LIZZI & FREDL: A PERILOUS JOURNEY OF LOVE AND FAITH DURING WWII
Genre: Biography, Memoir
The author (who is the son of Lizzi & Fredl) writes in the Preface:-
I wrote this book to honour my parents and their innumerable sacrifices and to share with the world how unconditional love and faith in God carried them through their darkest crisis.In August 1938 Lizzi (26) and Fredl (27) Steiner had been married for 5 years and were living in Vienna, Austria when papers arrived for Fredl from the Republic of Germany demanding that he report in a few days to an aviation factory in Munich to work on delicate timing devices for bombs. Fredl, a Master Jeweller, and a Catholic, had no intention of working for a madman and they decided that their only choice was to flee Austria ...... this novel is the incredible story of their 7 year odyssey to freedom ............
On the run
After illegally crossing the frontier between Germany and France, they caught a train and arrived in Paris to stay with Fredl's niece.After just over 3 weeks they had to leave Paris as the Nazis were getting nearer so they travelled south to Rouen where they both found work and "the threat of Hitler and the Nazi regime seemed a world away." Until one day in August 1939 when Fredl was summoned to the Rouen police station and informed that, in anticipation of war, the French government was planning to mobilize Austrian expats to be part of the French Army - then war broke out in September and Fredl had to report to a military facility.
This was the first time they had been separated and from then on the book divides into chapters alternating with Lizzi's life and Fredl's life, so we know what each of them was doing at the same time, which made for fascinating reading.
Due to the outbreak of war, and because she was a refugee Lizzi was sent to an internment camp in Orleans, then Nevers, and after being interrogated she was free to leave and find somewhere to live and work, which she did. She had to register with the local police station and the refugee centre where she was given a small amount of money each week.
There was no Austrian legion and Fredl also went to an internment camp called Varimpre for 11 weeks and then moved to Lisieux. He realised they were no longer refugees, they were prisoners in a makeshift concentration camp.
During this time Lizzi and Fredl were able to write to each other and Lizzi found work in an airplane parts factory which was hard labour but it kept her mind from worrying about Fredl. and on Christmas Eve 1939 Lizzi was granted leave to visit the camp for one day.
31 March 1940 there was a mass exodus from Nevers to the south of France as the Germans were only 30kms to the north. Lizzi met some deserting French soldiers and went with them to the town of Bergerac, which was high in the mountains, and where she felt safe for a little while making friends and finding work. She realised that there were many people in the same difficult position as her, displaced from their native lands, displaced from their families and friends, displaced from normal life in general. They had such unknown futures.
The camp was evacuated to Damigny, a town further south, as Hitler's Army were getting nearer. Here, a delegation from the Red Cross talked to the men about their conditions and a week later their food improved and the Captain of the camp was replaced.
19 April 1940 they were moved again in a nightmare 28 hour freight train journey where hundreds of men were crammed in and had to stand up as they couldn't move. They were literally treated like cattle. They arrived at Bassens concentration camp, north of Bordeaux.Incredibly, one morning in June they woke up to find that the gates were open and the guards gone - so everyone walked out of the camp! Fredl walked to a displaced persons centre in Gurs where he stayed for 2 months. Talking to a new man in the camp one day he was told that Lizzi may be in Bergerac ....... Fredl immediately took a train there and an emotional reunion followed.
After 6 weeks the police took Fredl away in a major sweep, and many of the men were taken to a labour camp at Saint-Sauveur, near Bellac. He was assigned a job of cutting trees and paid half a franc a day. It is here that Fredl became ill with heart failure, pneumonia and angina and is treated in a hospital. Even though he is at his lowest ebb the thought of Lizzi and the end of the war kept him alive and having something to aim for - they often talked of emigrating to America and starting a new life - this was their dream.
The story continues in this way, with Fredl being moved around France and the years went by and
fear and distrust were emotions that needed to be heeded closely. Survival was of paramount importance, and misguided trust could prove to be fatal.
I won't give away any more of this story but, suffice to say, at times they were both incredibly lucky and I thought, more than once, that so many people weren't as fortunate as they were, and it really makes you think about the sacrifices people made and what awful times they went through.
There are also some wonderful pictures in the book, particularly of people they met in France, and also of Fredl's time in one of the camps where he was tree-cutting which I found fascinating.
This was such a moving story which I found hard to put down at times, and I would recommend it, not just as a love story, but if you're interested in WWII, and of how the refugees were treated in France.
Where Did I Obtain The Book?
The author, Dr William Stanford's agent sent it to me for a review, but you can buy it from Amazon.co.uk for £14.00 (Paperback) £18.05 (Hardback), Amazon.com for $27.95. Also the author's website is very interesting and informative with some lovely pictures: http://www.drwilliambstanford.com