Wednesday, August 31, 2016

A House's History Reflects Germany Part 2

The creative director had married a Jewish woman and refused to divorce her. They faced escalating anti-Semitism in Berlin, and were happy to move out to the lake. Life wasn’t easy there. To the northeast lay an airfield. Built as a training facility for the rapidly expanding air force in 1935, Berlin-Gatow was a target for bombers. Electricity and water services were disrupted. The people drew their drinking water from the lake, despite dumping their sewage in the lake. Food supplies ran low. With temperatures below freezing, they had to bundle up in multiple layers of clothing and blankets.
The war ended, and the Soviets came. They stole belongings, raped women, and requisitioned homes. This side of the lake was in the Soviet zone of occupation. The creative director and his wife decided they would be safer in Berlin.
The composer and his family returned from Austria in the fall of 1946. Since their apartment was in ruins, they moved into the lake house. Now he was able to buy the property. By the following summer, their apartment repaired, they returned to Berlin.
When the Soviets blockaded West Berlin, the airlift began. Gatow airfield lay in the British sector, and the constant roar of planes over Groß Glienicke commenced. The cottage remained vacant much of the time, as the roads were in terrible condition, crossing the British and Soviet checkpoints was difficult, and the shortage of gas made its price prohibitive.

Then, in 1952, the border between West Berlin and East Germany was closed. If anyone wanted to own property in East Germany, they had to live there permanently. Unable to visit any longer, the composer invited a widow living next to the cottage with her two children to move in as caretaker.
Now, a fence of thin wooden posts and chicken wire ran along the lake’s edge. Children had no trouble climbing over it to swim in the lake. In winter, the summer cottage remained cold, and the family spent most of their time in the kitchen with the only source of heat.
Housing was scarce in East Germany, and families were ordered to share their homes. So in 1958, a truck driver and his growing family moved in with the widow. The widow and her son had three bedrooms, the kitchen, and the bathroom. The trucker’s family had the living room, the master bedroom, a small bedroom, and the chauffeur’s room and toilet, reached from outside and with no hot water. The trucker had building experience, and added a chimney in the chauffeur’s room, turning it into a kitchen. The two families had little contact, and didn’t become friends.
Besides his trucking job, he also served briefly as a Stasi informant. That didn’t last long because he didn’t provide worthwhile information and didn’t appear trustworthy.
In 1961, the Berlin Wall was built. Over three and a half million East Germans had emigrated to West Germany since 1949. The exodus had to stop. Now, besides the fence along the lake shore, another fence was erected thirty meters away, only ten meters from the cottage. Trees, pump houses, everything was cleared away. In between was a no-man’s-land which was patrolled hourly. The lake was no longer accessible to the lake residents.
The widow’s son married and began a family. The cottage was too small for two growing families, so the widow and her family moved out in 1965. The trucker’s family was pleased to take over the whole house with its kitchen, bathroom, hot and cold running water.
They had to be careful in what they did, what they said. In school, the children were asked what radio programs they listened to. If they listened to western programs, they could be reported to the Stasi.
The trucker drank heavily, and abused his wife. They finally divorced in 1986 after the children were grown. He remarried the following year. His new wife brought her seven-year-old grandson.
In 1989, the Wall came down. Former residents came back, trying to claim their property. The composer tried to get the lake house back. His claim was denied because the property had been seized in the Nazi era from Jews.
The trucker died in 1999. His widow moved to an old people’s home. Her grandson, now nineteen, now occupied the cottage. He invited a friend to join him. They spent much time drinking, doing drugs, and playing video games. The house became untidy and unkept. In 2003, the grandson was evicted when the city of Potsdam absorbed the land. The site would be redeveloped.
For several years, the house was vacant, except for vagrants and foxes. The composer’s son tried to claim the property, but because it had been acquired during the Soviet era and because the property had been aryanised, the claim was rejected.
A great-grandson of the Jewish doctor, Thomas Harding, visited the house in 2013. Since then, he worked to save the house from demolition. It is now cleaned up and open to the public as a place of commemoration of German-Jewish history on the shores of Groß Glienicke Lake.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

A House's History Reflects Germany

Have you ever lived in a really old house? If the walls could talk, what stories would they tell?
When I was in first grade, we lived in an old house with a coal-burning furnace in the basement. The second floor, with its own kitchen, could have served as an apartment. Since we didn’t need the upstairs, it became a huge play area for my sister and me.
The house’s history likely consisted of families growing up and moving away. Nothing dramatic in a stable country like the United States.
Imagine if it had been in Germany.
The House by the Lake: One House, Five Families, and a Hundred Years of German History tells quite a different story.

