Sunday 29 August 2021

We Share the Same Sky by Rachael Cerrotti

 Rachael Cerrotti here tells her grandmother’s story. Hana Dubová kept a diary for much of her life.  She also used to tell her grandchildren about her earlier life and her survival of the Holocaust. She lived for a while in Denmark.  There was little anti-Semitism there at the time and even when the Third Reich took hold, Jews living in Denmark did not have to wear a yellow star.  Whilst they were away in the camps, neighbours looked after their homes and gardens and even watered the house plants. Of course, many did not come back.

Dubová’s life takes her away from her native Czechoslovakia to Denmark, Sweden and eventually the USA. She had two less than perfect marriages and lives with survivor guilt.

Cerrotti usually contrasts what her grandmother experienced with what is happening today in the world.  She reminds us that there are actually now more displaced persons than there were at the end of World War II. Her grandmother survives the prejudice only to encounter another  sort of prejudice amongst other survivors against another race. The same problems exist in another form.

Although this is aimed at an adult readership it is a text that could easily be used in school – Key Stage 4 and above. At the end of the book is a useful section of questions for reading groups.   

Saturday 28 August 2021

Survivor Guilt and Loss of Citizenship


Holocaust, Holocaust Memorial, Memorial

This is a reality for many of my parents’ generation who survived the Holocaust.  I’m reading an account now by the granddaughter of a Czech Jewess who survived via Denmark, Sweden and then eventually the US. For a while she had a visa form Denmark that allowed her re-entry only if she came back within six months. She married twice but was not completely happy in either marriage. This seems to be because of a lack of self-knowledge. She also asked herself whether she had survived because of some grand plan made by some deity or was it just completely random.

I’m also currently editing a book written by the child of two Polish Holocaust survivors. The mother became a champion of Holocaust educations. Her father seemed constantly puzzled by the work but he had a great sense of house.  Is that another form of survival?

A former colleague of mine, a similar age to Renate, left Vienna in 1938. She has this feeling of not belonging.  She is not as Jewish as those people who lost their lives in the Holocaust, she is no longer Austrian.  She never felt completely English and now she lives in New Zealand.

Much of The House on Schellberg Street is about Renate grappling with her identity. She isn’t Jewish. She doesn’t even know of her Jewish heritage until a few days before she comes to England. She feels at odds with the Jewish children with whom she travels. The Germans will not allow her to be German. It is awkward for her amongst her new English friends, especially when her mother trapped in London, and being threatened by Nazi bombs.

One thing we might note: there was no wearing of yellow stars for Danish Jews and there was little anti-Semitism amongst the Danes.  When Hitler and his crew finally caught up with the Jews living in Denmark, the Danes looked after their homes and gardens watered their houseplants, leaving everything ready for their return.

As I write this, my ideas for Helga’s story, book six in the cycle, are beginning to crystallize. She too will find as does Renate, my former colleague and the grandmother described in the book I’m currently reading that it doesn’t all stop with the liberation by the Allies. The malaise continues. This will be a major theme in this story.                        

Sunday 22 August 2021

All the Frequent Troubles of Our Days by Rebecca Donner

All the Frequent Troubles of Our Days: The True Story of the Woman at the Heart of the German Resistance to Hitler

 All the Frequent Troubles of Our Days: The True Story of the Woman at the Heart of the German Resistance to Hitler by Rebecca Donner

This work suffers a little from a lack of identity; it reads like a novel but not quite. It certainly has a lot of information packed into it and it feels also like a nonfiction book. It is in fact a true story. Rebecca Donner has done her research well. However, there is so much materiel in there that we don't quite get to know the main characters well enough. A dreamy present tense narrative gives it some immediacy. And we do, after all, feel some empathy for Mildred and Don to whom the book is dedicated. 

This is another long book about the German resistance.  It is based on the research that Donner did into the topic and in particular about Mildred Harnack and how she worked with the Circle, a resistance groups, to try to overthrow the Nazi regime.  Don Heath, the son of an American diplomat, has private tuition with Mildred. She sends notes to his father hidden in his books. Don always takes a different way through town. If he is stopped, he knows how to answer.

Later, when members of the Circle meet to exchange information in the woods, Don, dressed in a Hitler Youth uniform, sings the Horst Wessel song if danger is near. If all is safe he sings another song.

Mildred marries Arvid Harnack.  He later becomes a spy for the Russians. His position as advisor to the Reich’s’ Ministry of Economics gave him access to information that helped both the German resistance and the Russians. He is in fact a communist and has to destroy his PhD thesis and a book he has finished writing.

Mildred and Arvid are involved with the Berliner Abendgymnasium – a night school for worker s (BAG)   

Both Mildred and Arvid were executed.

In this text we have information about several aspects of German resistance: the Red Orchestra, the Circle and the White Rose.  Donner also gives us insights into the prison regime and details about the guillotine that was used for decapitations. The Valkyrie plot (20 July 1944) is also mentioned but less detail is given about this.

The text includes snippets of actual documents and much detail of archival material is also included at the end of the book. This is a very useful text for the scholars of this time.      


