Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Some Girls, Some Hats and Hitler

Some Girls, Some Hats and Hitler: A True Love Story RediscoveredSome Girls, Some Hats and Hitler: A True Love Story Rediscovered by Trudi Kanter
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The title grabbed me and then the story sucked me in. This was compelling, lyrical writing and very hard to put down. In the 1980s Trudi Kanter self-published the story of her escape from WWII Vienna with her husband Walter. The book then fell into obscurity. Thankfully, it was rediscovered and published by Scribner. From the introduction by Linda Grant:

"...There was...an instinctive shrinking away from accounts of the war that did not treat it with the seriousness and solemnity of historians. Trudi must have seemed too shallow, too preoccupied with hats and men to be a sympathetic narrator of the life of the refugee. After all, the emigres and exiles who flooded to England in the thirties, Sigmund Freud among them, were conductors, composers, poets, publishers, and cinematographers. Milliners were de trop. Her book went down into oblivion. Some readers believed it to be a novel."

I found Trudi's "shallowness" to be a testament to humanity. In the midst of horror, we still yearn for a world of red roses and romantic drives in the Vienna Woods, however distant they have become. Trudi was an artist who loved beautiful things. Is her story any more or less worthy of telling than that of the "serious" people? Her gift was to be able to mobilize her skills and energy, putting everything she had into surviving. She got some lucky breaks, to be sure, but she never stopped trying to escape.

One of the most powerful scenes is when she sees the Kohlmarkt area where she lives, blanketed with Nazi flags after the Germans march into Austria:

The shock slowly disappeared, but I feel gripped by a thick, sticky feeling. It paralyzes me. Sticking to my hands; I can't work. To my legs; I can't walk. To my brain; I can't think or sleep. Fear fills my black dreams, turning them round and round, sitting heavily on my chest. I can't breathe.

Few people know the real meaning of fear, its hopeless, crushing effect. Fear had been in me for a long time. This indescribable atmosphere. There was something hovering over me, urging me. What did I do? I carried on, stubbornly, pretending to be deaf. Stupid? Of course, but helpless, too. I was in love. No changes, please. No yesterdays, no tomorrows. I was a coward.

Not anymore. I scrutinize myself with critical eyes. Is it just a front? Is there a crushed face under the mask? No, I am strong now. I will do everything possible to make sure we escape.

And she did.

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