Another pleasant evening with 23 people this time at the Nanaimo North Library for a book reading with some interesting questions and discussion. One lady bought a copy yesterday and read the whole book overnight in order to be informed when she came to the book reading today – another case of “could not put it down”! So many people wondering when the next part of my life will be revealed. Many thanks to Stephen Warren and Darby Love from VIRL who helped to make this event possible.
The YouTube link originally posted for this blog post was changed. The link below is now the correct path to the video.
We all have our moment in the sun. I had all of 4 minutes under the bright lights and in front of the TV cameras last week. Check out The Show on YouTube and scroll forward to 29:15 for my interview about upcoming book signings and book readings.
“Who is the most memorable character in your book?
I did just that, the name I gave was “Gila” who was the heroine of “We Don’t Talk About That” whose story is an amazing story of survival. After several days had passed I went on to post the following on LinkedIn:
I am surprised how much text many of you wrote. For my part I tried to keep my posting very short. Now I may add a bit more of Gila’s story titled “We Don’t Talk About That“:
Christmas 1944 – it was the last year of my childhood but I did not know it then.
During the month of January 1945 the Russians made rapid advances into Germany. For my eleventh birthday nobody came to visit because people had been robbed or even killed by German deserters for clothing or money, everyone stayed safely at home. A few days later our teacher announced that the school would be closed, permanently. The Red Cross would turn it into a field hospital since the front was very close. We had heard the noise of the fighting for days now. Mr. Koenig had tears in his eyes when he, with a breaking voice, said “Good Bye children, may God be with you. We may never see each other again.” As we left he shook our hand instead of looking at the usual ‘Heil Hitler’.
That afternoon the church doors were wide open despite the cold. The organ was played ‘with all the stops pulled’ as the village folks said. And that was where the Russians found him, his wife sitting by his side. ……
It was very dark when some horrible screams woke me up. I thought it was a bad dream, but my dad whispered: “Please, be quiet, be very quiet.” We heard some loud cursing and the house door was opened and closed with a bang. The screams came from Helen and Betty. Several Russians had raped them. Their grandfather had tried to protect them and was brutally beaten. When he was unconscious they just threw him out the door and went on with their business. To our horror we found him dead and frozen in the morning. …..
A couple of days later all men and women between sixteen and sixty years of age were horded together, the unfit and nursing mothers were pushed aside, the rest were taken to Siberia. …..
The first Russians moved on and the next ones evicted everyone. We just followed all the other villagers with no idea where to go. We walked across a field where the mighty Russians had killed the last of the fighting German army. Body parts lay scattered. I pushed the pram with my baby sister. My mother called out “Gila, don’t look to your right.” Tell a kid not to do that! A soldier with his head beside him leaned against a fence. His legs were not attached but on the other side of the pram. This sight became a nightmare for me for many years.
Arriving at a house where about 40 women and children were standing around we asked if we could join them. One woman said “The more the merrier, that way we might get away with just one soldier raping each of us instead of a whole army.” The Russians locked us all into one small living room. One spoke a little German. Asked why the Russians raped young girls as well as old grandmothers he shrugged his shoulders, and said “Woman is woman. Has hole.” …..
The above is just a short part of the book. Gila, her mother and sisters walked on with hundreds of thousands of others alongside the Russian war machinery on their victorious march towards Berlin for three weeks, no food, no water, disease, lice; the dead and dying were just left in the ditch. …..
Starting towards the end of 1945 the rebuilding of some kind of order, school, farm work, the establishment of East and West German States, followed by Gila’s haphazard education to become a PhysEd teacher, kayak sport, escape to West Berlin, an unwanted affair, a confrontation with a convicted rapist on parole became all too much. Gila had just one wish: To get out of Germany, to get away, to emigrate, to be free, to start a new life.
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Dinner in Pomerania was between 12.00 noon and 12.30 PM. The blacksmith put his hammer down and took the big heavy leather apron off, the cobbler pushed his stool aside, the farmers came home from the fields and took care of the horses first before they entered the kitchens where their women had prepared a hearty meal. Sitting around the table the men had discussed the possibility of war for the last few days.
I was just over five years old and a real ‘father’s girl’, hanging on every one of his words with big eyes and an admiring, curious mind. He employed several men in the smithy, a couple of them young apprentices. They would sit around the large table in our country kitchen where all our meals were taken and talked. And talking they did! There was no chance for it in the work room when the fires were blazing and crackling, the hammers hitting the red-hot iron on the anvils. When shaped into parts for machinery or horse shoes with sparks flying and dipped into cold water, the hissing sound added to the cacophony of noise.
