Author: Steven L. Richards
Publisher: CreateSpace
ISBN: 97814944925413

Two little brothers - one ten, one eleven - living in Nazi Germany, discover at far too young an age, how politics, antisemitism and life’s circumstances can tear families apart and dramatically change lives.  Author Steven Richards has written a compelling, must-read book that details social conditions in Germany before and during the tragic events of WW11 which led to the systematic murder of millions of Jews.  With superlative skill, the author weaves the factual story of two German families - the Ettlingers and the Walkers and two little boys caught in the horrors of the holocaust.

When Ilse Ettlinger falls in love with Julius Walker, a Christian, her father, Jewish patriarch Isaak Ettlinger, becomes enraged that his daughter has become involved with a man who is not Jewish.  His anger increases when Ilse becomes pregnant with Heinz, marries Julius, and becomes pregnant again ten months later with Kurt.  When Ilse and the boys are abandoned by Julius, Isaak turns his back on his daughter and grandsons.  Alienated from her parents, Ilse has no family support and is unable to care for herself and her sons.  When she seeks help from the family of the boys’ father, the response is devastating.  They will help and raise her eldest son - Heinz, but only if Ilse agrees to three conditions: Ilse will never contact Heinz again; neither son knows of the existence of the other; Heinz will be raised as a Christian. Under duress, Ilse agrees.  When she realizes that she still cannot support her family, she asks to return home to her parents with her young son Kurt.  Her father, Isaak, agrees if she follows two conditions: he become Kurt’s legal guardian; Kurt is raised as an Orthodox Jew.  With Ilse’s agreement to these conditions, young Kurt’s life is set in tragic motion.

Raised as Jewish, living in Germany during WW11, Kurt becomes embroiled in the evils of Nazi Germany from the moment he, his mother and the Ettlinger family is given thirty minutes to pack and then forced to board a train for a concentration camp in France.  Conditions in the camp are impossible and the young boy experiences the stark reality of evil.  When an opportunity arises for Kurt to escape through the efforts of a group of Quakers, his mother must make a decision to keep her son with her in the concentration camp where an almost-certain death awaits, or release him into the care of strangers.  Her selfless decision offers the possibility of life to Kurt.  Eventually smuggled to Morocco and then to a variety of foster parents in the United States, Kurt is eventually adopted by a Jewish couple in Chicago.

This detailed, masterfully documented historical narrative is a thought-provoking and gripping reminder to readers that truth is often stranger than fiction.  

The author chose an Al Jolson song  I’m Sitting On Top of the World  as the surprising title of the book.  Unusual?  Perhaps.  Apt?  It is if one realizes that it is a summary of one of the many lessons this powerful book teaches.

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