This is written in response to the many emails I received from my readers.
When I started to write the ” degree” series I planned to conclude Karl’s story with my fourth book. I wanted to phase him out and at the same time starting to feature Harold and his interesting life.
It seemed that I succeeded because one reviewer remarked that I shifted “seamlessly from Karl to Harold.”
However when I showed my wife the many emails suggesting, and in some instances almost demanding, that I continue with Karl’s story, she said: “You should continue to write about Karl’s life…..(at least to a certain degree) because you are abandoning your readers”.
Now, this is the last thing I wanted to do. I thought that continuing with Harold was the right thing to do because his actions and viewpoints, during the cold war, were remarkable.
While I was a pastry apprentice and learned how to make butter cream and wedding cakes and eventually became a pastry chef, Harold learned additional languages and became a cunning international businessman. All the time being under the protection of the political Soviet Kommissar and the almighty Soviet State Police, he also became a political agent .
In addition, he avenged his mother without directly killing anyone. He made them all wish that they were dead..
Plus, he traveled with Stalin’s team, and later on with Khrushchev, as a translator, to many Eastern conferences and all during this time he kept me up to date.
For example: He knew more about the American nuclear submarine Nautilus (you remember the first crossing of a submarine under the northern polar ice) than the American public.
So, while I was thinking of continuing my books in accordance of the historical events at that time…… my readers and my own wife tells me: “No. It is not the history or WWII with which you connected with your readers ……. It is Karl they want to know about.”
I never thought about this when I was starting the series.While I was writing about a time span in recent history and about my experiences during this period it never entered my mind that a reader would be interested in Karl’s life after the war.So now, as a writer, I would be stupid not to listen to my readers and I decided on the following:
- I will finish my first book about Harold, because I am writing already the final chapters. Off course, the book still needs cover art and (yes, a title) and to be edited and formatted. However my VA team with Chris Haas from zenithbusinesssolutions.com is already working on it.
- Secondly, I am starting on a follow up with Karl’s life. At this time I intend to write about him until he entered the United States.
At the present time I cannot predict how my readership will react to it, because I also received many requests to keep on writing about the cold war and Harold’s experiences.
Due to the fact that I met with Harold many times and in many different international locations it is entirely feasible that from time to time I somehow merge again the two characters in my future books.. We hardly ever acted together, but our viewpoints clashed on many subjects. However, they never impaired our friendship. Somehow, I think, this could evolve into interesting books.
Time will tell.
About a week ago I was invited by a local reading group to answer questions of their members in regard to our school system during the war years in Berlin.
Some of the questions were easy to answer, but some others were more difficult. First of all the questions showed me the vast difference in the concept of our upbringing during the Forties in Berlin. To sum it up evenly, I know that our parents and teachers tried to raise adults. This is in stark contrast to the current belief that children should be children as long as possible.
Believe me, I am not trying to stir up a controversial subject. I am not a teacher, just a story teller, about forgotten times.
However, one of the readers remarked that she is the grandmother of a 17 year old. She thought that her grandson would have been hard pressed to survive the events I described in my books. Due to his upbringing, I have to agree that this might have been difficult for him.
Yes, we were constantly schooled to use our mind. This resulted that we thought and acted on our own. We were trained to stay alive under difficult circumstances.
But, here is the real question: “Was it better then? Was it better to know how to act when your back was against the wall?”
NO, I don’t think for a moment that it was better then……….but I also believe that we should teach our children to use their mind. And, the sooner the better.
I can’t see anything wrong with it.
Well, the fourth book, Partners To A Degree, is finally finished. I say ‘finally’ because I rewrote the book several times. On one hand I needed to end the story of Karl and on the other hand I wanted to report about Harold and his experiences during the historical events of the first few weeks of the Russian occupation. This second part was not so easy because I had to rely on the notes which I kept from my later meetings with Harold, and on the reports I received from him over the years. So, I am sorry to say, it took several rewrites to get it right and to include the vital parts of the story. And, just like the first three books, the story is true and all of the characters as well as the places existed.
Now the book is off and in the hands of my trusted assistant, Chris Haas. She did again the cover art as well as the formatting and even the final editing. Her help is truly priceless and according to her latest email we should be ready to hit the publish button today.
Oh, yes, the cake. I knew you would ask. I always reward myself with a cake.
They can keep the meat and the fishes and the vegetables where ever they want. I will take a cake anytime and as a former pastry chef, it is not much of a challenge. However, I don’t use any recipes. When I obtained my master designation in Germany you were not allowed to use a recipe during the test. Besides, you would be barred immediately from continuing the two day test. You were eligible to apply for the test after three years as an apprentice and five years as a journeyman. Therefore, you came to the master committee with eight years of experience and using a recipe was a sure sign of incompetence.
