The Boy Who Followed His Father into Auschwitz

The Boy Who Followed His Father Into Auschwitz

    By Jeremy Dronfield

This is a true story, a story moulded from a secret diary written by Gustav Kleinmann  whilst in concentration camps during World War 2, and corroborated by his son’s Fritz’s memoirs, published in 2012 with the title Doch der Hund will nicht krepieren, (which translated means But Still The Dog Will Not Die).

The Kleinmanns are a Jewish family living in Vienna who get caught up in the events of the 1930s. In 1939 Gustav and his eldest son are arrested and imprisoned at Buchenwald Concentration Camp. When Gustav is transferred to Auschwitz  15 year old Fritz volunteers to go with his father despite it being considered a death sentence. He doesn’t want his father to be alone.

Through luck, fortitude, and a strong bond these two men go on to survive the eight day Death March through snow away from the advancing Red Army to incarceration at Mauthausen, followed by a spell at Mittelbau-Dora, and then finally Bergen- Belsen where they finally find freedom at wars end. It’s a bleak read, a dark read, as one would expect.

 The author also interviewed the younger son, Kurt, who was able to tie in the rest of the families’ circumstances during that same period.

Gustav’s wife Tini is courageous and resourceful, organising a work visa that enables the eldest daughter to go to England as a domestic, and Kurt when a young child, is sponsored and goes to America. Both end up living happy and successful lives.

Tini’s story is fascinating, scrounging for work, money and food and doing whatever it takes to keep her family together, even sending parcels of clothing to Gustav and Fritz at the camps in the early days. Sadly Tini and her youngest daughter were later amongst those executed at a death camp near Minsk.

Although Kurt was aware of these deaths it wasn’t until he met the author for research purposes that he learned how the executions took place. Seventy plus years later the information still has a gut wrenching effect.

This is a powerful and tragic read though love of family and resilience shine through. And no, there will never be enough Holocaust stories if it means preventing a repeat episode.

Around the world, people condemned the Nazis and criticized their own governments for doing too little to take in refugees. But the campaigners were outnumbered by those who did not want immigrants in their midst, taking their livelihoods and diluting their communities. The German press jeered at the hypocrisy of a world that made so much indignant noise about the supposedly pitiful plight of the Jews but did little or nothing to help.”

About The Author:
Jeremy Dronfield is a biographer, historian, novelist and former archaeologist. I look forward to chasing up his other titles.

Around The World Reading Challenge : Germany

The Giraffe’s Neck by Judith Shalansky

Inge Lohmark has been employed in the education system for thirty years and is currently employed in a school that will soon be closing.

She lives and breathes biology and treats her students as specimens. A huge follower of Charles Darwin this is how she describes the children in one of her classes.

Right at the front crouched a terrified vicar’s child who had grown up with wooden angels, wax stains and recorder lessons. In the back row sat two overdressed little tarts. One was chewing gum, the other was obsessed with her coarse black hair, which she constantly smoothed and examined, strand by strand. Next to her, a tow-headed, primary-school-sized squirt. A tragedy the way nature was presenting the uneven development of the sexes here. To the right by the big windows, a small primate rocked, back and forth, open-mouthed, waiting only to mark his territory with some vulgar comment. It was just short of drumming on its chest.”

Set in the former East Germany which is starting to adapt to new ways only heightens Inge’s inability to do the same. She presents as bitter and cold and does not have a loving relationship with either her husband or adult daughter. I don’t think the reader really cares one hoot about Inge.

The language in this book at first appears stodgy, though the author has actually been very clever and written this short novel as if it were a biology paper.

Reviews of The Giraffe’s Neck, another nod to biology in that the long neck allows these animals to eat from the tallest trees, are very mixed. East Europeans see it as the next Modern Classic of German Literature and it is listed in the Top 100 German Books Translated Into English.

I admit that I probably under valued this book because of a lack of knowledge about German history and politics. Germany was not discussed in our house, and my father ( ex Bomber Command and Pathfinder Force) actually pulled me out of German classes in high school. Having said that this is one sorry affair. Nor did it provide any incentive for me to do any follow up reading to improve my understanding.

About The Author :

Judith Schalansky was born in 1980 in Greifswald, Germany. She has degrees in both history of art and communication design and works as a freelance writer and designer in Berlin. This is her first novel.

Around The World Reading Challenge : Ireland

The Hungry Road is a novel by Dublin author Marita Conlon-McKenna detailing the plight of the Irish at the time of the potato Famine.