Groß Glienicke Lake, two and a half kilometers long and five hundred meters wide, lay fifteen kilometers west of Berlin. An ambitious, newly wealthy young man purchased an estate measuring two and a half kilometers by four kilometers. He reorganized the old manor farm into a profitable modern farm. For his workers, he created a nursery, then a school. In 1913, he petitioned Kaiser Wilhelm II to be granted a knighthood. This was granted.
World War One erupted. The estate suffered from a labor shortage. The war was lost, the Kaiser fled, and the country became embroiled in rebellions, strikes, and fighting. To ease his financial situation, the landowner leased out portions of his land. Being only a short drive from Berlin, wealthy Berliners would enjoy a second home in such a beautiful setting.
A Jewish doctor and his family leased one portion in 1927. He had served in the war and been awarded the Iron Cross First Class. They built a wooden cottage that, being a summer home, was not heated or insulated. The house contained a large living room, a master bedroom, a small bedroom for the twin sons, who were expected to spend most of their time outdoors, a larger room for the two daughters, a kitchen, bathroom, maid’s room, and guest room. Two additional rooms could only be reached by an outside entrance: the chauffeur’s room and a small water closet reached by another outside door.
The family loved spending weekends or whole summers at the lake. As the 1930s progressed, however, the mood in Germany began changing. The Nazis came to power and began enacting laws taking away the rights of Jews. Friends urged the family to leave Germany, but the doctor believed the German people would come to their senses and oust the Nazis. In 1936, the doctor’s name appeared high on a list of prominent Berlin Jews to be arrested. Warned in time, the whole family including grandparents, fled Germany in ones and twos and reassembled in England.
Eight months later, Jewish property was seized and sold to Aryans. An ambitious, opportunistic composer with his own music publishing company sought to buy up cheap Jewish businesses. With a young family, he wanted a place to relax in the country. The furnished lake house was offered at a good price. The tenants had fled and wouldn’t try to reclaim it any time soon. The wife was delighted with all the inventory. What they didn’t care for, they put out in the rubbish.
While the land was leased, the house had belonged to the Jewish family. The composer tried to purchase it for a pittance. His offer was rejected. Later, he met with a bureaucrat who confirmed the property had been seized, and offered it at less than a quarter of its true value. The composer happily bought it. He also promoted his career by appealing to Propaganda Minister Josef Goebbles for support for his latest operetta.
Berlin became a dangerous place to live as the Allies repeated came to bomb. The composer and his family stayed at the cottage year round, even though it was not winterized. They heard the planes fly over head, and soon the sky turned orange and red as the bombs fell on Berlin.
In September of 1944, the government called up all able-bodied men to defend the fatherland. The composer had previously been excused from a call-up because he was working on the Nazi-approved operetta. Not this time. He and his family fled to an artist refugee colony in the Austrian Alps to avoid serving his country. He left his creative and financial director as caretaker of the house by the lake.
Tune in next week for the rest of the story.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

First You Cry

Book Three of my Promise For Tomorrow series was supposed to release on September 6. Last Thursday, I turned in my edited manuscript. I saw the final book cover on July 17.
Earlier this month, I attended a Wings of Freedom tour’s local stop. I brought along my two books and the new cover for a photo opportunity with a B-17.

Last Friday, I learned Soar Like Eagles will not release, and the first two books are no longer available. The publisher closed down.
Just like that, it’s over.
I’ve been receiving a lot of suggestions to self-publish my books, or publish with other small publishers. I’ve decided to wait.
Proverbs 15:22 tells us, “Plans fail for lack of counsel, but with many advisers they succeed.” I will talk with “advisers” in two weeks at the American Christian Fiction Writers conference. Not only do I have my woebegone series, I also have a standalone and another planned series I am just getting started with.
While one door has been slammed shut, I trust another will open. And that my shattered dream will grow even brighter. I covet your prayers as I seek to discern God’s leading.