On September 1st, 1939 their talk was subdued and serious with the palpable underlying fear of being conscripted into the army. War was imminent, the German army had entered Poland and it was a matter of hours until the radio announced war had been declared. It was a very sad day in our village. People stood together in groups and I, holding my father’s hand, had the feeling as if someone had died and they had all just come from a funeral.
The rest is history. The rest was death and tears. Today, September 1st 2014 is the 75th anniversary of that sad day long ago in my young life that I remember so well. Today the Polish leader, Donald Tusk, laid a wreath at the memorial of the fallen young soldiers in Gdansk and warned:
“This is no time for beautiful speeches or naïve optimism looking at the conflict between the Ukrainian troops and the pro-Russian forces.”
Just about a month ago we were reminded of the Centenary of WWI. The outcome of this, the so-called “Great War” led to WWII 25 years later. Within days from now it is the 75-year anniversary since Poland was invaded and another war was well on the way.
“Lest we forget” but let’s celebrate and be happy about another centenary: One hundred years ago on August 24th 1914 Lt. H. Colebourn, a veterinarian with the Royal Canadian Army Veterinary Corps bought an orphaned female bear cub from a hunter who had killed its mother. Having lived in and loved Winnipeg he named her “Winnipeg Bear” and the little bear became his companion on his way to England where he was stationed on Salisbury Plains. The bear became the army mascot and during rest time played with the soldiers. The name was shortened to “Winnie” and ‘Winnie’ later lived out her life in the London Zoo where she became a star attraction. She died in 1934.
‘Winnie’ was the inspiration for one of the best loved children’s books of all time. When the author, A.A. Milne read his story to his son the youngster called her ‘Winnie the Pooh’ and also named his teddy bear after her. Stories about ‘Winnie the Pooh’ have inspired generations of children and they still do.
A ‘Winnie the Pooh Gallery’ with memorabilia collected by the Assiniboine Zoo in Winnipeg is an attraction not only for children. Another author, Ms. Appleby has written a biography of ‘Winnie the Pooh” and her Winnipeg connection.
Say “Hi” to a bronze statue of Lt. Colebourn and ‘Winnie’ in the Assiniboine Zoo’s Nature Playground next time you visit Winnipeg, Canada.
It is surely no reason to celebrate – but it is a part of “Lest we forget”. Just about a month ago we talked about the Centenary of WWI – and the statement of General E. Ludendorff: “Peace is just an interlude between wars.” Only a mere 25 years separated the two World Wars. The first one is also referred to as the “Great War” – I cannot see anything ‘great’ about it. The horror of the Second World War still gives me nightmares. The happenings during those five years are so deeply engraved in my memory and despite, or maybe even because, of my writing it all down in my book “We Don’t Talk About That”, WWII is much more ‘present’ for me. Had I hoped that to “Talk About It” would provide a certain relief? It is certainly what all my friends thought would happen. I did not. However, I still am glad I wrote it, even if sometimes my hands were shaking and my fingers hit the wrong keys…
My treat for you is a small story from my book. Enjoy:
One day, two men in brown uniforms came to our village. They inspected, listed and marked all the horses that were not field workhorses. They were to be brought to the village square. Father explained to me that we must also bring our horse, Lotte. We were at war and the Führer needed Lotte to defend the country. I asked Dad, “Why our Lotte? Can’t he use another horse?”
I was allowed to ride her into the village. After my dad lifted me off Lotte at the village square, I cried and was despondent for weeks.
There had been a lot of talk on the radio about why the war was necessary. Everybody talked about it. I can still see myself standing with my dad, holding his hand and looking up into his face while he talked to his friend Fritz K., the pub owner, about the possibility of both of them being drafted.
“Oh, Daddy,” I thought, “don’t go, I love you so much. I want to marry you when I grow up. You are more handsome than Fritz.”
This Fritz was younger and he liked both of my Aunts, Irene and Lisa, and I always expected him to become my uncle when he married one of them. I was just five years old but always listened to the grown-ups.
I had a gut feeling that I would never see Lotte again and that she would probably be shot dead by the enemy. It seemed to me that Lotte knew, too. When I reached up to her, she bent her head way down to me and looked at me with sad eyes when I tried to put my head against her cheek. Tears are stinging my eyes even now, so many years later just writing about it.
