||March 20, 2008
A remarkable child and era...the moving story of a German boy's journey to manhood through loss, loneliness, fear, uncertainty, love and hope in war-torn Germany and post war rural Ireland.
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Erich's first home is Goldschmidthaus, a Children's Home near Essen. He lives for visits with his beloved mother and longs for the day he will live with her. He is distraught when, after a heavy bombing raid, her visits abruptly cease.
After the war he finds himself, with hundreds of other German children, transported across Europe to escape the appalling conditions in their homeland. Operation Shamrock brings Erich and his brother, Hans, to a new life in Ireland but with different families.
During the next few years Erich experiences the best and worst of Irish life. Living in a string of foster families, he finds love and acceptance in some and indifference and brutality in others. At Daddy Davy's he finds a loving home and is re-united with his brother. But his brief taste of happiness is dashed by circumstances he cannot control.
This is the story of a German boy growing up alone in Ireland. He dreams of finding his mother. He yearns for a family who will love and keep him forever. He learns his brother is his ally not his rival. Plucky and resilient he surmounts the challenges his ever changing world presents.
Set in Germany's industrialised Ruhr Valley during the Second World War and post-war rural Ireland this book evokes a little known episode in German and Irish history. It is a moving tale of a German child caught in war's vicelike grip and flung into a new land to grow and forge a new life.
THE GINGERBREAD HOUSE
Bredenscheid, near Hattingen, Germany
"Wake up, Erich," his mother said softly.
Leaning over him, she gently shook his shoulder. Shrugging away from her touch, he turned over in the narrow metal bed. She shook a bit harder and he opened his eyes, squinting at her silhouette in the moonlight.
"Mutti! You're here!" Erich sat up and threw his arms around her neck.
"Yes. Get up, quickly now."
"I knew you'd come!" he cried.
"Shh...don't wake the other children," she hushed him as she pulled back his thin, woollen blanket.
Shivering in the cold air, he jumped out of bed and scurried the few steps to the fireplace. The embers from the fire, set before bedtime, still glowed and occasionally crackled in the open grate. The waning fire radiated a modest heat and Erich savoured its warmth. The moon was low in the early evening sky, but its light streamed through the partially drawn curtains.
Erich's mother pulled his white cotton nightshirt over his head and he hunched forward, shivering as cold draughts eddied around him. She quickly threaded his arms into his shirt. Erich squirmed against the prickly fabric which scratched at his back.
"It's itchy! I don't want to wear it!"
"You don't have anything else so you must. Hurry now!" she urged him.
She pulled up his short brown trousers and leaned over to lace his boots. She pushed his arms into his ragged woollen coat, then pulled it firmly around him, noticing how baggy it was.
"You are so thin!" she exclaimed. "You must eat!"
"They don't give us much. And it's rotten! It makes me sick. And I'm so tired," he complained.
The food shortage was severe as the war drew to an end. Everyone struggled to get enough to eat. Malnutrition and the poor quality of available food frequently made the children ill. To conserve energy they went to bed after their evening meal.
She frowned, looking at him. The waist of his trousers was loose and his bony knees seemed large on his thin legs.
Putting her arm around his shoulder, she ushered him out of the dormitory and down the stairs. At the foot of the stairs Erich stopped.
"Mutti has come for me, T-t-tante Gretchen!" he called excitedly to the staff member standing in the downstairs hall. Noddng to the woman as they passed, his mother said, "I will return him by breakfast. Good night."
As they stepped out of the door the darkness enveloped them; no street lights lit their way. Their eyes adjusted to it as they walked briskly down the country lane. Erich held tightly to his mother's hand. He pressed against her, almost tripping her in his eagerness to be close to her on this rare visit.
Growing up in a foreign land
This is an endearing story. Set in post war Europe, it charts the Red Cross's Operation Shamrock which saw hundreds of German children transported from their war-torn home country to the safety and security of Ireland.
The focus of Dianne Ascroft's book is Erich and his brother, Hans, and stretches across a 10-year period of the boys' life in Ireland as part of Operation Shamrock, before making their own way in life, either in the British Isles or by returning home.
Young Erich's first home is Goldschmidthaus, a Childrens' Home near Essen. He lives for visits with his beloved mother and longs for the day he will live with her. He is distraught when, after a heavy bombing raid, her visits abruptly end. After the war Erich finds himself, with hundreds of other German children, transported across Europe to escape the appalling conditions in their homeland. Operation Shamrock brings Erich and Hans, to a new life in Ireland but with different families. There then follows the story of how Erich experiences both the best and the worst of Irish life with a string of foster families, where he finds both love and acceptance and some harshness and indifference from others.
Ascroft is superb in telling the story from Erich's point of view. It's a poignant and nostalgic look at a bygone and more innocent age. The reader will feel much sympathy for the two German lads as they are split from each other and go about living their lives in a foreign land.
This story is both vivid and moving and even though Erich is only a child, the reader will find an admiration for how the human spirit can overcome all manner of hardship and misery and still retain hopes and dreams.
Darryl Armitage, News Letter (Belfast)
Historical Novel Society Online Reviews
Erich, a victim of war-ravaged World War II Germany, is part of a little-known Red Cross initiative called Operation Shamrock. The program, instituted following World War II, helped German refugees find homes in the relative calm of rural Ireland. The program, set up in the context of Ireland's neutral stance, was perhaps a means for Ireland to integrate itself back into the community of Europe following the catastrophic war.
The novel follows Erich's journey from war-scarred, timid young boy, distraught by the death of his mother, to assertive young man poised to make his mark as he travels to England to begin a new life. Erich is placed in the care of several foster homes as he struggles to assimilate in his new country. He faces many obstacles as he is singled out for his accent, his stuttering, and his stubbornness. Additionally, he finds love, indifference, and cruelty in the homes he visits. A truly heartbreaking moment occurs when he is forced to leave the loving home of Aunt Elsie and Daddy Davy because Aunt Elsie becomes ill and is unable to care for him. Through both hardship and joy, Erich displays resourcefulness, intelligence and resiliency.
The novel does an excellent job of showing how the devastation of war continues long after the guns have been silenced. Erich is haunted by nightmares and feelings of displacement long after the war has ended. The terrible cost can never be known because we can never truly understand the human consequences for both victims and survivors. This book attempts to help us better understand the plight of one boy as he struggles with war and its aftermath.
Gerard Shea, Historical Novels Online Review, November 2008
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Reader Reviews for "Hitler and Mars Bars"
|Reviewed by William Potter
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