I recently profiled a book, Rosa’s Child, about a Kindertransport child. That book was co-written with a sort of ghost writer, but the story carried it. Some blog readers have actually got hold of the book, so I am going to recommend some more.
There’s something invidious about reading accounts of people’s misfortunes in the Third Reich. Sebald said in the Guardian interview that he objected to a film like Schindler’s List because in between the shots of deprivation and maltreatment, the extras would be having a chat and enjoying their cups of tea. However, there is a fascination about these autobiographies. And when I was preparing to translate a book on memorial architecture at Dachau, I was drawn to the table of books for general consumption at the Jewish bookshop there – there’s a smaller branch in Fürth too. Do look at the website at www.literaturhandlung.de (German only).
I have read the definitive version of Anne Frank’s diary this year. Unlike the edition I first read decades ago, this isn’t constructed to look as if the whole thing were devised from the outset as letters to Kitty, which made it look as if it had been at least heavily edited by an adult – but there are letters to Kitty, too, and also some extra pages. Anne Frank had two editions in any case, as she intended one for publication after the war. The helpers are given their real names now; the real names of the people hiding in the secret annexe are given in the introduction. As far as I remember, the first edition was just as good.
Another book I picked up in Dachau was Judith Kerr, When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit. I had heard about this but didn’t realize it was so old (1971). It’s the first part of a trilogy – the names of the books vary between UK and US – and it’s easy to get second-hand copies, e.g. from abebooks.de. Judith Kerr (born 1923) is well-known as the author and illustrator of children’s books (after my time) and her brother Michael Kerr (1921 – 2002) was a barrister and judge. Their father, Alfred Kerr, who was 54 when his first child was born, was a famous literary critic, the Reich-Ranicki of his day (although perhaps superior), who had made enemies of both Brecht and Hitler. He therefore had the good fortune, if it can be called that, of having to emigrate in 1933 when Hitler came to power. Ten days before the 1933 elections, he had a visit from an acquaintance who warned him that Hitler planned to deprive him of his passport. As Kerr was in bed with flu rather than out seeing people, he was able to leave the country for Prague at night without drawing attention to this, and his wife and children went to meet him in Switzerland the day before the election. The title of the book makes it sound as if it were the sad story of a little girl who lost her favourite soft toys and always missed them, but I suspect it was a publisher’s title – in fact the children had quite an enjoyable time on their emigration, whereas their parents never had a real home of their own again, in Switzerland, France and England, and Alfred Kerr had scarcely any means of financial support. When Michael Kerr had a place to study at Cambridge, he was interned, like other Germans in the UK, no matter how anti-Hitler and pro-British they were. Actually these three books are said to be novels – novels written for children, incidentally – and the names of the brother and sister are changed, but this is definitely an autobiography.
I recently discovered another book of an emigration, from Leipzig to France and the USA. There must be many personal accounts, but this one is particularly well written and it is available as a free e-book online (it originally came out as a hardback). It is by Eve Rosenzweig Kugler, Shattered Crystals. It is written as a first-person account by her mother, Mia Amalia Kanner. Website with information on the time with foster parents in the USA, download Shattered Crystals here. This is the story of a family with three daughters who left Germany much too late, after waiting for year after year for a permit to go to Palestine. The father even spent a few days in Buchenwald. The family spent many years in France, eventually under German occupation, and the two eldest daughters were sent to the USA and lived there for five years (a time in which the daughters became estranged from their parents) with various foster families who were incapable of understanding their situation. The mother was long separated from her youngest daughter too. Both Eve and her younger sister Leah had blanked out their memories before the USA. I don’t know whether any of those memories came back when the book, for which Eve had to work closely with Mia, was being written.
Finally, a book I missed when it came out, and of which a film was made which I also missed – and a book which is likely to arouse strong negative feelings in many people for the liberties it takes with history: John Boyne, The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas. Has anyone else encountered this? I can’t say much about it because it is based on a surprise for the reader, which was clear to me from picking it up on the table of holocaust books. In fact it begins in almost exactly the same way as Judith Kerr’s, with a nine-year-old boy packing his stuff in Berlin and leaving, never to return – but in this case his father is not an emigrating Jew, but the commandant at Auschwitz. I thought it was an interesting fable.