Wednesday 30 June 2021

Flowers of Hope


We have a buddleia in our garden just about to flower. Buddleias are renowned for attracting butterflies. But when my father bought one my mother scoffed.

 “What do you want to buy a bomb-site plant for? They’re weeds.”

It is true. I remember the beautiful purple, lilac and white flowers with their lanky stems growing abundantly on the bomb sites that were part of my childhood in the 1950s.  It took a long time to clear up after World War II. Those lovely flowers and the butterflies that visited these derelict spaces gave us hope. 


We associate poppies with war and they did indeed grow abundantly among the trenches of the Great War (World War I). We might consider them as symbols of spilt blood but the truth is that when there are great tunings over of soil dormant poppy seeds are awoken. Thousands of poppies appeared also after the Channel Tunnel was built. 


The white rose became the symbol of a German resistance run by German young people in the Nazi time with main players being siblings Sophie and Hans Scholl.  They were both executed.  Many schools are now named after them: Geschwister Scholl Schule. 


The edelweiss make us think of  The Sound of Music.  However, it has another resistance significance. There was a reaction against the Hitler Youth and an alternative group was created for young people: the Edelweiss Pirates, or Edelweißpiraten. The edelweiss was originally associated with purity and Swiss patriotism. The Pirates wore their hair loose and long in contrast to the very short hair of the Hitler Youth. At the age of eighteen they were forced to join the army. Himmler ordered a crackdown on the Pirates on 25 October 1944. Their badge depicts the edelweiss, a flower that brought hope.            

Saturday 19 June 2021

Stuttgart revisited


March to July 1973 I spent part of my year abroad in Stuttgart. The UK had just joined Europe commercially. I was in the third year of my four year BA Dual Hons French and German at the University of Sheffield. My future mother-in-law had suggested Stuttgart as a good place to go for the German part of my time abroad.

“It’s a really special place,” she said.  “The people there are extraordinary.”

This lady is the Renate from our stories.

She then went on to tell us about the school that the Nazis wanted to destroy.  First the home guard was ordered to do it and they refused.  So the task was given to the Hitler Youth.  They also refused. The BDM had to do it.  There was no way that they could refuse. But they got the children out first.  As soon as the war ended the school opened again. Renate was never specific about which school she meant but my researches have made me conclude that it was the one that operated in the cellar of the house on Schellberg Street.

I loved my time in Stuttgart. I was invited back last year to talk about the Schellberg Cylce.  Unfortunately the pandemic hit so this was no longer possible.  

My father-in-law died recently and a couple of weeks ago we cleared out his house. My husband is currently digitising all of his slides. These include ones from a visit he and his parents made to Stuttgart in 1957. I immediately recognised the places and the people in them.

In 1973 I lived in Degerloch, very close to the television tour. My mother-in-law put me in touch with the Behnisch family. Hannah Behnisch was her very best friend.  This is NOT  Hani in the cycle.  She is completely made up. However, just like her mother, Frau Gödde, Hannah’s mother visited Clara Lehrs in the ghetto.

My husband found pictures of him,  his parents and the Behnisch family in Degerloch. I got to know that family quite well during my stay. They lived in the neighbouring village of Sillenbuch. The two girls are roughly the same age as me and the younger brother was often dispatched on his motor cycle to come and inform me that I was invited over to some event or other at the weekend. These included joining the family for Sunday lunch, going on excursions to the cinema, improvised concerts amongst neighbours on rainy Sunday afternoons and several visits to the Waldorf School to help with English lessons or to attend special events.

When I told the two elderly sisters from whom I rented a room of my connection with the town, their eyes grew round. “Oh, yes, Haus Lehrs is on the Schellbergstrasse.” Back then I didn’t realise just how significant it was.

A great joy this week has been that my husband has found in this collection a photo of Clara’s house. It is exactly as I always imagined it.  Have I perhaps seen a photo of it before?  I’m not going to post it on here – the house is blocked out on Google street view and I want to respect the current owner’s desire for privacy.

But I am going to commission an artist’s impression of it.            

 Image by Harald Matern from Pixabay      

Tuesday 15 June 2021

V for Victory by Lissa Evans

 click on image to view on Amazon

Much of the narrative here is set in the time leading up to the end of World War II. Civilians in London face the horrors of the V2 bomb. There are several deaths and casualties in the novel.

Several other themes are touched on:

·         Displaced persons

·         Food shortages

·         Relationships between American GIs and British civiliansV

·         Estrangement of soldiers returning home

·         Orphans

·         The Black Market

·         Single mothers 

Lissa Evans has clearly researched this era well and the text comes across as authentic.  

Monday 7 June 2021

German resistance World War II


I’ll be dealing with this in novel seven. The research starts now.  A minor character from book five is going to become a major character in this one. She will also know what is going on with the Allies.  

German resistance took the form of:

·         Resistance via the churches

·         Resistance via some foreign nationals living in Germany

·         Some individuals who understood what was happening with the Holocaust and hid Jewish people.

·         Those who sympathised with communism and supported Russia in the war

·         The White Rose Organisation

·         Notable individuals: Robert Uhrig, Herbert Baum,  Saefkow Jacob Bastlein

·         Attempts were made to assassinate Hitler by Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Erwin Rommel and Ludwig Beck. The most notable attempt is the Valkyrie Plot, 20 July 1944, led by Claus von Stauffenberg.    

Some resisters were in contact with the British Special Operations Executive. This is the route my character will have to go.

The resistance took place from 1933 until 1945. When we look back at 1933 and see how Hitler came to power we have much to shudder about if we also look at what is happening today.

One of the most interesting groups was the Edelweiss Pirates, an organisation for children that offered an alternative to the Hitler Youth.  They took the propaganda leaflets dropped by the Allies and stuffed them into people’s letter boxes. They would attack Hitler Youth groups. In 1944 six of them were hanged.

Another interesting event was the Rosen Strasse protest in Berlin, February and March 1943.   German women protested outside the centre where Jews were being held.     

My character will be 38 years only in 1945. She would have been a young woman when Hitler came to power. I’ll have her involved with the Edelweiss Pirates and later in contact with BSOE. She will know of the White Rose group and will also know about the assassination attempt in 1944.   

Saturday 5 June 2021

The Secretary by Catherine Hoken



Two time periods interweave: World War II and Berlin 1989.  


Magda works as the PA for an industrialist who looks like an ardent Nazi. She is a resistance worker but her boss shows her there is another way of lessening the effects of the Holocaust. It is more productive and less risky. Several workers are given false identities and marked as essential workers.  There are echoes here of Schindler’s List.


Magda takes many risks even so. In addition to the normal work she hides several Jewish families. Her lover is killed.


After the war ends Magda lives in East Germany. It is her own granddaughter, Nina, who finds out at the time of the fall of the Berlin wall, when she visits the house in the west where Magda used to live, that her grandmother is hiding many secrets.


Magda has made an enemy of her boss’s daughter, Elsa, and that enmity still exists in 1989. Can the truth come out?    


The Secretary by Catherine Hokin is fast-paced, particularly towards the end, and for those interested in the era, contains much useful historical material.