For today I decided on a pound cake filled with french butter cream and you are welcome to join me. The pound cake is simply what the name suggests. Pound for pound:
1 pound butter, 1 pound sugar, 1 pound eggs, 1 pound flour. Whip up the butter and sugar, add the eggs one at a time (Either about 15 egg yolks or 10 whole eggs.) Add the flour, bake at 375 for one hour.
French butter cream: 1 pound powdered sugar, 1 pound butter, eight egg yolks. Whip butter and powdered sugar, add the yolks, ( one at a time) Don’t forget some rum or brandy flavor.
Over the last three or four weeks I received many varied questions from my readers and tried to answer each and one of them individually.
However, Ms. Bunny, asked several questions which might be of interest to many, if not all of my readers. The answers might shock a few people who never read international accounts of that time. Let’s see if I am able to do this in a neutral and balanced way.. First of all the personal questions which are easy to answer.
1) Do I know what happened to my grandfather? No, All I knew that after his wife, my grandmother died, he was unable to keep his mouth shut and I think that this was the reason for his arrest by the SS. These prisoners, as well as homosexuals, were used as cannon fodder, Meaning they were sent to the front line. The line of the first defenders to catch the brunt of the advancing enemy.
2) Was it difficult to stay in touch with Harold due to the iron curtain? No, not at all, because Harold always found a way. Due to his incredible language skills he served on several occasions as a translator with Khrushchev’s team, including his historic visit to the United Nations in New York where the Russian premier took of his shoe and banged on the speaker podium. Remember this? He was outraged about our U 2 observation flights over Russia. Most of my future books will follow Harold as he proceeded with his own agenda. The future books will therefore also follow Kommissar Godunov and his political ambitions.
3) Do I still have family in German? No. But I still have a few friends who are, like me, in the middle 80s and consider me nuts, trying to write about times nobody in Germany wishes to remember.
4) How many civilians were killed during the time frame I am writing about?
Well, here is where it gets a bit difficult. But, besides Ms. Bunny’s question I received a few other likewise ones. My first response is: Nobody knows. Eight to ten days after Germany surrendered the Russians were still counting their own military deaths. In my own experience there was no effective way or method to tally the German civilian casualties. The Russian authorities reported about close to two million civilian casualties in the general area between Warsaw, Poland and Berlin. My question is: Did this include the casualties in the refugee trains? I mean the many trains filled with civilians fleeing from the Soviet onslaught. The common practice was that the Soviets raped all the women and girls and then burned the trains, filled with refugees, to ashes. Flamethrowers are a terrible weapon in combat. Used on helpless civilians…..your call.
Now, how many trains were there? Who did the counting? There was a report in a British paper where the reporter estimated that this alone amounted to over 20,000 casualties. The Russian papers estimated that the civilian casualties during the last week in Berlin exceeded 160,000. The German estimates were considerably higher. Again, who did the counting?
George Kennan, the US Ambassador to the Soviet Union (at that time) summed it up, and I quote:
“The Russians swept the native population clean in a manner that had no parallel since the days of the Asiatic hordes.”
Let me, please, add an undisputed fact which I remember from my assignments to the KLV camps in 1943. An average air raid (in 1943) killed between 1,000 and 2,000 civilians. In addition, each of these attacks always rendered at least 20,000 homeless. It was because of these figures that the KLV camps became mandatory with the terrible result that when we returned the children from the ‘”safe” camps, nobody had any idea where the relatives where or if they were still alive. I know for a fact that in the end thousands of children went unaccounted for. It is anybody’s guess how many found their home or their relatives, or got adopted, or simply died. No school kept a record. It was no big deal at that time, the children had ‘no voice’, nobody cared, unless it was a parent looking for his child.
I tried in my books to write from my own young perspective, and avoided, on purpose, statistics. I mean I could, it would be a simple task. Which brings me to a question of my own: Should I write a small statistical follow up book? I mean no personal involvement. But, there were countless books written about figures and samples of atrocities. So, why add to the gruesome stories? My original agenda was to give a voice to our generation. Thankfully, some of the responses I get are telling me that I am succeeding.
Let’s see how best to start this post.
It is, in a way, intended to (partially) answer the question when my next book is being published.
Well, my friends, life happens …………..
If you followed my posts on this site, you know that we have a small ranch in northern California and besides our variety of animals and pets, we also have two studio apartments. They are clean, carpeted, one room units with a studio kitchen and a bathroom. Not much to write home about. In order to offer a small convenience to our tenants, we also provide a washer in a separate room.
