Author: Steven L. Richards

Publisher: Createspace Publishing Platform

ISBN: 13:9781494925413

Anti-semitism, a loathsome creature, lurks in deep dark places; the agendas of psuedo political groups, the psyches of malcontents and the aims of fanatical religious groups. Whenever an opportunity presents, it emerges from the depths to wreak havoc on Jewish people. Men and women of goodwill everywhere, condemn these actions and try hard to find the perpetrators; sometimes successful, the punishment never seems to fit the crime or stop these racially motivated acts of terror.

Steven L. Richards’ new book, Sitting on Top of the World, is important for two reasons: the detailed explanation of social conditions in Germany before and during WWII which includes the rise to power of Adolf Hitler’s Nazi Party leading to the systematic murder of European people of Jewish origin and the factual account of the effect the Nazi regime had on the lives of two German families, the Ettlingers of Jewish faith and the Protestant, Walkers.

The account of the lives of these two working class, unremarkable German families who lived their lives against an historical backdrop of financial chaos and great political change; the Russian Revolution, The Great Depression and the appointment of Adolf Hitler as German Chancellor, makes for compelling reading, the narrative engagingly presented in an ‘eyewitness’ account style.

The story deals most particularly with Isaak Ettlinger, his daughter Ilse and grandsons, Kurt and Heinz. Ilse, a sweet, young, Jewish woman, falls in love with protestant, Julius Walker, a man who likes a drink or maybe three. Isaak, an orthodox Jew, is horrified by Ilse’s association with a non-Jew and a rift opens up between father and daughter.

Ilse, alone and pregnant, marries Julius only a matter of weeks before the arrival of her eldest son, Heinz. Ten months later, she gives birth to another son, Kurt. The marriage, shaky from the beginning, Julius is violent and a poor or non-existent provider.

Julius disappears for weeks at a time and Ilse has to work as a seamstress to provide food and shelter for her babies. She asks Julius’ mother for help. An arrangement is reached: Ilse must allow her eldest son Heinz to live with and be given a protestant upbringing by the Walkers. Part of the deal is that Ilse will cease contact with Heinz and that neither Kurt or Heinz will know of each other’s existence.

Heartbroken, Ilse, with no financial or family support, has no choice and hands over the upbringing of Heinz to her husband’s family.

Trying to provide for herself and Kurt, a struggle, Isaak allows Ilse to move back home with the proviso that he becomes Kurt’s legal guardian ensuring he is brought up in the orthodox Jewish faith.

While Ilse and her sons are caught up in family problems an insidious evil has taken over Germany’s political future; the Nazi Party is elected and legislation giving Jewish people German citizenship is rescinded. Draconian laws governing Jewish rights (they don’t have any) quickly enacted, when Adolf Hitler becomes German Chancellor 37,000 Germans of Jewish origin leave Germany.

They were the lucky ones, life becomes grim for German Jews. Rounded up with other Jews, Ilse and her family are given thirty minutes to pack and are then forced to board a train – the destination: Camp Des Gurs, an infamous French concentration camp.

Conditions in the camp far worse than terrible, many die in the first week of arrival, those left get little food, living in freezing, wet, disease and bug ridden wooden barracks. The description of the camp is immediate, vivid and quite horrifying. What is amazing is that despite their disgusting imprisonment Jewish refugees maintain their humanity, setting up help networks and an infirmary to relieve the suffering.

Ilse, separated from Isaak, is approached by a member of a Quaker group who requests permission to put Kurt on a list of children to be sent to America. Ilse, at first, refuses but later realises: for Kurt to survive, she must agree.

There are not many happy endings in this book but there are many heroes: the French Quaker group, Alice Resch who cared for the Jewish children waiting to be sent to America, the Jewish organisations/foster parents who sheltered the children in America, Ilse, her family and all the Jewish people murdered by the maniacal savagery of the Nazi Party and of course, Steven L. Richards, who cared enough to devote seven years of his life to write Kurt and Heinz’s story - Sitting on Top of the World, a well written, must read.

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