Category Archives: History

No Place to Lay One’s Head by Françoise Frenkel

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No Place to Lay One’s Head by Françoise Frenkel

Some people have dreams of opening and running a bookshop. For Françoise Frenkel this was her dream She loved books when she was growing up. In No Place to Lay One’s Head (Pushkin Press) is Françoise’s memoir. A Jewish woman born in Poland opened her bookshop La Masion du Livre which was a French bookshop in Berlin in 1921. A dream come true. Her memoir was published in 1945 in Geneva to a small press but then was discovered in a flea market Nice in 2010.

Françoise was obsessed with books when she was growing up in Poland then after her studies she started as a bookseller before opening her own bookshop. The came Adolf Hitler and the birth of National Socialism. Soon Jews in Germany became a target and shops owned and run by Jews became a target. Then came Kristallnacht (shards of broken glass in the streets) when shops and property were targeted. In July 1939 in fear for her life she fled Berlin leaving behind her beloved French bookshop and headed for Paris. Then as the war engulfed France she had to leave Paris and then it was a case of moving from one safe house to another to escape the round-up of those Jews in Vichy France who fled to this part of France to seek safety. For Françoise she missed this by just moments. Now she needed to find somewhere to hide and then escape before she was arrested and then sent to a concentration camp.

There was of course those in Vichy France who would easily tell the authorities of her whereabouts but at the same time there was those who bravely hid those Jewish men, women and children knowing too well if caught they would be tortured and then killed.

It was June 1943 that with help Françoise managed to cross the border and arrived in Switzerland. She was safe. It was here she sought solace in writing No Place to Lay One’s Head and was published in September 1945. Only selling a small number of copies. Françoise Frenkel’s memoir was then discovered in a flea market in France in 2010 and translated into English. Though there is no mention of Françoise’s husband who was captured by the Nazis and was murdered at Auschwitz during 1942.

This is a truly heartbreaking memoir written just after she escaped France to neutral Switzerland. It is also an astonishing read and one I could not put down once I had started and after I had finished I wanted to know more about Françoise Frenkel. This is a book that cries out to be read and No Place to Lay One’s Head is highly recommended.

In the years that followed the war I can only hope that Françoise found the peace she craved. Françoise Frenkel died in Nice, France in January 1975.

304 Pages.

Thank you Tabitha Pelly for the review copy of No Place to Lay One’s Head by Françoise Frenkel

No Place to Lay One’s Head by Françoise Frenkel was published by Pushkin Press and was published on 31st January 2018 and is available through Waterstones, Amazon and through your local independent bookshop.

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The Choice: A True Story of Hope – Edith Eger

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The Choice: A True Story of Hope – Edith Eger

Edith Eger is a survivor, but no ordinary survivor as she survived the worst hell on earth imaginable.

The Choice by Edith Eger is her memoir of surviving Auschwitz and how she used this to help others. But the one thing that struck me about this incredible book is that it does not begin with Auschwitz but it starts in 1980 in the USA.

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It was 1944 and 16-year-old Edith Eger and her Hungarian family were rounded up and sent with other Hungarian Jews to Auschwitz Concentration Camp where she and her sister was separated from her parents. Her parents were sent straight to the gas chambers with others. Edith was a ballerina and had hopes of making the Olympic Games. Soon after arriving at Auschwitz she was made to dance for evil camp doctor Josef Mengele. At any moment a wag of his finger meant you would face death in the gas chamber. What Edith endured and witnessed over the course of the next year is nothing short of horrific. Edith was then transferred then onto the notorious Mauthausen Concentration Camp then later rescued by American soldiers as she was close to dying.

What Edith does for many years is to keep her story of her time in Auschwitz to herself not wanting to tell anyone of the horrors she endured and witnessed. But it was time to tell the world her story and in turn this keeps the stories of survivor’s alive forever. The Choice is not just a story of Edith’s survival of the Holocaust but it is also one of hope and also at the same time one of helping others come to terms and help to heal wounds of the past. Learning to live again and indeed Edith did just that by being a mother to three children and pursuing a career in psychology.

An incredible book that left me numb at the horrors Edith went through but also the hope that The Choice brings to the reader. Highly Recommended.

384 Pages.

The Choice: A True Story of Hope by Edith Eger was published (Paperback version) by Rider and was published on 16th August 2018 and is available through Waterstones, Amazon and through your local independent bookshop.

