Saturday 16 December 2023

One Life – Nicholas Winton

 Free Architecture Kindertransport Statue photo and picture

Nicholas Winton was very involved with the Kindertransport and helped bring 669 Jewish children from Czechoslovakia to the UK on six successful transports. We all probably remember him on Estrher Rantzen’s  That’s Life  in 1988 to which he was invited. He was shown to a seat on the front row. His request to be seated further back was ignored. At one point Rantzen asked everybody in the audience who had been rescued by him to stand up.  Only he and his wife remained seated.

Now a film has been made about Winton: One Life. The official trailer shows that occasion.

Anthony Hopkins plays the older Winton. Johnny Flynn plays the younger Winton.  Helena Bonham Carter plays Winton’s mother. Winton involved her in much of the organisation. She was very effective. She challenges officials and extols the British virtues of a commitment to decency, kindness and a respect for others. Yes, I can confirm that bureaucracy did need challenging; I have seen the minutes of the committee meetings that discussed the Kindertransport.    

Winton’s parents were Jewish. They converted to the Church of England and changed their name from Wertheim to Winton to allow for better integration.   

The screenplay is based on the book It’s Not Impossible…The Life of Sir Nicholas Winton, written by his daughter Barbara Winton.

The film is produced in Britain and goes on general release in the New Year. It promises to be a tear-jerker and is perhaps our contribution that resembles Schindler’s List.

The film tells the story through a series of flash backs as Winton sorts through his papers and is burning many of them in a bonfire in his garden. It seems that Winton had not wanted to bring attention to what he had done and indeed, in both the trailer for the film and the actual show with Rantzen he looks bewildered.  

He has kept the papers secret until 1988 and was clearing them because his wife wanted their home to be tidier. But when she realised what they were she took action to let other people know.

Though Winton rescued those 669 children he was constantly haunted by the number he couldn’t rescue.  

His grandson was featured on The One Show this week talking about the film.  

Monday 11 December 2023

When Glass Breaks by Allissa Oldenberg



Ben Lindenheim gets separated from his brother Saul when they escape Nazi Germany on the Kindertransport.  Saul boards the wrong ship and is transported to the US instead.

Ben is looked after well by the English family that hosts him. He falls in love and marries a young girl who lives in the neighbouring street. Britain has become his home, so when World War II breaks out he joins up and fights with the British.

Most of his unit are killed but he is looked after by the Resistance, finally making it as far as Malta where he is able to carry on working for the military. There, however, he learns that his wife and baby son and his wife’s family have all been killed in the Blitz.

After the war he goes to South Africa and is swindled out of a collection of diamonds he has found.

He starts to suffer from psoriasis and throughout the rest of his life he is hospitalised frequently for it. It flares up every time he is stressed.  He meets his new wife Gail, a nurse at the hospital, and they have two children. The older one, Owen, is a disappointment.  He is expelled from the school at which he had a scholarship. He leaves home but returns twelve years later after being in prison. Within a year he is killed in a motorcycle accident; it was probably his own fault – he was four times over the limit.

Daughter Helen fares a little better though her first marriage is to an abusive partner.

Ben has been secretive all of his life and we aren’t exactly sure why he doesn’t tell Gail and his children about his past. Possibly it is because it is too painful.

He does come into contact with his brother right at the end of the book – after he has suffered a stroke.

After his death, daughter Helen puts the pieces together to tell his story. A DNA test has told her that she is Jewish. She writes in order to find an explanation as to why her father always overreacted when glass broke, something that started after the Kristallnacht.               

See on Amazon

Thursday 26 October 2023

The Case for War – or not


We debated this today in my Creative Writing group. One of our members had written an ode in response to John McRae’s In Flanders Fields. This poem is really a battle cry – exhorting others to join up and avenge the dead.

“Is there not another way?” asked our poet.

What if every person refused to go to war? There are a couple for problems with this. Firstly you need a blanket refusal and that’s unlikely to happen. Secondly what exactly do you do when someone invades your country? If you have a problem imagining that, what would you do if someone invades your home or tried to take your property? Isn’t the latter what justifies fire-arms to many Americans?

I’ve always thought anyway that it’s older upper class people (usually white males but not always – remember Thatcher?) who send young people out to war.

The Great War had a flimsy start but then the men on all sides flocked to do their duty for King or Emperor and country.  By World War II we had become wiser. It was more a case of needs must.   

“Why can’t somebody just go and get Putin?” another member of the group says. My sentiments exactly. Yet it’s proving to be very difficult; he’s elusive and Russia has a big land mass. Look as well at how many attempts were made on Hitler’s life. They failed.

How does Hitler compare, anyway? To me, he seems to have been mainly a figurehead. Although he joined in the evil, he wasn’t necessarily the main driver. And he was very good at public speaking.

What of the latest conflict? The Gaza strip has ever been problematic. The Palestinians and the Israelis find themselves in a curious position anyway. It was only right that room should be made for Jews in Israel. Never again should anything happens to them as happened in the Holocaust. Yet the Palestinians are losing tier territory .Nothing seems fair either way.

