I stumbled upon the role that Slovakia played in WW2 more or less by chance.
During some ancestry research I discovered a piece of European History that I had never known about: How similar and yet so different life for Jews had been in a country politically so close to the Third Reich.
The unique role of Slovakia was really fascinating: For example, the country had one ‘illegitimate’ government and one government in exile; a rightwing party with a devoted Christian wing that undermined some of Hitler’s policies while willfully carrying out others.
Although an ally of Nazi Germany the country was ‘liberated’ by the Red Army and was, in the end, seen as a victim of Hitler.
While writing “The Luck Of The Weissensteiners” I became fascinated by the concept of Nations. It was an eye opener to learn how smallish regions in Central Europe could have been part of so many different countries over the centuries. Parts of Slovakia sometimes belonged to Hungary, Poland, Austria, Galicia and the Ukraine. Slovakia was part of Hungary-Austria, Czechoslovakia, Czecho-Slovakia, then became its own nation Slovakia, brought back into Czechoslovakia and then was free as Slovakia again. Bratislava, where my story takes place, had once even been the capital of Hungary, then under Austrian rule it got renamed into Pressburg and found its population a melting pot of Germans, Hungrians, Austrians, Czechs and Jews over the centuries.
What made people form a community and entity, what made them belong to each other with all the ever changing borders, countries and political alliances? Was loyalty felt to a king or a throne, a region, a nation, religion, a language, shared history or blood? How did the people retain their National Identity through Habsburg rule, Czech domination, Fascism and Communism? And more poignantly, how many generations before an immigrant and their off-spring are part of the community?
As a German I’ve always stayed clear of ‘nationalism’ because of our Nation’s history. Even as more time passes between Hitler and the peaceful present I can not wave the German flag at football games without feeling slightly self conscious and I cringe when I see Neo-Nazi’s wave the flag. Having lived the first half of my life in one country and the second half in another, I feel more like a citizen of Europe and the world, although deeply rooted in the two countries I know best.
Nationalism is on the rise in Europe again and finds itself at odds with ever-present Internationalism and Globalism. The UK is leaving the Europe Union over immigration issues and Scotland is thinking of leaving the UK because it wants to stay part of the bigger EU rather then the smaller Union with England, thus abandoning his closer partner for a community of more distant ones.
Yet, with so many Scottish people living in the South and so many English people living North, the lines between the Nations are not so simple to draw anymore. How to disentangle the subsequent mess of families separated by new borders?
Historically it was Immigration (and now Globalisation) which eroded some of the actual differences between cultures. Years of mingling and cultural exchange have altered and enriched the concerned areas so much, to me personally it seems odd that emotions about it should run so high. Yet, the desire to be one’s own Nation and to be different and separated from others remains strong and can not be argued away. It seems almost human nature to identify with one.
The hard-to-define idea of Nations and races has created the basis for my Three Nations Trilogy.
In “The Luck of the Weissensteiners” my characters experience the negative impact of Nationalism. Previously allied Nations and friends become enemies and we witness the manifold effects of one nation thinking it’s better than the other, impacting on all of Europe and its many ethnic groups.
The Luck of the Weissensteiners (Three Nations Trilogy Book 1)
In the sleepy town of Bratislava in 1933 a romantic girl falls for a bookseller from Berlin. Greta Weissensteiner, daughter of a Jewish weaver, slowly settles in with the Winkelmeier clan just as the developments in Germany start to make waves in Europe and re-draws the visible and invisible borders. The political climate in the multifaceted cultural jigsaw puzzle of disintegrating Czechoslovakia becomes more complex and affects relations between the couple and the families. The story follows them through the war with its predictable and also its unexpected turns and events and the equally hard times after.
But this is no ordinary romance; in fact it is not a romance at all, but a powerful, often sad, Holocaust story. What makes The Luck of the Weissensteiners so extraordinary is the chance to consider the many different people who were never in concentration camps, never in the military, yet who nonetheless had their own indelible Holocaust experiences. This is a wide-ranging, historically accurate exploration of the connections between social location, personal integrity and, as the title says, luck.