Holocaust Memorial Day 2019 takes place on January 27th and it is the day the Russian army liberated Auschwitz-Birkenau, the largest Nazi death camp in occupied Poland. A day for everyone to remember the six million Jewish people murdered in the Holocaust. #HolocaustMemorialDay #HMD2019

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The Jewish Book Week takes place in London from 2-10th March 2019. Tickets for around 80 events including book talks and discussions are available to book. See the official website for more details: Jewish Book Week I am delighted to be named as one of the Blog Partners for this year’s event. #JBW2019

Erebus: The Story of a Ship – Michael Palin

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Erebus: The Story of a Ship – Michael Palin

I love the sea and stories of the ships that have explored the seas. Michael Palin is well known for his travelling and writing but when I heard that he had released a book on the ill-fated Arctic exploration to find the North West Passage and the famous ship HMS Erebus I was incredibly excited as I have followed this story for many years. Erebus: A Story of a Ship is the story of HMS Erebus from its launch in 1826 as a warship to its disappearance in 1845.

 

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I love the sea and stories of the ships that have explored the seas. Michael Palin is well known for his travelling and writing but when I heard that he had released a book on the ill-fated Arctic exploration to find the North West Passage and the famous ship HMS Erebus I was incredibly excited as I have followed this story for many years. Erebus: A Story of a Ship is the story of HMS Erebus from its launch in 1826 as a warship to its disappearance in 1845.

The last resting place of HMS Erebus was finally discovered in 2014 and the photographs of Erebus on the Arctic seabed are just incredible. The freezing waters and lack of Oxygen have preserved the ship so well. This is where Palin starts and then winds the clock back as he tells of the birth of HMS Erebus as a ‘Bomb Ship’. She was small in size (104ft) compared to other warships of the time. After two years’ service it was converted as an exploration ship.

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HMS Erebus and Terror trapped in the ice.

On the ill-fated expatiation Erebus was accompanied by HMS Terror and the two ships under the Captaincy of Sir John Franklin set off on the disastrous expedition and were last seen in Baffin Bay in August 1845. This is really where the story really begins as the crews of both ships knew they were trapped in the ice and the only hope of survival was to abandon Erebus and Terror. The stories of the fate of the men of both ships and how they tried to survive the Arctic conditions as the dragged lifeboats packed with supplies over the ice.

What followed was dramatic search effort to find the crew and ships and Palin writes with incredible detail after so much research. The characters of the crews not to mention Sir John Franklin himself. Anyone who has read any of Michael Palin’s previous books will already know of his writing style which make this book such an incredible read and for me I have learnt so much of both the ships and crew. Contained within the book are colour and black and white photographs which are incredible all by themselves and just add to the detail. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

352 Pages.

@HutchinsonBooks  #Erebus 

Erebus: The Story of a Ship by Michael Palin was published by Hutchinson Books and was published on 20th September 2018 and is available through Waterstones, Amazon and through your local independent bookshop.

Hitler’s British Isles: The Real Story of the Occupied Channel Islands by Duncan Barrett

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Hitler’s British Isles: The Real Story of the Occupied Channel Islands by Duncan Barrett

When Hitler’s forces rampaged across Europe and then finally France fell to the Nazis, Hitler then turned his attention to across the Channel. Mainland Britain prepared for a similar Blitzkrieg but the Channel Islands lay perilously close to the French coastline, it was now apparent that they would be alone and not defended by Britain. In Duncan Barrett’s Hitler’s British Isles this is the definitive account of the Channel Islands five-year occupation by German forces during the war.

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Writer Duncan Barrett interviewed over one hundred people on the islands who had direct experience of the war under the Nazis. When it was announced that the Channel Islands would not be defended, an evacuation took place in 1940 of British forces and also many of the children. Though some could not come to terms of being separated from their parents and stayed on despite the fear of what was on the horizon.

It was June 1940 and the Luftwaffe arrived over the islands bombing and strafing many lost their lives during the attacks. The Islanders were not in a position to fight back. The occupation had begun and the Channel Islands were now under Nazi control. These are British Islands and they had been invaded. Over on the mainland the Battle of Britain was about to begin.

Many on the islands had their homes taken over and families had to move out. The effects of the invasion now came into force. Food was rationed and as the war went on food was scarce and the inhabitants went hungry.

