It’s my stop on the blog tour for Clare Coombes’s latest book, We Are of Dust and I’m handing the blog over to Clare as she shares her interview with Herbert Karliner.
Over to you, Clare …
Retelling of MS St Louis refugee tragedy through fiction backed by Holocaust and ship survivor
“What we don’t learn will happen again.” Herbert Karliner
A new book will relate the plight of the St Louis refugees to a new generation, 80 years after the events that caused many to flee Nazi Germany on the ill-fated ship.
We are of Dust by Liverpool (UK) author Clare Coombes starts on the night of Nazi rioting 9th-10th November 1938, known as Kristallnacht, for all the broken glass in Jewish shops and homes, and continues the narrative onto the doomed voyage.
Despite being a historical thriller and love story with fictional characters and events, the book will stay true to what happened to passengers when Cuba, America and Canada turned them, highlighting key messages about tolerance and empathy for today’s refugees and victims of genocide and war.
“Individualising history plays an important role in enabling us to learn from the past and question our world today,” Clare Coombes commented. “What happens when we turn refugees away? We need individuals to see how easy it is for someone’s world to collapse through political events and war and feel empathy for this. Historical fiction can do this in a way that tells the stories and respects the memories of survivors.”
St Louis passenger Herbert Karliner was 12 when he boarded the ship. He had watched as his family grocery store was destroyed on Kristallnacht and his father was imprisoned in a concentration camp, leading them to flee Germany when he was released. Herbert’s parents and sisters, along with two hundred other passengers from the St. Louis, were murdered by the Nazis.
“What we don’t learn will happen again. It’s essential to retell these stories so that no generation has to go through what we went through. I lost my family for no reason.”
On 7th November this year, Prime Minister of Canada, Justin Trudeau, will apologise for the decision to turn away Jewish refugees fleeing Nazis. The United States apologised in 2012.
The true story of the MS St Louis
MS St. Louis was a German ocean liner. In 1939, she set off on a voyage in which her captain, Gustav Schröder, tried to find homes for over 900 Jewish refugees from Germany. Due to countries’ immigration policies based on domestic political realities, rather than humanitarian grounds, they were denied entry to Cuba, the United States, and Canada. The refugees were finally accepted in various European countries, including Belgium, the Netherlands, the UK, and France. Historians have estimated that approximately a quarter of them died in death camps during World War II.
Q and A with Herbert Karliner
What was it like growing up Jewish in Nazi Germany?
At first, it was small things. I wasn’t allowed to play on the soccer team anymore. I wanted to join the Hitler Youth because I thought it sounded exciting, but my father told me I couldn’t because I was Jewish. I soon saw what they thought of me. They would push me off the pavements and make me walk in the gutter when they past. The violence built up. We were sledging once, and a boy punched my little sister in the face. I hit him back, and that night the Gestapo came for my father and imprisoned him for the night. Then Kristallnacht came. They destroyed our family grocery shop and our home. I remember the synagogue burning. I never went back to school after those attacks, and my parents made plans to leave.
What was life like on the ship?
We had a wonderful trip. We had movies, we had dancing. The food was delicious. I had never seen the Ocean before. I thought it was beautiful. My brother, sisters and me, we were all excited, but my parents were sad. Captain Schröder was a good man. On the ship, we were treated with respect and had rights. We weren’t used to that. The captain even took the portrait of Hitler down during the Sabbath Friday night services. However, once the ship started back toward Germany, we got very panicky. Nobody wanted us. Captain Schröder, promised us he would scuttle the ship in British waters rather than return them to Germany, but eventually other countries agreed to take us in.
What happened after the ship?
My family went to France, but we didn’t have any money. The Nazis had taken everything and had even charged a tax on anything we sold back in Germany. My parents and sisters were given an apartment in Mirabaud, and my brother and I were in a Children’s Welfare Organisation home. I worked in a bakery, and then, when the children’s homes were no longer safe, worked on farms under a false identity, and lived in the woods until liberation. I’d had no schooling since I was 12, and I had to learn French – my survival depended on it.
How did you survive?
I feel that I was lucky. I had friends hiding under false names who didn’t make it. I watched people get arrested by the Gestapo. One day, a wagon turned up at the children’s home. I didn’t get on because it was two weeks until my 16th birthday, and there were only taking away those over that age. None of them returned. I later found out that my parents and sisters had died at Auschwitz. I still think about them all the time.
Why did you choose to live in Miami?
It took me nearly a decade to get here after the war, but I promised myself when I was 12-years-old that when I can make it, I’m going to come back and live here. I have only been back to where I lived before the St Louis once. Peiskretscham is now part of Poland. I left after an hour. It was too much. Every morning, I get up and look around Miami and think of how lucky I am to be here.
Further information and interviews
Clare Coombes and Herbert Karliner are available for interview. Please contact: email@example.com / 07742603459
Want to read the book? Here’s the blurb …
‘You wouldn’t have got close to me if you’d known who I was.’
After all, she had been taught to hate him too.
Alice Sommer, the half-Jewish daughter of a prominent German physicist, and Kurt Hertz, a troubled Hitler Youth from the poorest district of Berlin, couldn’t have less in common; but when they each find themselves on the run from the Gestapo, cast adrift aboard a ship of spies, refugees and resistance fighters, their destinies become inextricably linked.
With the ship becoming a matter of special interest to some of the most influential members of the Nazi Party, the stakes are raised even higher. Will Alice and Kurt be able to put aside their seemingly irreconcilable differences for the sake of their own lives?
For fans of Rose Under Fire, The Book Thief and Between Shades of Gray.
You can get your copy now!
About the author …
For updates, including the release of other books in this series, write to firstname.lastname@example.org to join Clare’s mailing list, or visit: http://www.clare-coombes.com Twitter: coombes_clare Clare Coombes lives in Liverpool, UK, where she spends her time writing, reading, researching and editing, tap dancing – and looking after a toddler. She is one half of the Liverpool Editing Company, a publishing consultancy group designed to guide authors through each step of the publishing process. Her commended short stories and novel extracts feature in a number of publications, competitions and journals. Her debut novel, Definitions, was published in 2015 by Bennion Kearney to acclaimed Amazon reviews. Her wide-ranging non-fiction portfolio comprises everything from art to astrophysics, and her work has been published in a variety of national media outlets, receiving award nominations such as Science News’ ‘Breakthrough Story of the Year’. She has judged fiction competitions, taught on Creative Writing postgraduate modules and given talks in schools and at high-profile events on writing as a career.