There must have been about twenty or thirty other horses taken that day, all loaded into trucks by the uniformed men. I hated them. Lotte walked up the ramp with her head hanging low. Some of the horses kicked and reared up but in the end, they lost the fight.
That was in September 1939. It was my first taste of war. It was not even long after that day that they came and took the battery out of our DKW car. It now just sat in the garage with an old gramophone with a big horn and a box of records on the back seat. Dad allowed us to sit in the car, wind up the gramophone and listen to music. There was a picture of a little white dog on the gramophone and a caption read, “His Master’s Voice.”
- Louisa Elliott – This classic romance, exquisitely told, is the sweeping chronicle of the life and loves of a remarkable woman-Louisa Elliott. Proud and determined, she battles to overcome the stigma of her illegitimate birth in the pitiless sums of York during the reign of Queen Victoria. An indomitable heroine, she is adored by her gentle, poetic cousin Edward, yet is irresistibly drawn into the passionate arms of Robert Duncannon-a handsome and dashing dragoon officer whose love could destroy forever Louisa’s cherished dream of respectability. Breathtakingly sensual, sparkling and alive with sumptuous period detail, LOUISA ELLIOTT is a magnificent work-a moving and unforgettable reading experience that touches the heart and enriches the soul.
- Liam’s Story – Continuing the story of the historical novel “Louisa Elliot”, this is a tale of lost innocence, family conflict and an overwhelming but impossible love.
…a shot was fired, followed by another. It was the 4th of August 1914. Those shots killed two people, one of them a crowned head: Franz Ferdinand, Archduke of Austria, the other his wife. It set off a lot of uncountable other shots – millions killed in a war that was supposed to end all wars and we call it “The Great War”. Not so much because it was ‘great’ but for the fact that it involved the whole world and is referred to as WWI. Expected to last a few weeks or maybe a few months, it lasted four years and the outcome was one that nobody could have expected:
- the end of the Empire of the Habsburgs,
- the abdication of the German Emperor,
- the end of the Czar-ruled Russia,
- the rise of socialism, communism and, last, but not least,
- the rise of Adolf Hitler and his aim for a “Thousand-Year-Reich”.
Those shots changed the world.
History writers still argue about the real reason of WWI – but every single one is just speculating. We will never know. Those first shots were the “starter’s” shot for the war but the true reasons had been smouldering for years. Many books have been written on WWI and writers today are still trying to dig deeper. One of the most frequent questions in discussions is always the fact that the Archduke was not protected and then “was the plot planned, was he supposed to be killed? Who was behind it all, what was the real reason?”
We will never know. Maybe the WWI General Ludendorff was right when he stated: “Peace is just an interlude between wars.” Did the years between WWI and WWII prove this theory? In our part of the world, we have enjoyed a long period of peace but if we look at the horrors of war in the Middle East and the on-going strife in Ukraine, – I for one shake in my boots. Having lived and survived WWII, I would not like to see yet another with a number III attached to it.
We all learned in history class that the shooting of the Archduke Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo started WWI also known as the ‘Great War’. True? Yes and no. It certainly hastened it but the plans that would lead up to WWI had already been drawn up some ten years earlier. The Schlieffen plan, updated and modernized by Moltke (Google it) was the ‘fore-runner’, so-to-speak, with an eye on how Germany could defeat France and Russia.
The Archduke Franz Ferdinand had married Sophie, a Czech-born countess, – her bloodline not being good enough for the aristocratic houses of Europe, but they were very much in love. The treatment of Sophie before they were married caused Franz Ferdinand to be antagonistic towards the Slavic countries.
The shots that killed both of them were actually the second assassination attempt on the same day, June 28th 1914, one-hundred years ago. After the official part of the day the couple was on route to the hospital to visit the wounded from the earlier unsuccessful bomb attack. The driver made a wrong turn – someone alerted him about it and he stopped right in front of the Serb assassin Gavrilo Princip, who fired those two fatal shots from just four feet away. The assassinations changed the world.
WWI and the Russian Revolution in 1917 gave us Lenin and Stalin and, in a way, later also Adolf Hitler. The peace treaties signed at Versailles in 1918 paved the way towards WWII since the conditions were so severe that the defeated Germany could not meet its obligations.
Read my account of the ensuing years in my book “We Don’t Talk About That”.