The Seventh Cross by Anna Seghers

the 7th cross.jpgTitle: The Seventh Cross

Author: Anna Seghers, translated from the German by Margot  Bettauer Dembo

Genre: Historical Fiction

Publisher: Hachette Australia

Published: First published 1942, republished 29th May 2018

Format: Paperback

Pages: 390

Price: $29.99

Synopsis: A rediscovered German classic novel from 1942, The Seventh Cross is both a gripping escape story and a powerful novel of resistance.

‘At once a suspenseful manhunt story and a knowing portrait of the perils of ordinary life in Hitler’s Germany, The Seventh Cross is not only an important novel, but an important historical document. This new, unabridged translation is a genuine publishing event’ JOSEPH KANON, author of The Good German and Leaving Berlin

‘It was [Seghers] who taught my generation and anyone who had an ear to listen after that not-to-be-forgotten war to distinguish right from wrong. The Seventh Crossshaped me; it sharpened my vision’ Gunter Grass ‘A masterpiece. Written in the midst of terror, but with such clarity, such acuity; Seghers is a writer of rare insight’ Rachel Seiffert, author of A Boy in Winter

Seven prisoners escape from Westhofen concentration camp. Seven crosses are erected in the grounds and the commandant vows to capture the fugitives within a week. Six men are caught quickly, but George Heisler slips through his pursuers’ fingers and it becomes a matter of pride to track him down, at whatever cost.

Who can George trust? Who will betray him? The years of fear have changed those he knew best: his brother is now an SS officer; his lover turns him away. Hunted, injured and desperate, time is running out for George, and whoever is caught aiding his escape will pay with their life.

The Seventh Cross powerfully documents the insidious rise of a fascist regime – the seething paranoia, the sudden arrests, the silence and fear.
A fascinating insight into life in pre-war Nazi Germany just as the horrors of the Nazi regime were beginning to unfold. This is an important novel, as much for its picture of German society as for its insight into the psyche of ordinary people confronting their personal fears and mixed loyalties’ Simon Mawer, author of The Glass Room

The Seventh Cross was written by one of the most important German writers of the twentieth century. Her aim was to write, ‘A tale that makes it possible to get to know the many layers of fascist Germany through the fortunes of a single man.’ She had four copies of the manuscript: one was destroyed in an air raid; a friend lost the second copy while fleeing the Nazis; another was found by the Gestapo; only the fourth copy survived, which, fortunately, she sent to her publisher in America just before she escaped Nazi-occupied France. Published in 1942, The Seventh Cross was an immediate bestseller and was the basis for an MGM film starring Spencer Tracy in 1944. It has been translated into more than 40 languages

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The Seventh Cross is set in the mid-1930s, following the rise of the Nazi Party and Hitler in Germany, in the build-up to war. Early concentration camps, such as Westhofen hold political prisoners. At the start of the novel, seven prisoners have escaped the camp, and the SA and SS officers of the new regime are tasked with hunting them down. Six are caught – one remains on the run, and continuously evades capture – and so, his pursuers decide they will use whatever means necessary to take him captive again. What follows is the prisoner – George’s – attempts to evade capture and reconnect with his former life, but at the same time, wants to keep those he knew before he was taken away safe – his family, his friends.

And after his time in the camp, George doesn’t know who to trust. will his brother, now an SS officer, turn him in? His ex-wife, Elli, is constantly being watched – what will happen to her? Anyone who dares to help George will pay the ultimate price of the Nazi regime – death.

Where many novels surrounding World War Two and the Nazi regime are focussed on the year or two prior to the start of the war, or the war itself, The Seventh Cross is situated within the beginnings

of the Nazi regime, as witnessed by the author, as she fled first to France, and then to Mexico in 1940, after the Nazis occupied France during the war. During her exile, The Seventh Cross was one of the books she wrote – and there were four manuscripts, according to Seghers: one was lost by a friend who was also escaping the Nazis, another destroyed in an air raid. A third was found by the Gestapo, whilst the fourth reached her publisher in America before she fled her home.