Monday 16 August 2021

The Enabling Act, 1933


Germany, Bundestag, Parliament, Politics

This was a terrifying piece of legislation and there are some uncomfortable parallels with what is happening today.


1932 election

In the election the previous year, Hitler had won 37.37 of the vote. There had been an 89% turn out at the polls. However, although this gave him the democratic right to take up leadership the two “runners up” gave him represented a threat. The Social Democratic Party gained 21.58% and the Communist Party 14.32. This would make it difficult to push forward any of his party’s ideas.


1933 election

This time the Nazis got 43.9% of the vote, the SDP 18.3 and the Communists 12.3. Hitler managed to make a coalition with National Party (8%).  


What the enabling act did  

It enabled laws to be passed without the scrutiny and consent of the Reichstag. This was in order to “Relieve the stress of the people (das Volk) and the Reich. Germany was in a bad way. It still owed money as a result of the Great War (1914-1918), it had suffered from the hyperinflation during the 1920s and the Depression that affected a lot of the world hit the Germans particularly hard. This was got be a way of getting legislation through quickly       


How did it come to be accepted?

 It should not have been all that easy for Hitler to get this passed. The Communists and the SDP still had a lot of representation in parliament. In the end though, 444 voted for it and 94 against. 109 were absent. Significantly none of the Communists voted as they had been banned by now and the 94 against were all form the SDP.  

There was a culture of bribery and threats.     


Consequences of the Act

Hitler was now in a position to bring in many new laws which helped to further control the people.  This included the banning of  trade unions and the citizenship and race laws that were brought in in 1935.


Parallels with today  

The current Prime Minister of the UK prorogued Parliament in 2019 in order to allow Brexit to take place more smoothly.

Noisy demonstrations have now been made illegal.  So, peaceful protests are still allowed but who defines which are peaceful and which are not?

There has been a suggestion that journalists who criticise the government should be jailed.

There seems to be a culture of fear within Parliament. Why does my local Tory MP toe the party line to the letter when he only had a very narrow majority over the Labour candidate? He certainly is not representing me in any of his voting. Shouldn’t he also be representing the other half of the ward?  Whys is he afraid to do that?

Ordinary people have been taken in by the charms of a charismatic leader.


Differences for which we should be thankful

At least the proroguing of parliament was reversed.

We don’t yet have to have pictures of Boris Johnson in all classrooms and children don’t have to pay homage to him on daily basis.

No one has been beheaded for opposing the government – yet.

We don’t have to practise a greeting every day that includes our leader’s name.    

Our charismatic leader is a scatty, hair-fluffing, lying buffoon who will sooner or later be found out.   

Thursday 5 August 2021

Young Men Fighting Old Men’s Wars


Belarus, Great Patriotic War, World War Ii, Museum

My maternal grandfather served in World War I and my father was called up on his 21st birthday for World War II.  My grandfather was gassed but survived.  My father injured his leg when a motorbike he was riding skidded and fell over. He was also mentally scarred as he was involved in clearing out Belsen. My mother’s first husband was killed during World War II. My mother-in-law was a German Jewess who fled from Nazi Germany. My father-in-law was involved with the Manhattan project. War was a shadow that hung over our childhoods.  We had war-damaged parents.


White feathers and cowards   

The suffragettes changed their cause at the outbreak of World War I (the Great War).  They started presenting men they thought should have been fighting with a white feather. The white feather has symbolised cowardice since the 18th century. This may come from cockfighting where it was believed that a cockerel with a white feather in its tail would be a poor fighter.


Conscription World War I

This did not start until January 1916 in the UK. We had relied on volunteers until then. Men aged eighteen to forty were liable to be called up.  There had been many volunteers so conscription was not needed earlier on.

Germany already had a partly formed army: Compulsory military service had been the norm since long before the war (and continued long after, ending only in 2011). The 1914 system was as follows: at the age of 20 a man could expect to serve 2 or 3 years of training and active service.


Realities of war kick in

The Great War had been romanticised.  Young men were eager to go and fight for king and country. Yet what they found was mud, chaos, disease and death. The War Poets put us straight.


Conscription World War II

This happened much sooner. The National Service (Armed Forces) Act, passed on 3 September 1939, the day the war broke out, imposed conscription on all males aged between 18 and 41 who had to register for service. Already men aged between 20 and 22 were conscripted by the Military Training Act in May 1939.   This required men to undertake six months' military training, and some 240,000 registered for service.  

Again Germany relied a lot on its young men doing military service. There was also compulsory war work for women on both sides of the conflict.


How it all started

It all started with a duke being assassinated. That was the catalyst for the Great War. World War II continued the unfinished business from World War I.


It’s all over when it’s over - or not

Both wars ended and the peace began.  Or did it? World War I was followed by the “Spanish” flu pandemic that actually killed more people than the war itself had.

After the end of World War II came tension between Israel and Palestine.  So, many Jews who had fled there were now facing more conflicts.

Russia may have been our ally during World War II but very shortly after that ended we were facing the Cold War.