To understand this nationalist movement better I needed to go back in time to the Habsburger Empire and see how the involved countries got into the position of the 1930ies and 1940ies.
In “Sebastian”, the second part of this thematic trilogy, the plot takes place in the last years of the Habsburger Empire, as the fated multi-cultural union breaks apart because minorities have been disrespected in a forced meltingpot of states. The original nationalist movement at that time seemed nothing more than a legitimate longing for peaceful independence rather than superiority and active exclusion.
I intended to show the complexity of the disentanglement of that which had become more or less one, despite the differences.
Sebastian (Three Nations Trilogy Book 2)
Sebastian is the story of a young man who has his leg amputated before World War I. When his father is drafted to the war it falls on to him to run the family grocery store in Vienna, to grow into his responsibilities, bear loss and uncertainty and hopefully find love.
Sebastian Schreiber, his extended family, their friends and the store employees experience the ‘golden days’ of pre-war Vienna and the timed of the war and the end of the Monarchy while trying to make a living and to preserve what they hold dear.
Fischer convincingly describes life in Vienna during the war, how it affected the people in an otherwise safe and prosperous location, the beginning of the end for the Monarchy, the arrival of modern thoughts and trends, the Viennese class system and the end of an era.
As in the first part of the trilogy, “The Luck of The Weissensteiners” we are confronted again with themes of identity, Nationality and borders. The step back in time made from Book 1 and the change of location from Slovakia to Austria enables the reader to see the parallels and the differences deliberately out of the sequential order. This helps to see one not as the consequence of the other, but to experience them as the momentary reality as it must have felt for the people at the time.
In “The Black Eagle Inn” I cover the theme of a failed nation. I revisit Germany and the idea of Nations, now from the perspective of a shamed Germany, post WW2 to the 1980ies, after the idea of the uber-race has failed. A trimmed down country seeks to change and redefine itself and rise from its ashes in a respectable manner, or at least parts of it do so.
The Black Eagle Inn (Three Nations Trilogy Book 3)
The Black Eagle Inn is an old established Restaurant and Farm business in the sleepy Bavarian countryside outside of Heimkirchen. Childless Anna Hinterberger has fought hard to make it her own and keep it running through WWII. Religion and rivalry divide her family as one of her nephews, Markus has got her heart and another nephew, Lukas got her ear. Her husband Herbert is still missing and for the wider family life in post-war Germany also has some unexpected challenges in store.
Once again Fischer tells a family saga with war in the far background and weaves the political and religious into the personal. Being the third in the Three Nations Trilogy this book offers another perspective on war, its impact on people and the themes of nations and identity.
Here are some glorious reviews for “The Luck of the Weissensteiners”:
With much research behind it, as well as the personal experience of growing up in the region, Christoph Fischer’s work of historical fiction provides insight into the psyche beneath the levels of destruction in WWII-era Europe. If you are someone who wonders how such atrocities could have occurred prior to, and during WWII on the continent, you will want to read The Luck of the Weissensteiners.
The setting is Czechoslovakia, though it could have been almost any country in the region. Ethnic disrespect, hate, and violence have gone on for centuries in central and eastern Europe. Until reading this book, though, I did not understand how finely differentiated these forces were. Indirectly, the book also helped me to better understand how the dark side of nationality has wiped out countless human beings during various periods in the Middle East, Africa, and Asia—and for that matter, North and South America.
The Luck of the Weissensteiners follows two families and their circles of life, as they try to navigate the virulent events of their time. The story begins with the romance of a German bookseller and a young, beautiful woman of Jewish heritage. They will soon be caught in the whirling winds of their time. The author depicts how nearly impossible it is for the characters of this saga to avoid the propaganda machines around them, the pressures to conform, often in a chameleon fashion due to sudden changes in governance, and most unfortunately, the programming in ethnic bias from the time they were children. Despite the serious subjects, there is much warmth in this story. Some of the characters do find ways to stay true to the best in their natures or even redeem themselves, just as real individuals did then, and have always done on the plains of human existence.
