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Author: Dr. William B. Stanford
Lizzi and Fredl is the memoir of Frederick and Alice
Steiner, Austrian Catholics who fled Austria in
August, 1938, months after the Anschluss (the annexation
of Austria to Nazi German).
Author: Dr. William B. Stanford
Lizzi and Fredl is the memoir of Frederick and Alice Steiner, Austrian Catholics who fled Austria in August, 1938, months after the Anschluss (the annexation of Austria to Nazi German). Fredl – a skilled jeweler -- had received orders to make timing mechanisms for bombs in a German aviation factory and neither Lizzi nor Fredl can bear the thought of assisting the Third Reich wage war against the world. So they escape to France and try to begin a new life there, hoping to eventually emigrate to the US.
Days after the German invasion of Poland begins, while France and Germany declare war on each other (but don’t make a move against each other for months during what was called the Drole de Guerre or “Phony War”), Fredl and his brother – who both had cheerfully signed a document stating that they were anti-Nazi -- are notified by French officials that a special division of expatriated Austrians, called the Austrian Legion, is being formed as part of the French armed forces.
It turns out to be a ruse to get Austrian refugees (who might just possibly be Nazi spies) safely imprisoned. The Steiner brothers are forced to live in French internment camps where Fredl, always fragile in health, becomes dangerously ill. Lizzi does her best to help him, while simultaneously moving from place to place, trying to make ends meet, and always attempting to stay one step ahead of Nazi officials who would severely punish both of them if they discovered that the Steiner’s had deliberately left their Nazi-occupied homeland.
The memoir is something akin to the James Cameron Titanic film in that a massive catastrophe provides the backdrop to an appealing love story. Lizzi and Fredl’s love for each other seems to grow stronger during their enforced separations, as documented by their letters, such as this one from Fredl to Lizzi:
Yes, my love, life is very hard and difficult. But I will endure and will continue to endure through this to be with you again. You are everything to me . . . You are the only reason I have to keep living. Life for me is really meaningless and I don’t really care about anything besides you. I have no freedom. I have no joy for anything. I’ve lost my homeland and my parents. . . . Please don’t be angry with me, my love, that I am writing you this way, but I have no one to talk to or express my feelings. I find it necessary to tell you how I feel because I am so alone and forgotten here.
Lizzi, very concerned about Fredl’s dark mood, writes back:
I have no fear of being alone as long as I know you are okay. Whatever happens to you happens to me too. If I lose you then I will have lost everything in the world. You are my life! I don’t want to live in this world without you. I beg of you not to give up hope. Mutzie, everything will work out. You will see. We will have our life again. With God’s help we will be together again . . . Try not to be so forlorn and frustrated. I am sending you a kiss- that will bring a smile to your face . . .
The book is 424 pages long and is filled with a myriad of detailed descriptions and entire conversations which don’t always seem completely necessary to the narrative flow of the story; occasionally, the inclusion of these details seems like overkill but more often, they make the time and place come to life before the reader’s eyes and clearly delineate several things. For one, they show the tedium of red tape forced upon refugees in France during the war. Every time Lizzie and/or Fredl moved to a new location, they had to present a ream of paperwork to local officials.
The details also reveal quite palpably the fear that the refugees faced almost every moment: the fear of a knock at the door in the middle of the night, the fear of catching the attention of a Nazi official in the wrong way, or the fear of an apparently innocent question from a soldier on the street, the answer to which would reveal an incriminating Austrian accent.
Another item clearly delineated in this book is the simple decency and humanity of many Frenchmen who were willing to go out on a limb in order to help a young Austrian couple trying to steer clear of the Nazis. For that, and for the compelling love story at the book’s core, Lizzi and Fredl is well worth the read.