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