That was a mistake, a major one as it turned out.
To put it as simple as possible: One of our tenants, an otherwise nice lady, must have read something about unlimited opportunities in the free enterprise system. She opened up a laundry service for her friends and strangers. One sunny morning I walked out of the door and could not help noticing freshly laundered underwear and linens fluttering in the breeze.
After a polite knock on door of my tenant I was unable to enter the room. There were bundles of unwashed laundry stacked up on top of each other wherever I looked.
The nice lady smiled at me: “Well, I don’t have the money to pay next months rent and…… I know that you need it and want it……. and I had the idea of making some extra cash by washing my friends clothing.” Another smile.
What do you do? I mean I left Germany because of the American free enterprise system. Now where do I go? It was not funny. It cost me four weeks and a professional eviction service to get the lady to move. The electric bill alone exceeded the monthly rent and I had the septic tank overflowing.
In the end she had some furniture which she had to place in storage but no money to do so. In order to get her out I offered to pay for the storage unit with the result that she asked me if I could prepay for two months. I did. My wife said: “Anything to make her go away” was fine with her.
So, yes, I am writing to get the next book published before the end of April, but honestly, it might be a little later because this was not the only delay in my schedule.
In the meantime, please stick with me.
I feel that I need to clarify a few points based upon some of the reviews I have received. It could be that I was not clear enough in my books or perhaps, some readers simply missed them.
One of my readers commented that he did not know about the KLV ( children evacuation) camps. I cannot say for certain why he never heard about them, but I do want to remind my readers that I am writing about my personal experiences in Berlin and in that respect, I have firsthand knowledge of the camps. There is also a great deal of information about them on the internet as well.
Berlin, as well as Dresden, Hamburg and a few other cities were the major target of the allied air attacks. In some of the cities, like Berlin, these air attacks lasted over two years. Dresden experienced a fire storm which lasted for three days nonstop, causing the asphalt to melt. Because of this, individual school administrations initiated the air evacuation system. The camps were located in selected parts of Germany and German occupied Poland, which were not on the list of the allied air targets.
Long after the war, I personally met school children in my age group who lived in Western Germany, along the Rhine River, who never experienced a single air attack. It was almost as if they had been in a different war. Thanks to the Americans they never saw a single Russian, let alone a Mongolian or a Russian Kommissar..
Western Germany was spared a bloodshed, thanks to a civilized enemy. Parts of Eastern Germany, by contrast, were slaughtered.
One of my reviewers wrote that I “toned down” my writing which clearly did not sensationalized the brutality or the horrors after the Russian occupation. He’s absolutely correct, I did tone it down. While I personally witnessed the atrocities, I see no reason to repeat that which had been reported or white washed to no end. By now everyone alive knows that “War is hell.”
This brings me to the mindset of my classmates during the end of 1944 and the beginning of 1945.
There was no doubt in our minds that once our father was drafted …we would never see him again. We literary buried our father in our mind while he was still alive. There was also no doubt in our mind that we would lose our mothers too. It was not a question of “if” but a question of “when”.
I had many eight and ten year old children come up to me in the camps. They came in the evenings, when the few activities of the day slowed down, and they asked me: “Horst, when my parents are gone, will you still be my friend?”
I simply wrote the first three books to give a voice to my age group which did not survive. I have no agenda other than trying to convey what it was like when you were 14 years old and asked to do the job of an adult……at a time when the adults in your life disappeared. Arrested, killed in action or by suicide.
Another reviewer remarked that “the author did not once mention the extermination camps.” He is correct. I did not mentioned the camps because as a 14 year old in Berlin I did not see them or hear about them. None of these camps existed in Berlin and because I did not have firsthand knowledge of them, I could not write about them. I did, however, write about the Germans who disappeared because they wore sandals and were therefore called Jesus imitators. They offended the SS and this alone was a crime in itself.
My own grandfather disappeared one night and was never seen again. I still don’t know why. My best guess is that in spite of his wisdom he did not know when to keep his mouth shut.
Well, I hope that this clarified some unasked questions. If I still missed something please feel free to leave a comment below.
And, thank you for reading my books.
Yesterday I received the following comment from a valued reader:
“I am also a Vietnam veteran and just finished all three of your books, and loved them. Personally I would make them mandatory reading for all 14 year old boys today if I could. I think you have a lot that could be taught to them.
Here is my answer of today, you can also read it in the comments below my post : “Sitting on a football”
It is nice to hear from another Vietnam veteran and I am honored that you like my books.