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Bretherton: Khaki or Field Grey?

I've just read a quirky World War One novel that I'd like to share.

Bretherton is written in three parts, but they are not presented chronologically. Part One is the end of the story, but the writer of the preface, a fictional character, decided to present them in the order he received his information. Confusing. I would have preferred to have not known the end until I got there.
Having read the end of the story in Part One, Part Two dragged a bit for me. It is full of lyrical descriptions of the war experience, but how did that fit with Part One? It is taken from Captain Baron’s diary. He knew Bretherton, but didn’t focus on him. There was always the question, where’s this going?
Part Three is the longest and is about Bretherton, and despite knowing how the story would end, it is so full of twists and turns that I was left wondering how the end would be reached.
Bretherton is a British officer who, through the events of the war, occasionally forgets that he is. The ability to succeed when he is not himself is uncanny. And entertaining.
The author, W. F. Morris, served in World War I. He knew his subject well. This is a British story which contains some terms unknown to me, but they did not prove to be obstacles in following the tale.
Be prepared to start out off balance, but enjoy the ride.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

The Tragedy of the Cap Arcona

The Cap Arcona, launched in May 1927, was a passenger ship of the “Hamburg-South America” line. South American vacations were popular in Germany. Until the outbreak of war in 1939, the Cap Arcona had sailed regularly between Hamburg and Rio de Janeiro.
During the war years, the ship served as a floating naval barracks in Gotenhafen, near Danzig on what is now the Polish coast. With no upkeep, it was rusting, and the engines barely functioned. The ship was hardly seaworthy.
At the war’s end, thousands of refugees fled from areas in the east threatened by the Red Army. Admiral Karl Dönitz organized a vast rescue operation, and the Cap Arcona was drafted to take part, even though its engines . All but unknown in the United States today, this great undertaking saved countless lives. The Thielbek, a much smaller ship of 2,800 gross registered tons, was also used to transport refugees as part of the rescue operation.
In April 1945, the Cap Arcona and the Thielbek were ordered to Neustadt Bay in the Baltic Sea near the north German city of Lübeck. Over 5,000 prisoners hastily evacuated from the Neuengamme concentration camp (near Hamburg) were brought on board the Cap Arcona between April 18 and 26, along with some 400 SS guards, a naval gunnery detail of 500, and a crew of 76. The Thielbek took on some 2,800 Neuengamme prisoners. Under the terrible conditions that prevailed in what remained of unoccupied Germany during those final weeks, conditions for the prisoners on board the two vessels were dreadful. Many of the tightly packed inmates were ill, and both food and water were in very short supply.
On the afternoon of May 3, 1945, British “Typhoon” fighter-bombers, striking in several attack waves, bombarded and fired on the Cap Arcona and then the Thielbek. The two ships, which had no military function or mission, were flying many large white flags. “The hoisting of white flags proved useless,” notes the Encyclopedia of the Third Reich. The attacks were thus violations of international law, for which – if Britain and not Germany had been the vanquished power – British pilots and their commanders could have been punished and even executed as “war criminals.”
The Thielbek, struck by rockets, bombs and machine gun fire, sank in just 15-20 minutes. British planes then fired on terror-stricken survivors who were struggling in rescue boats or thrashing in the cold sea. Nearly everyone on board the Thielbek perished quickly, including nearly all the SS guards, ship’s officers and crew members. Only about 50 of the prisoners survived.

The burning Cap Arcona took longer to go under. Many inmates perished in the fires. Most of those who were able to leap overboard drowned in the cold sea, and only some 350-500 could be rescued. Many of those who made it to shore were shot or clubbed to death by Nazi patrols or naval cadets. During the next several days, hundreds of corpses washed up on nearby shores, and were buried in mass graves. Having sunk in shallow water, the wreck of the capsized Cap Arcona remained partially above water as a grim reminder of the catastrophe.
The deaths on May 3, 1945, of some 7,000 concentration camp prisoners – victims of the British attack – remains little-known. Why did the British attack the ships? They had been notified that the ships held prisoners. But RAF personnel failed to pass the word along to the pilots. The pilots didn’t learn what they had actually done until decades later.
The Cap Arcona, which portrayed the Titanic in the German propaganda film, was a far worse disaster than the 1912 sinking, which claimed only 1,517 lives.