Downloaded digitally from the Library, with my Covid brain I initially baulked at the 88 Chapters. There was no need for trepidation: this was an easy read.

The story opens optimistically enough in June 1843 as crowds gather for the Monster Repeal Meeting in Skibbereen in West Cork to hear their hero speak. Here we are introduced to our protagonists – farmers Mary and John Sullivan, Dr Dan Donovan, and local priest Father John Fitzpatrick – and  each have a separate story reflecting their changing Ireland.

Life in Skibbereen quickly plummets with the arrival of potato blight which after successive years results not only hunger, poverty and disease but the death of millions.

The hard working Sullivans are eventually turfed off their plot for non payment of rent and like millions of Irish before them take the arduous voyage by ship to New York in search of a better life.

Interestingly, Dr Donovan was a real-life character who became medical officer at the workhouse in Skibbereen in 1839. His notes from that period appeared in several publications in Ireland and England in the 1840’s as Diary Of A Dispensary Doctor which helped to shine a light on the suffering of the people of West Cork. The author weaves information from his writings into her story making the retelling of the appalling  living conditions in Ireland at the time all the more authentic.

This book could have been better marketed as Class 101 : A Guide to the Irish Famine Without The Politics and is highly recommended for Young Adult readers. Personally, I’m happier to retain all the history regardless of how unpalatable. Hopefully it is then something we can learn from.

About The Author

Marita Conlon-McKenna (born 5 November 1956) is an award-winning author best known for her Famine era historical children’s book Under The Hawthorn Tree. A prolific writer she has published over 20 books for both young readers and adults. No stranger to West Cork, her mother’s people came from Skibbereen and her grandmother is buried in Abbeystrewery cemetery, which also contains a mass grave where some 9,000 coffin-less Famine victims are buried.

Captain Fabian : The Ugliest Errol Flynn Of All

Stay At Home orders have meant the consumption of lots of books and movies; the good, the bad and the ugly. This post may surprise you as it pertains to an Errol Flynn movie which I can only describe as the Ugliest Of All Time. You never thought you’de hear that from me, did you?

The Adventures Of Captain Fabian was released in 1951, during which time I suggest rigor mortis had started to set in.

Flynn plays a sea captain (Fabian) whose late father has been defrauded by a wealthy New Orleans family. Upon his return to New Orleans he becomes embroiled in a court case as a matter of revenge in which the Creole servant girl of said wealthy family is up for murder. She too is after revenge and what follows is illogical claptrap

Micheline Presle plays the servant girl. Beautiful looking lass but talk about a whiney, bitchy, evil mess. Definate bi polar. Let’s just say it isn’t her brains that attract Captain Fabian…… (She’s still alive at 98 years so lets leave it at that).

Oh, and she was married to the Director William Marshall at the time.

Flynn is credited with the adaptation of the screenplay. Oh, Errol mate, why would you put your name to that rubbish? What an appalling piece of drivel that makes little sense. Old Errol’s brain was on holidays in this one.

Vincent Price was the wealthy, fraudulent character. Playing a weakling with a murderous streak (literally), his performance must have rated as I was itching to hit him over the head with a cricket bat. That’s a good thing, right?

Back to my boy Flynn. *Still shaking my head in horror.

First of all there’s a bath scene. Flynn stands up and is wrapped in a towel. Looking at him at 42 years of age I likened it to an old man getting a sponge bath at the local nursing home. Sadly, it is an image that I will carry with me forever, though I have to question who was responsible for this exploitation. Shades of elder abuse….

Flynn’s performance lacks energy and indeed cracking a smile even seems beyond him. The youthful spring-in-his-step has gone and I wanted to recommend an orthopaedic surgeon.

At the conclusion of the movie, Fabian’s ship has been blown up and he is a criminal on the run, Vincent Price has been murdered, and the whiney but beautiful Creole dies with “Fabian” “Fabian” “Fabian” on repeat. At least ten times, still lisping to the very end. If that flag pole hadn’t killed her I would have……..

Then the piece de resistance : Fabian goes to pick up the body of the whiney one. Errol’s knees are buggered and it is so very obvious that his stunt double has to do the heavy lifting for him. Doesn’t even look like Flynn from the back except he’s got two arms, legs and black hair.

Or maybe Flynn finally regained his senses and just wanted to escape the whining one despite her ample….err….charms.

Interestingly, Errol made several movies when he was older and even more rugged around the edges such as Against All Flags and The Master Of Ballantrae, which still showed the remnants of his vigour and charm and are worth watching.