Yes, sometimes I think that I should send the book “Loyal to a degree” to a school administrator and ask him if he would be interested to give me an hour to talk to their history class.
It would be interesting for the children as I am one of the few who lived through 1945 and is still around to talk intelligently (or so I think) about these times.
One the other hand I am sure that you, as a Vietnam veteran also have interesting stories to tell about a terrible war.
It was all about survival, wasn’t it?
And today? Does it matter anymore?? It’s a loaded question, isn’t it?
I am an American citizen since 1959 and I like to thank you for your time serving our country. Take good care of yourself.
Yes, as an Author, writing about forgotten times, I can’t help wondering: “Why I am writing this stuff?”
“Is anybody interested enough to read about it? “
Based upon my recent book sales and comments, the answer is: “Yes,” there are readers who I am able to “touch.”
Thank you for all your kind comments. They keep me writing.
However and finally, tell me dear reader: ” Does it matter anymore?”
Well, I finished writing my third book. It was released by my virtual assistant Christina Haas of Zenith Business Solutions on November 20th and the paperback edition should be out by next week. Shortly after Thanksgiving.
Chris did also the formatting and for the third time also did the cover art = book cover, and I can’t thank her enough for all her diligent work and her constant support.
As I mentioned on this site before, I wrote this third book in response to the many questions I received from my readers regarding the “early years” of Karl. So while it is actually my third book it is also a prequel.
While I trust that I answered all of the pertinent questions, I realize that “Children to a degree” will probably trigger additional questions and I cannot emphasize enough that I am available to answer or discuss any comments you might wish to express.
In the meantime I am writing the fourth book in the series. It will be entitled “Partners to a degree” and I am aiming to finish it by February. This fourth book will start with the efforts of Karl to secure the release of his father from the Soviet POW transports to the labor camps in Russia. It will also cover the initial training period of Harold, (Karl’s friend) within the Russian State Police network.
Harold’s primary motivation was revenge, and I would have never wanted to be his enemy, but he was also sufficiently smart to advance himself beyond his initial ambition.
He led an extraordinary and dangerous life while he was coming of age and you might find reading about it interesting as well as informative in regard to the Soviet actions during the evolving cold war.
Even after I immigrated to the USA, Harold kept me up to date in his endeavors until he died well into his seventies.
I like to take this opportunity to thank my loyal readers for reading this series and I will do my best to keep you entertained.
A few days ago as I was working on the prequel I tried to think of the funnier (funnier = is this a word?) memories of 1943. Nothing came to my mind because there was not much fun.
However, I did remember something from 1947, but it does not fit into the time frame of my books..
At that time a sister of my father lived in the USA and she sent us a “care” package to Germany . It was filled with all the goodies: flour, sugar, chocolate, Crisco, soap, and a shirt for my father. And then, my, brother who was 10 years old at that time, pulled a strange item from the package. It was made from brown leather and kind of oblong, oval , if you will. It looked like a ball but it was not round. It had a small paper note taped on the side ” For the boys” my aunt had penned on it.
My brother looked at it from all sides. “Horst, look at this thing, what is it?” He asked me. I could not answer him. In all my life I had never seen anything like it. We rolled it around on the floor and then tried to kick it to each other, but because it was not round it rolled nilly willy wherever it wanted.
After a while we decided that it must have been a ball at some time. We figured that some other heavier package must have squeezed our package during the long sea voyage to the point that the round ball lost it’s shape. If we could find a way to press it back into shape we could perhaps be able to play with it. However we had no press or vise to bring any pressure to bear. The only thing we could think of was to take a board, place it on the ball and then sit on it. I remember my brother sitting for hours on the weird shaped thing.
“Take a look, Horst. Is it round yet?” He would ask. “No, not yet, Peter. Sit on it some more.”
Here I was, 17 years old and having looked death in the face more than once, able to extinguish phosphor canister bombs with a sand filled paper bag, survived the Mongols as well as the SS, but I had never seen an American football or had any idea what this stupid leather thingy could be.
After other children started to tease my brother, he gave up sitting on it and threw it in the garbage.
This is not intended to be a major lesson, but I like to keep in touch with my readers and not much happened in the last two weeks.
My cover art designer and VA , Chris Haas, told me in an email that my book ‘Trust to a degree’ is now available on Amazon in the paper back edition.
She also mentioned that she is battling some wasps ‘Yellow Jackets” .
This prompted me to ask her if she knew (what the English people consider ) the difference between garden work and yard work?
Here is her answer:
Well, yes, maybe my American readers wonder if they learned something?
As far as my British readers, Hmmm, “Wipe the smirk of your face, please, we are still a young country.”