If you enjoy well drawn characters whose lives and choices so deftly represent the themes of a book, The Luck of the Weissensteiners provides a rich read. In some ways, this book reminds me of classics I read long ago like The Canterbury Tales, or even The Odyssey, due to the diversity of personalities and the theme of journeys. From ethnic origin to talents and occupations, physical descriptions to sexual preferences, and economic status to political leanings, we see a cross section of humanity. Through their eyes and reactions, we can appreciate the full range of real outcomes and experiences, happy to sad or shocking, that occurred to real individuals during this era. By the way, the title of the book was an outstanding choice.
The Luck of the Weissensteiners would be tremendous in an audio version. For now, consider reading it out loud with a few friends who are interested in what life was like for those who lived the events of the novel’s time. Though some critics might question the generous use of adverbs and adjectives in his narrative voice and in the dialogue tags, Christoph Fischer deftly weaves his tapestry of history and fiction, with a grace not unlike Jonas, one of his primary characters. For me, the author’s choice of narrative style brought economy to the complex story being told, as well as a kind of mesmerizing rhythm.
This was a well-researched and enjoyable read. I would highly recommend it to anyone who loves Historical Novels, as I do. What we see is the triumph of the human spirit even in a time of such horror and terror. I really enjoyed it.
After having read Ludwika: A Polish Woman’s Struggle To Survive In Nazi German by Christoph Fischer I knew I had to read The Luck of the Weissensteiners.
This novel which has some historical reality is the story of a not very Jewish family and how they managed to survive in Czechoslovakia during the Nazi reign–then the Soviet takeover–to the liberation by the Allies. It is also the story of the other minorities in that country at that time and the fate which awaited them. The family is totally fictional but what happens to them could be all too true. It tells of the people who help them–and those that didn’t. All the main characters are fully developed. You will definitely feel the feelings they are feeling and get caught up in their lives.
What I didn’t realize when I first started reading this book was that it is the first in a three part series. Now I want to read the next two. Christoph Fischer is an articulate author who knows his craft. His writing will grab you and not let go-You will not be disappointed!
This was not reading a book. This was experiencing literature.
First a word of warning for the faint of heart, or casual reader: This is a well-crafted work of literature. It makes excellent and proper use of language. If you have never read a great work of literature you may feel overwhelmed. This is to be expected. What you should do, in this case, is sit back and let the story educate and enlighten your mind as well as entertain and enthrall your spirit.
That said… Wow! I’m personally used to reading and writing books that are a bit grittier and dirtier in language/tone/subject matter than this. This is not a bubble gum read. The word choice and sentence structure used is truly inspired, and shows artistry that is lost to more than 90% of writers today, I’d wager. I was barely into this book and I felt that I was reading a work that had been published out of its era, as though it were a classic work, only discovered and released in the modern age. I would have believed this book was written in the time it was set in.
As always, I will give no spoilers in a review, but I will speak to what you can expect from the work as a whole. The tale is set in 1930’s Europe, and shows us the lives, loves, fear, passions, and prejudices that effected and informed the lives of peoples who were impacted so greatly by Nazi Germany. Jew and Catholic alike, even Lutheran, no one was immune to the social implications of policies gaining traction at that time.
The themes the author chose to addressed, from classism and anti-Semitism to religious bias, mental illness, and sexual orientation, were all well presented in plot, and nothing felt forced or even slightly out of place. I was, and still am amazed at the quality of craftsmanship shown in the storytelling.
I started reading this book with expectations, based on its subject matter and the time period it as set in. Those expectations were shattered.
I expected a work of fiction. This was a work of art.