Tag Archives: Nazi

The Journal of Helene Berr, Translated from French by David Bellos

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This journal is hard to read because we know the outcome at the outset. A young woman cheated of a life of happiness at a young age due to hatred and evil. I believe it’s a must-read though since we can’t allow such evil to rise again. Being reminded of the awful things done in the name of hatred and irrational hostility must never be forgotten or swept under the rug.

Helene Berr was a French Jewish woman living in Paris during WWII.  She was a student at the Sorbonne and kept a journal of her everyday life before and during the war. Her father was an engineer and had friends in high places who helped protect him and his family for a while during the Nazi persecution of the Jewish population.

While under the impression he and his family were safe, her father continued to work in his business and his daughter, along with the rest of the Berrs, lived as if things were normal. Going to classes and cafes and even traveling by train to and from their home in the countryside.

Helene was emotionally torn between a man she had always thought she might marry and a new young man she met at the Sorbonne. She eventually realized she was in love with the new man. His name was Jean Morawiecki and he loved her as well. They planned to marry. Eventually, he left to join the free French and work with the resistance, believing her to be safe in Paris.

The journal starts out with regular days and how she and her friends filled their lives. She was a musician and many entries focus on playing her violin and listening to music. The journal moves into sadder territory when all the Jewish people were ordered to wear the yellow star. Helene’s journal entries relating to her shame and embarrassment in wearing the star are heartbreaking.

As time goes on, her father is arrested and sent to the Drancy internment camp. After several weeks, his employer was able to get him released as he was an essential employee. In our 20/20 vision of looking at the past through the lens we now have, as a reader of this journal, one can’t help but wish they’d taken this event as a hint that they should have left immediately to get to a country of safety. It really wouldn’t be fair to judge them for their inaction as they had no way of knowing exactly what happened to the people who were deported. In fact, her journal makes one think Helene thought the deportation was not permanent and that people would return after the war if the Nazi’s lost. And who could blame them? Of course, they weren’t told they were being deported to be murdered. The Nazis wanted the deportees to be compliant and non-combative so as to ease their task of getting them on the train cars to send them to the camps.

As the journal goes on, it gets more and more heartrending. The family did eventually go into hiding but they were betrayed. On a night they chose to sleep at their own home, they were taken and sent to Auschwitz. They were sent from Drancy in March of 1944- on Helene’s 23rd birthday of all things—which just makes in worse to this reader. Her mother died in April 1944 in the gas chamber, and her father was poisoned by an anti-Semite doctor in the infirmary in September, 1944, both at Auschwitz. Helene survived to be moved to Bergen-Belson in November, 1944. She died of typhus after being unable to rise for reveille and being brutally beaten by a guard in April, 1945—just 5 days before the camp was liberated by the British Army.  How absolutely tragic. 5 days. Just 5 days….

Upon her death and the end of the war, her brother sent the pages of her journal to the man she loved, Jean Morawiecki. She had entrusted the pages as she wrote them to the family cook in case the family was taken. Jean held on to the pages for almost fifty years. Helene’s sister wrote an afterward to this translation of this journal and the words of Jean regarding his love of Helene were truly poignant and so sad. A Stolen Life is what the afterward is called and it is surely right.  So many stolen lives. Senselessly stolen lives. 

Red Notice- a Movie Review- *Spoilers Possible*

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I haven’t read anything new this month as I’m working on a novel for NaNoWriMo and using my reading time to up my word count. I visited my son this past weekend and we watched the new Ryan Reynolds, Dwayne Johnson and Gal Gadot movie called Red Notice.

This review won’t be popular as I know how many people love Ryan Reynolds. Personally, I think he tries way too hard to be funny. There are naturally funny people, but I think Reynolds has to work at it. Dwayne Johnson, on the other hand, seems effortless when he delivers funny lines. I don’t really have much opinion about Gal Gadot as I haven’t seen a lot of her work. I did enjoy her in this film.