However Hamas is not the way. And neither is excessive aggression by Israel.

What if we had no borders?  Was Brexit a retrograde step?

I’ve just finished reading a book in which a blue fox wanders over 2000 miles in seventy-six days. No border official tries to stop her. Yet they do have to stop the mother and daughter who are tracking the fox’s progress; they don’t have the correct visas.

Everywhere we are asking to devolution and for the people to take care of their own affairs. Can you have devolution and open borders at the same time?

It’s all so complex. Maybe we just need to listen to one another a little more carefully.            

Saturday 7 October 2023



When I was student in Stuttgart, I had a room in a house owned by a couple of elderly sisters. I explained my connection to Stuttgart. This town had been recommended to me by my boyfriend’s mother and grandmother. I explained how Renate Edler, who later became my mother-in-law, had never known she was Jewish and had loved Stuttgart.  Her grandmother lived there and was involved with a school that Renate would have very much liked to attend: the Waldorf School.

“Oh, what was the family name of the grandmother?” asked one of the sisters.

“Lehrs,” I said.

“Oh, Haus Lehrs. That is such an important place for us.”

It was only thirty-seven years later that I would really understand what she meant.

I gradually unpicked Renate’s story. I remembered what she told us about a school that the Nazis had tried to obliterate and how the “Dad’s Army” equivalent had refused to cooperate, then the Hitler Youth had also refused and it was left to the BDM, the girls’ equivalent of the Hitler Youth, who finally did set fire to the place but got the children out first.

That school must surely be the one that took place in Clara Lehrs’ house.

I became more and more interested in Clara. My first internet search brought me to the Stolperstein site:

A Stolperstein is 10 cm concert cube in which a brass plate is embedded, showing the name and dates of Nazi persecution or extermination. The word literally means “stumbling stone”. You are meant to “stumble” over it and stop and think.  Metaphorically it portrays a stumbling block for humanity.

The first Stolperstein in London was laid on 30 May 2022.

On a trip to Rome in 2019, my group came across one as the owner of the house was just returning home and they were able to give us the full story.

Over 70,000 stones have been laid to date. Stuttgart and suburbs have over 1000.

I was invited to go and talk about my books in 2020. As you can imagine that didn’t happen.  Just this week I have been contacted again. I’m anticipating a visit there sometime soon.   

Saturday 2 September 2023

Asylum Seekers, Illegal Immigrants and the Value of Migrants


There was a fear as well at the time of the Kindertransport that if we gave asylum to a lot of Jews there would be a backlash from the people who were suffering because of the Depression. So, it was decided that only children would be invited. Even that wasn’t an easy decision. If you go to the Wiener Holocaust Museum in London you can read the minutes of the meetings that were held about it. If you do, you may wonder how it ever happened at all. And we should remember it was a mere 10,000 we saved. In fact, not even quite that many.   

These children were asylum seekers, not illegal immigrants. Far from it; they had to be sponsors and £50 (the equivalent of £3000 today) had to be found in order for them to get a place here.

How does this compare with people who cross the sea on unseaworthy boats? Are they illegal immigrants? Surely they’re not until they have been proved to be such. Asylum seekers are not illegal immigrants. If people are refused asylum and don’t go home, then they are illegal immigrants.

I remain rather astounded that two government ministers associated with this debate have a migrant background. Would their families have been allowed in the UK under the regimes that they’re trying to create? I find that bizarre.

So, it’s a problem, though, we’re getting overcrowded. Are we? Didn’t a lot of EU nationals go home? Don’t we have a skills shortage? Aren’t there a lot of empty homes? Immigrants aren’t causing a housing shortage or homelessness. These are caused by a lack of political well and inept administrative systems.    

When I broke my arm badly, the person who put on the second plaster was very concerns about the number of immigrants, in their opinion, taking up hospital beds and making waiting lists longer. They were so upset about it all that they pulled my cast too tight and it had to be adjusted in the middle of the night. Now, let me see. I was treated by three people form the Commonwealth, two EU nurses and just one Welsh nurse though we may do well to note that NHS England and NHS  Wales are two separate entities and the former had to pay the latter for my treatment. All of the patients on the ward with me were British nationals, white and middle aged or old. Our EU migrants in fact paid more in taxes that they cost us.

I recently read a study that stated that where there were large numbers of migrants there were also large numbers of patents In other words migrants are more creative than static populations. Is it because they are more creative and daring that they decide to take the risk? Or does taking that risk help them to become more creative and daring? Whichever is true, surely they are an asset?

Ouistreham in Brittany is plagued with economic migrants who are simply seeking a better life in northern Europe. They are not chased by war or famine. But even they may be of value.

In a way the unseaworthy boats help us to understand exactly how desperate these people are. They would rather risk that than stay where they are.  

I’ve read some arguments in the last few days that many of these people are simply economic migrants. They are therefore illegal immigrants.  But surely, until their case has been heard they are asylum seekers.       


Monday 14 August 2023



Lebensborn: literally “spring of life”.  