Captain Fabian can walk the plank for all I care. Absolute rubbish.

Will I go to Hell for this?

Two Over Achievers

Never heard of Florence Violet McKenzie, affectionately known as Mrs Mac or Violet? Well neither had I until reading Radio Girl by David Duffy.

You know how there is this current movement to encourage girls into S.T.E.M subjects at school – read: Science, Maths, Engineering and Technology-then this is one fascinating read about a woman born in 1890 well before her time.

The list of some of her achievements include :
⁃ First female Electrical Engineer in Australia
⁃ With the money made as an entrepreneur selling radios she established her own Signalling School for women in Sydney
⁃ Wrote a bestselling cookbook explaining how to cook with an electric stove – because it had been all wood stoves ( get your head around that!)
⁃ A Presenter for the ABC in its first year of existence
⁃ Persuaded the Australian Navy to set up the WRANS
⁃ First woman in NSW branch of Wireless of Institute of Australia
⁃ Started an amateur Radio Club
⁃ Organised the second ever World Wireless Exhibition held in Australia
⁃ Started the Wireless Weekly magazine which has since become Electronics Australia
⁃ Opened her own Radio College to educate women in radio related technical skills to assist with tasks during WW2
⁃ Trained women to serve in the Women’s Emergency Signalling Corps who then went on to train as Morse Code Instructors, who themselves trained men in the Navy.

OMG! I look back at all of the screaming matches over the dinner table because the entire concept of long division and fractions escaped me. And don’t talk to me about Trigonometry. What a wasted year of my life and so many tears. My youngest daughter, on the other hand, has an agenda of quietly pushing her friend’s daughters down the STEM route and routinely gifts tractors, hi vis jackets and lab kits.


PAYNE VC by Mike Coleman

Every Australian over a certain age would have heard the name Keith Payne, the most decorated Aussie that served in the Vietnam War. Well into his eighties now ( he served in Korea also) this is an interesting read that tells the story of a country kid that grew up in Far North Queensland shooting bunnies to help put food on the table and went on to become a leader of men.

I enjoyed learning about the support Payne received from his wife and five sons, and the impact that war – and the Victoria Cross – had on this soldiers family.

He came home troubled in the days before the term PTDS was even coined, but fought his demons and won, later to become an advocate for veterans requiring support.

Keith Payne is still visible on special occasions such as ANZAC Day and Remembrance Day and is a regular speaker at school and RSL functions. He was awarded the Victoria Cross, Distinguished Service Cross, Silver Star.

Without being disrespectful I truly think the wives of these men could do with an award of some sort in recognition of the work they do in the background……….

Around The World Reading Challenge : Japan

Breasts and Eggs by Mieko Kawakami.

This book did little to change my perceptions of Japan. God, that sounds so judgemental, but it’s true. Cherry blossoms, cramped living quarters,  bath houses, and fast train travel figured highly. What caught me by surprise was the amount of beer young Japanese women consumed.

This book is in two parts, though were originally published separately.

In Book 1 Natsuko, a twenty year old journalist living in Tokyo, is visited by her older sister, Makiko accompanied by her adolescent daughter from Osako, for a breast enhancement consultation. The teenager is appalled by her mother’s pursuit of cosmetic surgery whilst having her own issues about her changing body. She doesn’t speak to her mother and communicates only by writing notes. Natsuko isn’t the coolest sandwich in the esky as she detests sex. This is one dysfunctional family, I tell you.

By the end of the weekend there is a breakthrough of sorts, but you have to wade through a lot of jabber about nipples and fertility issues to get there.

Book 2 takes place ten years later and Natsuko spends far too much time trying to make a decision about whether or not to have a baby. She walks us through all the various pathways to conceive a child without both sex nor a partner.

We catch up with Makiko, still working at a bar – so the boob job hasn’t weaved any magic – though the daughter appears to have survived both her mother and her aunt and is at University and has a loving, supportive partner. Yay!

This meanders off theme at several points and I just wished there was one of those Japanese beers handy to ease me through the whole process.

I’m no therapist but I wondered if this was a reflection of contemporary womanhood in Japan. No need for an Aussie version: we seem to be obsessed with Reality TV productions which are of a similar ilk.

What I did enjoy about this novel – and maybe it was totally psychosomatic – was that I heard the characters speaking in my head in their soft little Japanese voices.