The real problem with the film is it does not deliver. We watched for the approximate two hours and there was no reward at the end. My son and I both agreed it was just to set up a sequel. There was no pay off for the invested audience. The twists were silly and predictable.

It almost seemed as if the movie was written for Reynolds to deliver one-line zingers and The Rock to do his thing with the action star stuff.

Don’t get me wrong, there were some funny parts and some tense moments–a helicopter escape on a tall mountain, for instance– but, for the most part, it was a vehicle for Reynolds’ comedy. I was glad it at least wasn’t vulgar like a lot of his work.

Interestingly, my son and I didn’t talk about it right after we watched as I went to bed and he was already half-dozing on the couch, but the next morning, before I said a word, he expressed that the film had no payoff and no point except to set up a sequel and make money.

I get that the film industry is all about making money, but give me a decent plot every time over a series of jokes. I, for one, won’t be watching that sequel that I’m sure is coming.

Over the Hedge by Paulette Mahurin, A Review

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This one was hard to read for a number of reasons. The main one, of course, was the brutality of the subject matter. This book was harrowing and, often times, turned the reader’s stomach as to the behavior of human beings who took joy and pleasure in harming other humans. The Nazi regime created many monsters. The one question that will forever haunt me on the atrocities of the acts on Jewish people is did the regime create these monsters or were so many already lurking in society and they were freed and allowed to run rampant based on there being no consequences (at least during those years when the evil was in power)?

The heroes and heroine of this true to life story were amazing and awe-inspiring. That two of them were Jewish themselves and risked it all to save children is admirable. They didn’t hide away, though who could have blamed them if they had? The fact they survived and made a difference as long as they did was remarkable. Henriette Pimental and Walter Suskind were truly angels on earth for the children they helped to escape and give a chance to live. Johan van Hulst, the professor who started it all, was also a brave man to not sit back and allow innocent lives to be destroyed. It’s terrible that they weren’t able to save more, but those they did save were reward enough. Every life that went on was a victory.

This was a tale that everyone needs to read even though the subject matter is tough.

The two faults I found with the book was it was hard to tell if it was a fictionalized version of facts or if it was a true and accurate telling of the actual events. The tale moved from almost reading like a text book to dialogue and dramatization. In places it was dry and then it would segue to an almost novel-like approach. The cover states it’s a novel, but it was hard to tell by the actual text. The other fault was the paragraph formatting. It may have just been in the ARC copy I have, but the formatting was disjointed throughout. Hanging sentences that joined up after an inserted return all through the copy made it hard to read properly.

I can’t say I enjoyed the book, but it definitely made an impression. The author did a good job in showing the reader just how awful and harrowing the residents of the Netherlands had it in WWII. What a terrible time and place for so many to have to endure. I’m sure it was hard for the author to write as it was definitely hard to read.

The Tartan Pimpernel by Donald Caskie

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I learned about this book on Twitter when a lady I’ve met there, Pauline, from Scotland, tweeted about it. I’d never heard of this Scottish priest and her tweet piqued my curiosity. I found the book online and ordered it. I didn’t have a chance to read it right away, and now that I have, I wish I’d made time earlier as it’s truly a lovely, well-written book by an absolutely brave, caring and gentle man who did extraordinary things during WWII to aid allies, soldiers, sailors and private individuals to escape from the Nazis in France.

The Reverend Caskie was from Scotland—Islay—but was the priest of the Scottish church in Paris before and at the time of the German invasion. On the eve of the invasion in 1940, he led his flock in the last Sunday service, packed a bag and left the city on foot. He prayed along the way for the safety of his fellow evacuees as well as the people who had no choice but to stay behind as the enemy closed in.

He made his way to Marseille with some harrowing moments such as being strafed by German pilots along with thousands of other refugees. Many fell dead as they ran. He was also suspected of being a spy and surrounded by angry villagers in one town as he bought a bicycle and didn’t realize it had an iron cross on the back of it.