I have written a little about this elsewhere but have been reminded of it again after watching World on Fire on BBC 1. The story is all a little disjointed especially about Lebensborn but I was glad to have remembered it.  

I’m not intending to write a book about it as part of the Schellberg cycle but I may well write one at a later date in my historical fiction series.  It will be a while; after Schellberg 7 I have three books planned set in a slightly earlier era.

Lebensborn was established on 12 December 1935.  It looked at first like an innocent organisation that cared for unmarried mothers. Heinrich Himmler was in charge. Medical Director Gregor Ebener oversaw 3000 births at the Steinhoering home.  He was a close friend of Himmler’s. But already it becomes more sinister; he also carried out reproduction experiments on many women. The doctors at the home not only cared for the women and babies but also had to carry on with Nazi propaganda. Fourteen homes were established in Germany and Austria.      

You can see a brochure for the Lebensbron programme here:

The Lebesnborn children were extremely healthy. The homes contained fantastic facilities for mothers and babies.  The regime looked after them well but after the war the mothers and children were often ostracised.  

There was a decline in the population after the Great War. Marriage prospects for German women once World War II had started were slim. Lebensbron offered an opportunity for maternity. Unmarried mothers could seek sanctuary at a home. Hitler declared that “it shall be forbidden to despise a child born out of wedlock”.  As well, Hitler expected every family to produce four children. German girls were prepared for motherhood in some of their BDM activities. We may marvel that Hitler did not marry – expect just before he committed suicide in the bunker - or produce children. Was he afraid of his own impurity? There was some history of mental illness in his family. There are rumours also that
he was impotent and had some Jewish ancestry.  

For a young woman to be admitted to a Lebensbron home her racial purity had to go back at least three generations. If the mother didn’t want to bring up the child it would be adopted or more precisely given to a “caretaker”. The homes were attractive but not all that easy to get into; only about 40% of the women who applied got a place there.

The Nuremberg trials later found out that many children were kidnapped between 1939 and 1945 if they had the right Aryan qualities  

This eventually became part of the Nazi programme about furthering the Master race.  It involved matching good Aryan girls with smart German officers. We may raise our eyebrows at Margret Attwood’s Gilead but this is just as horrific, if not more so. Every German soldier was encouraged to father a child before going to war.   

An unpleasant side effect of this programme was the increase in the occurrences of venereal disease.

There was also a problem of what to do with these children at the end of the war.  Homes had been established in other countries.  In Norway for example, they decided to carry on caring for the children. This led to a lot of resentment amongst the ordinary population that was still trying to recover from the war. 12,000 Lebensborn children were born in Norway compared with 8000 in Germany.  Anni-Frid Lyngstad, member of ABBA, is a Lebensborn child. She and her mother and grandmother moved to Sweden, where her mother died of kidney failure.  She was raised by her grandmother.   In 2018 Prime Minister Erna Solberg offered an apology to the mothers and children for the way they had been treated.    

Mothers who chose to keep their child also chose not to tell them the truth about their birth and made ups stories about a father that had left them or who died in the war.  

Sunday 16 July 2023

Launch of Face to Face with the Führer


We’ve actually had two launches of this book. One was held on-line and was about the book itself. The other was held at The Met at Bury, in the Stanley Bar, and was more to do with the whole cycle.

You can watch the video here of the online launch. 

Some interesting points came up at both meetings.

At the Face to Face with the Führer I was able to explain how the whole project started. I also discussed how I actually discovered some facts by writing about them.  

We talked too about how by fictionalising true stories we bring them to life.

What would the consequences have been if Käthe had shot Hitler? And yes, I confirmed that this incident had really happened.   

We discussed Käthe’s personality. She‘s a feisty woman, a feminist.   

At the meeting about the Schellberg cycle (24 May 2023) we chatted for a while as people arrived and then I gave a presentation about the cycle. I started off by showing everyone a photo of the house. Interestingly I’ve only seen a phot myself recently and surprisingly it was just exactly as I imagined.

I explained what a Stolperstein is and why there was one in front of Clara’s house. 


I explained how the letters have two main themes: duty and camaraderie. In many ways the letters are quite bland and careful. Is this because their former teacher was joining in? Or was it indeed because she warned them to be careful?

      I pointed out that it raised some questions: How did a school for the disabled manage to resist the Nazi regime?

      What was it like being a young girl / woman in Nazi Germany?

      Why was the propaganda so successful?

      How could a German father work on the V2 bomb when his wife and child were living in London?  

We looked at pictures of BDM uniforms, a BDM magazine and the demonstration of how the 1935 Nuremberg race laws defined a Jew.  




We looked at a picture of Clara, the memorial to how she was transported to Theresienstadt and how her final transport note gave her true name back.

I finished by concluding that the Schellberg story do far is a story about three feisty women:

      Renate 13-22  1938-1947 

      Kathe - her mother

      Clara - her grandmother

Question: Were they victims or survivors?    

There was time also for a few questions and to chat some more.

I had the book on offer: £10 for one, £15 for two, £18.00 for three and £20.00 for four.  There are still some left and they are still on offer while stocks last.  Find out how to order here.