About The Author :

Mieko (born August 29, 1976) is a Japanese writer and poet from Osaka. Her work has won prestigious Japanese literary awards in several genres, including the 138th Akutagawa Prize for her novella Breasts and Eggs),the 2013 Tanizaki Prizefor her short story collection Ai no yume to ka (Dreams of Love, etc.), and the 2008 Nakahara Chūya Prize for Contemporary Poetry for Sentan de, sasuwa sasareruwa soraeewa .

Around The World Reading Challenge : Mexico

American Dirt by Jeanine Cummins is an edge-of-the-seat read that will have you cancelling any dreams of holiday travel to Mexico. It is because of this negativity, and the fact that the author is neither Latino nor Hispanic, that this novel has become the subject of much controversy in America.

Lydia runs a bookshop where she becomes emotionally entangled with a fellow lover of literature. Her husband is a journalist and it pans out that the charming lover of books is head of a cartel.

When sixteen members of her family are slaughtered at a family barbeque Lydia goes on the run with her 8 year old son. To escape the tendrils of the cartel she flees to America in a journey which is both frightening and brazen, and always with a machete strapped to her leg to protect her son.

I accepted this novel as a piece of fiction and took from it the view of how a mother would react to protect her cub, what a mother would do to cope with the grief, as well as the search for a better life. That I read it whilst the world has been rioting because of inequality added an additional layer.

When the Library is back in action I will look for a book with an alternative view of Mexico. Any recommendations are welcome.

About The Author:

Jeanine Cummins is an American author.She has written four books: a memoir entitled A Rip in Heaven and three novels: The Outside Boy, The Crooked Branch, and American Dirt. She says of American Dirt that “ her goal was only to redeem the humanity of migrants, to tell a story of singular individuals separate from their representation as a ‘‘faceless brown mass’’.

“Jeanine Cummins spent five years of her life writing this book with the intent to shine a spotlight on tragedies facing immigrants,” said Bob Miller, president and publisher of Flatiron Books,”We are saddened that a work of fiction that was well-intentioned has led to such vitriolic rancor.”

From further reading I suggest there are others issues at play here. Mexican American writers have been among those criticising American Dirt for stereotypical depictions of Mexicans and the large profit the author stands to make from the story. There is debate moving on to representation of Latino authors in general. #DignidadLiteraria, a movement set up by the novel’s critics, is in discussion with the publishing industry regarding the approach to Latino literature.

Around The World Reading Challenge : France

Little Thomas didn’t have time to finish his stewed apple. His mother hadn’t given him the slightest chance. The speed with which the poison circulated through his blood simply meant he didn’t suffer when he died.”

These are the opening lines of Ines Bayard’s debut novel, This Little Family. Intrigued? It certainly had me hooked.

Marie and Laurent are a young, career couple living in an apartment in Paris and are discussing starting a family. Her contentment and comfort with life is shattered when Marie experiences a violent encounter with her new manager at the office which threatens to derail her life.

Less than two years later, the family’s apartment is cordoned off by police tape as forensic officers examine a horrific scene in the family apartment. Three bodies around a dining table. Marie, Laurent and their little toddler, Thomas, in his high chair. All three of them have been poisoned by Marie.

Over this two year period we watch Marie slowly spiral out of control as she is driven by extremes of disgust and dread in the aftermath of a rape.  

This is quite a harrowing read as Marie descends into madness. The story is tightly written which only exacerbates Marie’s mental health. Just when you think that the situation can’t get any worse, it does. 

This is a dark, compelling read. For all her wrong doings I still bled for Marie. And of course there’s a twist!

About The Author

Inès Bayard was born in Toulouse, France, in 1991. She lived and studied in Paris for several years before relocating in 2017 to Berlin, where she is currently based. 

Nominations: Prix Goncourt des LycéensGoncourt List, Poland’s ChoiceGoncourt List, Romania’s ChoiceGoncourt List, Belgium’s ChoiceGoncourt List, Italy’s ChoiceGoncourt List, Switzerland’s Choice

Long Weekend Reading – Two Book Reviews.

Reclaiming Raylyn by Dixie Jackson

After twenty-seven years of marriage, more than a dozen overseas deployments, and five children, Gavin McIntyre returns home from his latest marine placement to find his wife missing.

Raylyn McIntyre hasn’t simply forgotten to pick Gavin up from the bus, she’s done a runner. Gavin finds his home set up boot camp style with money in the cookie jar to pay his taxi fare from the base to home. All evidence of his family has been deleted.

