too are members of the Master Race and we shall have more difficulty in fighting them. And I suspect the stinking French will rise again and the pathetic little Englishmen will put their fists up and try to bite our ankles. We must fight them. Our young boys must gird up their loins. I too shall have to do my bit. I shall strive valiantly to fight even though I am suffering. Even you women folk must get your pots and pans at the ready and be prepared to hit the enemy on the head. They are coming and they are coming soon. For the sake of our dear boys we must resist. They must not have given their lives in vain.”

Erika had the urge to titter but then Ilse whimpered. She had gone quite pale. Erika shook her head. “That won’t happen,” she whispered. She hoped she was right and that Onkel Heinrich was wrong. Well, she’d just better stop him anyway. He was probably frightening Mutti and Tante Liesel as well. She pushed the door open and smiled as brightly as she dared.

“Good evening. Tante Liesel, Onkel Heinrich. Mutti. What’s going on?”   

   “You uncle’s just telling us what’s going to happen in the invasion.” Mutti and Tante Liesel were sitting with their shoulders stooped. Mutti had her fists clenched tightly in her lap.

“And so what is going to happen, Onkel Heinrich?”

“We’re all going to have to fight them, even you my dear.”

“Surely it won’t come to that, will it? Aren’t there a lot of our soldiers still up in the north of France? Won’t they be able to keep them away?”

Onkel Heinrich shook his head. “So many of them were killed by that cruel Russian winter. So many of them.” His voice was quieter now and his eyes were glazed over. Was he going to cry? Had she gone too far?”

In another part of the novel I have invent Uwe, a very keen Hitler Youth member, who refuses to help on the farm where he is now living; he spends all of his spare time on bayonet practice on dummies hung form trees in the orchard. He has to be shown by three impaired professional German soldiers that he would not stand a chance against fit and healthy enemy soldiers.    

Image by Alexas_Fotos from Pixabay