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At first those that represented the islanders co-operated with their occupiers. Many of the German soldiers believed the war would be over very quickly, but after the Battle of Britain they knew they were on the Islands for some years. Many of the German soldiers believed that being on the Islands prevented them later from being sent to the front line when Hitler invaded Russia.

There was a small Jewish population living on the Channel Islands and many went into hiding sadly though many were found and rounded up and sent to concentration camps never to return.

As the war went on it was clear the Nazi command was intent on turning the main Islands into a fortress and the Organisation Todt brought around 15,000 men as slave labourers were brought in from the Eastern Europe and they were badly abused and many died of hunger or killed during the building of the fortresses. One of the sadder stories was that of Louisa Gould who helped some of the men and was caught. Louisa was sent to the infamous Ravensbrück concentration camp. She was killed in the gas chambers.

By latter part of 1944 the Islanders were starving there was little food remaining and pets were killed to survive. Now Red Cross Parcels started to arrive and just in time.

There are many horrific stories that are uncovered in Barrett’s outstanding book, and as the war ended, some of the Islanders sought justice on those who were a little too close to their German Masters. It was time for retribution.

When the war ended it was a time of trying to pick up the pieces of shattered lives. Many sent to Europe never returned. Then there is the story of a young woman from the Island of Sark who fell in love with a German and when he was sent to England as a prisoner after the war after a number of ‘arranged’ meetings it was clear their love was too strong and they married and then later returned to Sark to live their lives in peace.

Duncan Barrett has well researched the stories of the occupation of the Channel Islands and must be complimented on how well this is set out against the personal stories of those involved. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.

432 Pages.

Thank you to Sue Stephen (Simon & Schuster) for the review copy of Hitler’s British Isles by Duncan Barrett

Hitler’s British Isles by Duncan Barrett was published by Simon & Schuster and was published on 14th June 2018 and is available in Hardcover through Waterstones, Amazon and through your local independent bookshop.

The London Cage by Helen Fry

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The London Cage by Helen Fry

Walk around Kensington Palace Gardens today and you will be forgiven to think what beautiful part of London it is with its salubrious Georgian buildings and its wealth. But turn the clocks back to the Summer of 1940 and all was a little different for behind one of these buildings lay a top secret World War II facility for interrogating captured German officers.

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The London Cage, Kensington, London.

Indeed, such was the secrecy no-one knew it existed apart from the British Secret Service. Operating from 1940 to September 1948 prisoners brought here were subjected to “Special intelligence treatment” to break them down and gather vital intelligence, sleep deprivation, beatings and water treatment were dished out to those who refused to co-operate. And it also transpires that truth drugs were also used to extract confessions.

Some of those German war criminals that passed through The London Cage were responsible for murdering Canadian POWs and also 50 British Airman who escaped from Stalag Luft II (The Great Escape). Some of the German’s that went onto trial tried to complain about the treatment they received at the hands of the British Secret Service but these seemed to be ignored in an attempt to convict those German Officers of war crimes and also their part in running concentration camps. The entire operation at The London Cage was overseen by Commander Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Scotland and it is through his ‘watered down’ memoirs that the Historian Helen Fry drew on to write this powerful and incredible book London’s interrogation centre.

Now Seventy years on, many who have read about The London Cage were shocked that these events took place, but to understand what happened here is one for historians to debate for many years come. One thing that we all must understand is that those brought to the cage were the most ardent and brutal Nazis who refused to co-operate even after the war ended. Some totally unrepentant of their involvement or deeds. Even after the war a team of British investigators were looking for any who were involved in atrocities and any that were located were then brought to The London Cage for interrogation.

Scotland ran The London Cage with a rod of iron and was determined to break those who were involved in atrocities. It is important to note that it was not just German’s who were brought here but as the war drew to a close and even after anyone who was involved in war crimes ended up at The London Cage.

This is an outstanding and well researched book by Helen Fry that opens the door to a secret and some may say controversial intelligence facility. Anyone who is interested in WWII and the British Secret Service will gain a lot from reading The London Cage. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.

256 Pages.

My thanks to Rebecca Fincham and also Yale University Press for the review copy of The London Cage.

The London Cage by Helen Fry is published by Yale University Press and was published on 1st September 2017 and is available through Waterstones, Amazon and all good bookshops.

Helen Fry will be talking about her book The London Cage today Sunday 11th March at 2pm and tickets are still available by visiting the website: JEWISH BOOK WEEK – HELEN FRY

Jewish Book Week

 

 

 

 

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