Raylyn McIntyre has spent almost three decades playing the dutiful military wife supporting her husband in his career in every possible way, including following him on his various placements, and virtually single handedly raising the family. Now an empty nester Raylyn needs to rediscover herself and Gavin is forced to support his wife’s needs if he wants to continue their relationship. Someone so entrenched in the Military that they can focus on someone other than themselves? You just know it’s going to be a hard ask, don’t you?

Closeup detail of red/ maroon leather texture background.

This novel was fast paced and it didn’t take long to gain insight into all the characters within the McIntyre clan via Gavin’s efforts to locate his wife through his five adult children. What could have easily been another depressing tale of a marriage breakdown was one littered with humour and relatable situations. Of course, there were a few bumps along the way…….

Reclaiming Raylyn is an enjoyable read and one which could easily translate to film. Finished it in a single sitting.

*Thank you to author and fellow blogger Dixie Jackson for a free ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review. All thoughts and opinions expressed herein are my own and not influenced by the company or its affiliates in any way.

Missing William Tyrell by Caroline Overington

All Australians are aware of the suspected abduction of 3 year old William Tyrrell on 12 September 2014. William had been playing at his foster grandmother’s house with his sister, and was wearing a Spider Man suit at the time of his disappearance. A reward of A$1 million was offered for the recovery of Tyrell though as at this time there is no knowledge about his whereabouts.

This case caused an absolute media frenzy and was the topic of water cooler discussions around the nation because of the perceived secrecy about William’s family.

The author takes the reader on a step by step re-enactment of the search for William from the moment of his disappearance, then providing all the information behind the non disclosure of the family situation. Overington neither favours the biological parents nor the foster parents, but merely reports the facts (and the law).

This was a fascinating read despite its inconclusive ending. Like me, you may also be shocked by the number of middle aged sex offenders running around the country.

A Week Of War Movies

With ANZAC Day on April 25th and all in isolation I lost a week watching war movies, specifically Errol Flynn war movies.

Errol did battle and lost to the Red Baron in The Dawn Patrol, won the war over Germany in Desperate Journey, had the Japanese on the run in Objective, Burma! and solved all of Norway’s issues working with the Underground movement in Edge Of Darkness. Oh, and Dive Bomber with Fred McMurray. That was 2 hours of my life I’ll never get back. So it was a busy week for Errol, I tell you.

Change of direction last night with Flynn in a delightful little romantic comedy called Never Say Goodbye. Never heard of it? No, you wouldn’t have : critics panned it as “unoriginal”. To quote : It took five writers to concoct this rehash of tired plot machinations, time-worn gags, and padded situations. Bugger the reviews- this movie was never meant to be * high art, just good fun.

Never Say Goodbye (1946) tells the story of a divorced man (Errol Flynn), whose profession is drawing beautiful women for magazines who is trying to win back the love of his ex-wife (Eleanor Parker) with the help of his daughter, a restaurant owner (S V Sakall) and an unsuspecting GI (Forrest Tucker) home on leave. Errol Flynn’s mother in law and Eleanor Parker’s current boy friend, who just happens to be the couples divorce attorney, try to sabotage all efforts in reuniting the couple. The couple’s 8 year old daughter lives 6 months with Dad and six months with Mum, has two imaginary friends and writes to a marine for morale boosting purposes though includes a swimsuit photo of Mum.

Errol is at his most Flynnesque and doesn’t have to extend himself in this movie : he flirts beautifully, the banter is quick and fun, and he looks damn fine. Parker is absolutely beautiful as the society girl and there is no doubting “still waters run deep”.

Yes, the critics are right, we’ve seen the dining with two different women at a restaurant at the same time before, and we’ve seen the mimicking of someone else in a pretend mirror. Does it matter if it’s done well and we are entertained?

When Forrest Tucker makes moves on Parker, Errol pretends he’s a tough guy, which makes the daughter laugh.

Flynn : Well, you believed me as Robin Hood, didn’t you?
Daughter: Yes, but that was just make believe.

Errol also mans up against a six foot five Tucker by morphing into Humphrey Bogart , with Bogie doing the voice over. Not high art but good fun! Interestingly, Errol was not a little fella. With his shirt off in Gentleman Jim he looked simply delicious, hang on, I have to sit quietly for a few minutes to catch my breathe…………Next to Tucker Flynn looks a right weed, especially when he is picked up off the floor like a rag doll.

Of course there is a happy ending. After a week in the trenches it was well deserved.

* Also watched a movie made after 1962. I know, some of you just wont believe it. Most boring film I’ve ever sat through. Hated it, and laughed at the actors who thought they were doing Shakespeare. 1917 : don’t bother. Life is too short.