Rather than examine the impact of war or the well-known concentration camps and extermination programs of the 1940s, Seghers looks at how ordinary Germans responded to the Nazi regime, from those who followed it didactically and enthusiastically, to those of indifference and again, those who stood up for their beliefs – the good, the indifferent and the bad. It examines what ordinary people had to do to survive and how they did it, and also, what they would do to help George, at great risk or cost to their own lives as they tried to hold onto a semblance of humanity in a period of time that was becoming darker and darker every day.

Seghers wrote what she experienced and witnessed – making it all the more powerful, and though it is fiction, an important historical document, as it shows how everyday people were forced into making choices that they might not ordinarily have made in order to survive, and a confrontation of their fears and mixed loyalties that would eventually lead many into the depths of hatred and genocide that would come to shock the world when the truth was discovered.

Reading about what lead to the war, the ghettoes and the extermination of millions of people is just as important to understand  as the rest – how Germany got there was made up of many factors, and The Seventh Cross shows how this happened through the eyes of someone who witnessed it first hand, ensuring that the story is not easily dismissed and one that should be read and remembered today, so the rise of someone like Hitler can never happen again.

Written in 1942, and translated into English for the first time since, The Seventh Cross has not been in print in the United Kingdom since 1942 – 76 years.

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Wolf Children by Paul Dowsell

wolf childrenTitle: Wolf Children

Author: Paul Dowsell

Genre: Historical Fiction

Publisher: Bloomsbury

Published: 1st November 2017

Format: Paperback

Pages: 288

Price: $14.99

Synopsis: survival in the cellar of an abandoned hospital, Otto and his ragtag gang of kids have banded together in the desperate, bombed-out city.
The war may be over, but danger lurks in the shadows of the wreckage as Otto and his friends find themselves caught between invading armies, ruthless rival gangs and a strange Nazi war criminal who stalks them …

A climactic story of truth, friendship and survival against the odds, Wolf Children will thrill readers of Michael Morpurgo and John Boyne.

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Wolf Children begins as World War Two has ended, and Germany has fallen into the clutches of Russian occupation as the rest of the world wages the final few months of war in the Pacific. With Hitler gone, and the Nazi regime obliterated, those who remain in crumbling Berlin must endure the Russian control over their city until an agreement can be made about where the East and West will be divided. Their world has been turned upside down, and Otto, Helene, Erich and Klaus have turned their backs on Nazi ideology, perhaps never quite bought into it in the first place, and have accepted the fate of the regime and seek only to survive the invading armies, rival gangs and a strange Nazi war criminal who has taken an interest in Otto’s younger brother, Ulrich, who has never quite let go of the Hitler Youth.

 

In a world not always seen in World War Two historical fiction, the impact of the end of the war on German citizens who did not support the regime they lived under, but were kept silent out of fear is not always explored. Here, it is shown through the eyes of six children who appear to have nobody left but each other, and in a world of uncertainty and lack of shelter, food and money, they must learn to barter with what they can, and eat when food comes their way. In a world of uncertainty, these children can only rely on each other, and with their lives at stake, will they survive the next few months of post-war Germany?

 

The harrowing stories set during, and after World War Two, from any perspective, are deeply unsettling and raw, and at times, uncomfortable, with characters like Ulrich who cling to the vestiges of a failed regime – where their attitudes are not shied away from, but at the same time, condemned by the characters around them. These stories, whether historical fiction, or biographical, or non-fiction, are not meant to make us comfortable. They are meant to remind us of what dangerous language and divisive ideas and talk can lead to. I have read many books that are set in the turbulent inter-war, war and post war years this year, and none of them have shied away from the discomforts of the historical setting or the ideas and language that floated around then, yet at the same time, have presented them in an accessible way for the audience – in this case, children and young adults. It is a book that is humbling and can serve to remind adults too about what happened and that it must not happen again. The devastation of Germany shows the scars of war – in the buildings, in the crumbling walls and bricks, and in the rubble that surrounds the bartering markets. It shows in the half starved people, and in the children who forage for food and who fear anyone they don’t know.