Once he made it to Marseille, with the aid of a friend, he found a place to stay. In that home, he prayed about what he needed to do. A Voice came to him that clearly called him to give assistance to the people who were in need. He made his way to the American consulate as it was still open and was told about the abandoned sailors’ mission building. He then went to the local police station to get permission to use the building to help stranded British civilians. He was given permission, but told if he helped one soldier or enemy combatant, he would be shut down.

What ensued was a tale of how this gentle man followed his special calling and helped anyone who needed it. How he raised funds to feed these people and how he was approached by the secret services to assist airmen and escaping soldiers into neutral Spain. He had to get civilian clothing for the escapees as well as false papers. He found places to hide them. He risked his life every day and saved quite a large number of men and women. Many of the townspeople of Marseille also aided in hiding these men and in getting supplies and clothing. It was a secret, yet community effort.

I read a book a while back about Nancy Wake, the famous Resistance fighter who was also in Marseille at the time and I was pleased to see some of the same people she worked with in this book. Ian Garrow and the Pat O’Leary group. Pat was actually a Belgian doctor, but during the war, he was an agent who posed as Irish. It was like finding old friends in the pages of this book. I like to think Donald and Nancy knew each other and supported each other’s missions.

Donald Caskie eventually ended up being betrayed and imprisoned. This part of the book was particularly moving. No matter what the Nazis put him through, he kept his faith, even carving Bible verses on the wall with his fingernail—which, he found out a few months later from a cellmate in a different prison, saved that man’s life when he was about to commit suicide.

This is a beautiful book and such bravery from one man is amazing. His faith pulled him through a difficult period of time and he is a true hero. Quiet, unassuming, and just getting on with the task. I highly, highly, recommend this one. It’s a tale of love, compassion in the face of unbearable cruelty, and how even one man (with divine guidance and some friends) can make a world of difference.

Miss Graham’s Cold War Recipe Book- a Review

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This reader wanted to love this book. Alas, even though it had a number of good points and some parts were immersive and well done, the beginning was slow and the last chapters—excluding the epilogue-ish last chapter, were devastating and made this reader angry.

This story had a slow start with way too many characters thrown into the first chapter which slowed the story even more as I tried to get a handle on who was who.

Edith, the character who was the point of view character for most of the book, was naive and put her trust in people too easily. She was recruited as a spy, so this was not a good characteristic for her to have. I see how it was relevant to the story line though.

The plot picked up after the first 100 or so pages. It was a dense plot with a lot of moving parts which I like. I didn’t have any problem following along at all. I usually read fast but this one took me a number of days off and on. I became invested in Edith and her journey. Recruited as a spy, she had some skills and was able to make people feel safe to talk to her (thereby giving away some of their secrets), but the misplaced trust issue became problematic. She couldn’t keep a secret and talked to pretty much anyone in her inner circle about what she was doing. I liked the character and was rooting for her.

There was a lot of graphic detail about the Nazis and the atrocities they inflicted; including the acts perpetrated on children and the disabled. I read a lot of books set in the WWII era so that was expected. What was not expected was how it turned out. Completely disappointing. I was enraged at the time I spent invested in this book to have it utterly dissatisfy me. The very last chapter went a little way to make me less furious, but not a lot. I am still gutted by the ending.

I give this one three stars as I enjoyed the style of writing, the premise, the attention to detail and the parts in the middle where things were happening.  I downgraded it for the time it took to actually get into the story and for the way I felt betrayed as a reader invested in a story by the two big events near the end.

Deadly Liaisons- Advanced Reader Copy

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I have my advance reader copies in PDF format for Deadly Liaisons.  I am offering an e-copy to the first five people who respond with their email address and agree to do an honest review in exchange.

