Ruins of Castle Hanstein near Bornhagen, Germany

Visiting the ruins of Hanstein takes us back to medieval times - Castle Hanstein near Bornhagen, Germany in 2012 More »

Vietnam War protestors demonstrate - Wichita, KS, 1967.

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Solingen, Germany after the bombing, November 1944. - Stadtarchiv Solingen

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My grandmother Grete with her sisters in the early 1920s in Germany.

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B17 Bomber above German Airfield in WWII

U.S. Bomber flies above German airfield in WWII. More »


Category Archives: war children

When You Know, You Know!

After the lull I mentioned in my last blog post, I have found my new story. Well, as much as a pantser can know at the beginning of a manuscript.

Two Failed Tries

photo of middle-aged man with glasses

My grandfather Willi

I’d been thinking about a couple of narratives for a while. The first had to do with my grandfather, Willi, who also is Lilly’s father in ‘Surviving the Fatherland.’ He’s not a super likable character because he entered the war quite willingly and sort of abandoned his daughter (my mother) when he didn’t have to. In 1945, three days after Germany capitulates in Europe, he’s taken prisoner by the Russians and spends the next eight years in captivity.

After I began writing the manuscript, I noticed that I couldn’t get excited about it. The work didn’t flow and it was a chore to sit down and write. I think I’ve figured out why. I don’t particularly like my protagonist because my grandfather was a complicated man. To do this story justice, I’d have to step way back, create some distance and develop a character who isn’t so close to the real man. That’s extremely hard and potentially takes years as I had to do this with my parents in ‘Surviving the Fatherland.’

The second story I considered writing was a somewhat true happening about an ill-fated sailing tour in 1984. Because of a terrible storm, human error and plain naiveté, I almost died on that trip. However, this story did not feel right either. For one, it’s not truly historical and for two, it involves me.

My Next Novel

2 children lean out of a train, being watched by two adults

Courtesy Bundesarchiv 183-H30202, Hannover

So, I stumbled across another idea, I’d considered a while ago, but hadn’t had time to explore much. In September 1940, Hitler decided to send ALL German children from infant to age 14 to the country. The Kinderlandverschickung (KLV) or Children’s Evacuation Program was immediately realized and as early as October 1940, the first kids left. Officially, this voluntary program was to keep children safe from bombs, provide adequate instruction through accompanying teachers and assure fun activities, including sports, crafts and games. Unofficially, Hitler had other things in mind.

  1. He wanted to separate children from the influence of their parents, from youth organizations, and churches.
  2. He also wanted all-out access to the young minds to bend them to his will, indoctrinate the boys to become Nazi soldiers and the girls to become mothers to bear more Nazi soldiers.

Children’s Evacuation Program in WWII

Courtesy Bundesarchiv, Bild 183-B04116 / CC-BY-SA 3.0

The KLV was a monumental effort, and in many ways succeeded to keep children away from the ever-increasing bombings by the RAF and other Allies. However, many children did not want to go and were forced. Many parents did not want their children to go and were manipulated through media and outright threatened. Of the millions of children who went (it is estimated that more than 2 million children participated, but exact numbers are unknown), many suffered terribly as evidenced by eyewitness reports.

four girls playing with a ball

Courtesy Bundesarchiv, Bild 183-B03553 / CC-BY-SA 3.0

Bed-wetting, illnesses, lice infestations, cruel teachers and zealous Hitler Youth leaders, who btw were supposed to lead all camps for the 10-14 year-old children, are testament to the problems KLV children experienced. There are many others, including inadequate quarters, nomadic conditions, when kids had to move through four, five and even seven camps, and the lethargic oversight of the KLV organizations. Especially, in the later part of the war, those kids staying in camps in the east, often barely escaped the advancing Eastern front. Some never made it home.

As you can see, the KLV program provides ample ‘breeding ground’ for my next story. I don’t have a title yet, but I have my two protagonists, Hilda (13) and Peter (14), best friends and neighbors.

I will share a few tidbits as I go. For now, I’m having fun.

Happy Easter!

After the “Lull”

escape from the past trilogy by annette oppenlanderSometimes after publishing a book, a certain inertia sets in, a kind of lull. Some authors don’t experience any pauses, others take months or even years until they return to writing. For me this ‘phase’ typically doesn’t last very long. Very soon, I’m antsy again and my brain searches for the next great story.

After publishing my seventh novel, and while I’m still researching my next project, I took advantage of the lull by deciding to repurchase the rights to my time-travel trilogy, Escape from the Past, from my U.K. publisher, Lodestone. Very soon I’ll share the new covers I’ve ordered. All three books will be republished as second editions.

Surviving the Fatherland Interview

Last month I had the honor of being interviewed about my award-winning true story, Surviving the Fatherland, on ManyBooks. Here is an excerpt from the interview:

a young couple standing in a field

Lilly and Günter, ca. 1949

What inspired you to write a coming-of-age love story set in WWII Germany?

Growing up, I always felt there were a lot of stories hidden in my family. I’d hear bits and pieces, brief references or watch my parents nod at each other in silent understanding. As my interest in history grew, my curiosity grew with it. So in 2002 I asked my parents to share their stories. I spent several weeks visiting them in Germany and recording their memories. I remember one afternoon we were in the basement while my mother ironed. I’d ask questions and she’d tell me about the way her mother treated her. I still have those tapes though it’s hard for me to hear my mother’s voice. She passed away in 2004.

My mother always insisted that my father was the better storyteller. And while I agree that his activities were quite adventurous, my mother’s quieter side offered a lot of depth. And so I think the two characters balance each other out nicely.

book cover of surviving the fatherland with awardsWe most often hear WWII stories from the allies’ side. Why did pick the “wrong side” of the war as the backdrop for your book?

Initially, I had planned to write short stories so my children could remember their grandparents. But then I realized there were few if any stories about Germany’s war children and the civilian side of WWII. Of course, we have excellent and moving stories about the Holocaust and the soldier’s war. There is no shortage of battle scenes. Yet, many battles were fought at home. They weren’t drawing as much attention, but they were just as heroic. I wanted to add complexity to the stereotypical portrayal of Germany during the Third Reich.

This photo shows my father, Guenter, around 1940.

Guenter ca. 1940

This book has received multiple awards. What has the experience been like?

Humbling. I’m super happy Surviving the Fatherland has been so well received. I just wish my mother could’ve been here to witness the wonderful response to her life story.

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