 

Wolf Children is a story that will stay with me, and one that should be read to gain a broader perspective of these post-war years. In uncertain times, this book shows what people will do when they are desperate, and what it will take for them to turn their backs on what they thought they knew, and help those who are truly the only ones there for them. A brave story, that shows the flaws of humanity in dark and dangerous times for all, with a touch of hope ebbing through the novel.

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Paving the New Road by Sulari Gentill

rowly-4Book Title: Paving the New Road (Rowland Sinclair, #4)

Author: Sulari Gentill

Publisher: Pantera Press

Genre: Crime, Historical Fiction

Release Date: August 1st, 2012

Book Synopsis: It’s 1933, and the political landscape of Europe is darkening.

Eric Campbell, the man who would be Australia’s Führer, is on a fascist tour of the Continent, meeting dictators over cocktails and seeking allegiances in a common cause. Yet the Australian way of life is not undefended. Old enemies have united to undermine Campbell’s ambitions. The clandestine armies of the Establishment have once again mobilised to thwart any friendship with the Third Reich.

But when their man in Munich is killed, desperate measures are necessary.

Now Rowland Sinclair must travel to Germany to defend Australian democracy from the relentless march of Fascism. Amidst the goosestepping euphoria of a rising Nazi movement, Rowland encounters those who will change the course of history. In a world of spies, murderers and despotic madmen, he can trust no-one but an artist, a poet and a brazen sculptress.

Plots thicken, loyalties are tested and bedfellows become strange indeed

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My fourth sojourn with Rowland, Milt, Edna and Clyde took me away from Sydney, and into Nazi Germany, in 1933. The flight with Kingsford-Smith and the ensuing journey set up the identities that the friends were entering the Fascist nation under the iron fist of Hitler on quite well, and their encounters with historical figures and authors along their journey to prevent Eric Campbell from bringing Nazism back to the shores of Australia that further entrenches the story within the historical context it sits within. Rowland’s trip to Germany sees him taking his brother, Wilfred’s place, for the same task for the Old Guard to stop Campbell’s attempts to introduce Hitler’s ideology to Australia. In this book, rather than disdain for his brother, Wilfred expresses concern at the task Rowland has been asked to take on to save him, and the nation, but nonetheless, provides the support his brother needs for the dangerous expedition to Munich and the Third Reich, following the death of the Old Guard’s previous man posted there. The events of 1933 in Germany were instantly familiar to me, having studied them before. I was immersed in the world so deeply, that it penetrated my dreams. The Third Reich period of history, though horrific in many ways, is fascinating as a study into the horrors that the human race is truly capable of if we blindly follow and believe a leader and their ideology, or turn the other way.

In Munich, Rowland encounters Nancy Wake, Unity Mitford and Albert Goring, amongst other figures, mixed up in the mess of the Third Reich and their book burnings, and the beginnings of the expulsion of Jews, Communists and anyone else that the Nazi Party deems unfavourable. These three figures are fighting against it , in such a way that people believe they are actually supporting it: perhaps the best sort of espionage there is…as long as you don’t get caught. It is these atrocities that bring Rowland into direct contact with what extreme politics can really do, despite his adventures in the previous three novels and his constant indifference. The character development of Rowland and his friends in this novel was executed brilliantly. Their run-ins with the SA and Rohm lead to a finale that had me reading until I had finished the book, well into the late night-time hours, unable to put the book aside until I knew Rowland’s fate.

Poor Rowland has been through so much in these four books, always finding himself at the wrong end of the people he is investigating or spying on, but like a true hero, he always comes through, injured, but alive. Rowland has been and will continue to be a favourite character of Australian literature, and I look forward to reading his further adventures. Sulari Gentill has the ability to entrench her readers within the world of Rowland and Woodlands Estate, or wherever Rowland happens to be where crimes are being committed. Books five and six await, and I am eager for book seven when it makes its appearance.