To whet your appetite, here’s the first page:

October, 1938

Water ran over the top of Declan Cavanaugh’s shoes as he dashed across St. Mark’s Square in front of the Basilica. Two o’clock in the afternoon meant high tide this time of year in Venice. It wasn’t an ideal time to be chasing the flunky of a vampire through the streets to try to find the demon’s lair, but what was a man to do?

It was blind luck to stumble upon the short, gnomish creature in that Murano glass shop. Declan went in initially to purchase a new pen, but as soon as he laid eyes on the man he knew could lead him to his prey, all thoughts of a blue glass writing implement fled his mind. Making a lunge for the other man wasn’t the best plan, but Declan had been so stunned to see him, he hadn’t taken time to think through what he should do. He’d acted on instinct instead.

Declan regretted the loss of a portion of the shopkeeper’s inventory, but it couldn’t be helped. As soon as the smaller man noticed Declan, the wretched devil tossed a number of items at his pursuer to try to slow Declan’s progress. A few paperweights found their target. Declan’s head throbbed, but he kept moving. A bit of blood trickled down the side of his face. With each step, the pain in his cranium intensified. Thud, thud, thud.

When the flunky shoved the door open and ran into the street, Declan followed. Promising himself to return to the shop later to make things right with the owner, Declan kept up his pursuit.

At the rate the two men were running, staying on the boards the city’s fathers had devised to try to keep the citizens dry proved to be impossible.

Each time his foot slipped off the boards, splashes of water hit the hem of Declan’s pants and covered his brogans. Great, another pair of ruined shoes. A fleeting thought of gratitude for leaving the Italian suede shoes in his hotel room dashed across his brain. They were costly and the ones he wore would be easily replaced. A bright spot in the day for sure.

The gnome kept going. Declan wondered where the little man got his energy. For sure the shorter chap could move fast. Declan gasped for breath, but he couldn’t afford to slow down. He needed to find and capture Ambrose Schumacher.

 

Back Cover Blurb: Senior Assassin

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Here’s the back cover blurb on my upcoming release from Black Opal Books, Senior Assassin:

In 1935 Europe, storm clouds of impending hostilities loom over the landscape, threatening the uneasy peace on the continent since the upheaval of the last world war.

Winchester Barrington, IV, scion of a wealthy Connecticut family, boards the luxury train, The Orient Express, ostensibly for a pleasure trip from Paris to Istanbul. In reality, he’s a spy for the United States War Department on the trail of a master assassin. His mission: to find and capture this elusive executioner.

Among a growing list of suspects, including an Oxford Don, an American entrepreneur, a Chicago gangster, and two mysterious Turkish men, Win finds himself attracted to a shy librarian who may actually be his quarry.

 

Getting Better and A New Contract

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I was sick for three weeks and have been woefully neglectful of this blog. I will make a better effort in the future. I do have some good news. I have signed a contract with Black Opal Books to publish my murder mystery novel set in 1937 on the Orient Express. It’s called Senior Assassin.

I have a running list of names for stories and sometimes it takes me a while to write the story that goes with an awesome title. The title for Senior Assassin came when my son was a senior in high school (he graduated in 2012). Our school has a tradition with water guns and seniors of playing a game where there are teams of two and each kid pays to play. There’s a master of the game who assigns partners and holds the money. Last person standing gets the pot of money. They hide out and jump from bushes, etc to soak each other with the water from the water guns. I thought it was kind of dangerous myself but my kid played anyway and he was second to last man standing. He was robbed!! LOL!

Anyway, I loved the name Senior Assassin and this book lent itself perfectly to the title. When I told my son that I got a contract on it, he said, “You stole that name from when I was in high school.” I freely admitted it and told him about the premise of the story.

He said, “So, no teenagers and water guns in it?”

My response: “No. Pre World War II spies instead and a Nazi. Same thing, right?”

Him: “That’s pretty much what I had to do when I played, so yeah, everyone was a spy or a Nazi. They all had to die.”

Love that dude’s sense of humor.