The Luck of The Weissensteiners:
Sometimes chance meetings can change your entire life and at other times they can cause a downward spiral. Author Christop Fischer’s the Luck of the Weissensteinrs brings to light what happens when a young woman named Greta falls for a young man named Wilhelm hoping to join two families together at a time when being Jewish required hiding it from the community and living a lie was your only means of survival. As we meet the families of both Greta and Wilhelm we learn about the younger years of parents, their family’s goals and their hopes for their future. Jonah, Greta’s father decided to hide the fact they were Jewish, not observe his religion and even attend church services. Greta would follow suit in a different way when marrying Wilhelm, having a young son and then converting in order to be welcomed in the Catholic Church. The times were volatile, the feelings about Jews not friendly, prejudice was evident, tolerance did not exist and two young people started their lives based on a single lie. But, there is much more that tears them apart, their families and those they love.
The history of Czechoslovakia and Russia is extensive and the anti-Semitic feelings quite apparent. Even with the marriage of these two young people, the fact that Greta’s family came to live with them on the farm, worked the farm and were really not welcome did not hamper the fact that their presence enhanced the productivity of the farm.
The story centers around two families, their lives, futures and the events that are created during a time when hate, prejudice and a war were just on the corner. The story begins as Greta and Wilhelm have a whirlwind courtship. She loves to read and he is a German bookseller who enjoys supply her with reading material to suit her tastes despite that she is of a Jewish background. The times were changing, tensions were high and although Greta loved having her family live with her, Wilhelm’s mother Johanna resented not only her but also everything that her family did or stood for. When her brothers decided to leave and pursue other careers, she literally fumed, Wilhelm’s father was incensed and the two families would forever be split and the chasm so wide it might never be closed. But, Johanna is quite devious and Wilhelm’s loyalties are not with Greta, her family and her heritage. Can you really hide who you really are and where you come from? Can Greta abandon her family, their values and remain true to what Wilhelm’s family wants? Why Wilhelm believe the words written in a pamphlet without really researching the truths about Jewish people? Why would he desert his wife and leave her to fend for herself? Conforming to the wishes, whims and desires of others in order to be a part of the new government, new party and what political arenas are in the forefront in Germany. Prejudice, hate, children and adults cast aside and the end result a holocaust so horrific and so many persecuted because of the hate and narrow mindedness of a few. Listen to the words, thoughts and feelings of each character and the narrator as we learn more about Greta, her failings, her strengths and the real life experiences depicted in this novel.
Deceptions, lies, betrayals, hate, prejudice and fear are just some of the themes that run through this novel as we hear the voices of so many who thrived on persecuted the Jews. When the Hitler invaded Poland and 50,000 Slovak troops assisted. Greta although shocked and Johanna and Benedikt aware of much more never thought to tell her the truth, nor did they relate anything about Wilhelm and why he would never be in touch with her. Justifying his own actions, not really caring that he had another son, life became more like a real prison for Greta. But, an incident that the author relates brings to light just what would and was happening to many Jewish girls and Jews in general as Wilma sneaks off to see her family and what she experiences at the hand of some German soldiers and the Slovaks brings to light the cruel and inhumane treatment of Jews and so many others but the worst has yet to come. So many living in fantasy worlds and so many falling prey to what Hitler wanted. Living on the farm was anything but happy for Greta and being at the mercy of Wilhelm’s parents might not prove safe after all. Land reforms taking away the rights of Jews to own land and worse some farms confiscated many people deported. Some allowed to remain under certain circumstances others chose to leave. Johanna hated Great and was worried that in revenge for losing their farms the Jews would try and take them down with them. The hate was so strong you could feel it in the air. Denmark surrendered to Germany and Norway was invaded. The war was on and even Greta’s brother was fighting for the other side. But, would Johanna protect Greta and her young son? What would happen if Greta knew that Wilhelm had divorced her? Wanting her to leave whether by force or on her own account the decision was going to be made and her reaction quite compelling. The inevitable advent of WWII and the hopes of survival this novel will take readers inside the minds of the Germans, those Jews that are forced into labor camps, the rationale behind the thinking of these two families and the fall of the Berlin Wall. Bratislava was not hit as hard or yet and many non-Jews hated the Nazi’s and tried hard to harbor their Jewish friends hoping to keep them safe. Hardships that were unbearable, families broken apart and a war that will remain in the hearts of and minds of many forever.
The Weissensteiners remained where they were and hoped to whether the war and the end result for so many. Prejudice is one of the strongest themes, anti-Semitism even stronger and the changes within the continent, government a Diaspora group of you might say colonists lost within their own world. As Greta will soon learn that being born a Jew and converting does not make you any the less a Jew and trust comes with a high price. When Greta realizes the gravity of her situation, the truth behind what Wilhelm did and her what her in-laws think is best for her what will the final outcome be? How will she react? What is the ultimate betrayal?
Arriving back with her family would bring to light just how difficult Wilma’s life had been and more questions would be raised about those who might reveal their true heritage. Living within this secret for over 20 years and coming to Bratislava unnoticed would that change? But, those remaining with Johanna and Bendikt, minus Greta would soon learn just how difficult life would be. But, would Johanna feel any guilt about what she did to Greta? Did she even care?
The Weissensteiner family fared will for quite a while, and Greta’s younger brother Egon’s career advanced in the army. Safe, having friends would that last forever? The author takes readers through the year 1941 as we learn more about Johanna, those working for her, their betrayals, when the German army would attack Russia. All through this Greta’s family was not aware of Egon’s rise and she kept busy with her young child and still harbored her feelings about losing her first born. But, Jonah’s involvement with a woman named Alma might bring more than just danger in their lives. As his housekeeper and he her employer can they keep it a secret?
Worse than being hated is being branded you might say as the Jewish population was forced to wear Yellow Jewish Badges to indentify them as Jews. They were banned from movie theaters, parks, cafes, using public transportation and much more. Curfews were imposed on them and they were no longer allowed to own cars, radios or cameras. Would Jonah identify himself as a Jew or stay true to what he was already doing and deny his heritage for his family’s safety? Having friends in high places helped Jonah and his family when their name was placed on the list to be sent to a labor camp. Fortunately, someone made sure it disappeared. We enter 1942 and then Bratislava 1943 where Jonah’s friendship with the Countess greatly helped, She hopes that the war would end and was glad that she was able to bring Jonah and his family to her Estate. The experience would be great, the Wilma seemed to have snapped losing her love of anything that had brought her any joy. Her mental status seemed to be in decline and her fear of everything more prevalent. With Alma providing the news from outside their confines and then the German army was defeated and Jonah was worried. The suicide of a friend brings things into focus and what will Jonah and his family do next? Papers in place, documents needed would he remain at the Manor with the countess, would they learn the truth about him and what about Wilma? Would they realize she needed more help?
The end of the war but not the end of their plight as the Czechs were seeking out Germans and revenge was sweet. We hear the Countess express her regrets saying she wished should could have helped more, the loyalty of Edith and Esther and the hopes that Greta and her family would be safe. Entering a camp Alma and Jonah befriended many people and finally made their way back home. The war is over the prejudices are just as strong and now one family that hid their heritage reveal the truth. One young man denied his mother and adopted by another part of the Winkelmeier family. One man who deserted his wife because of what he read and the influence of others.
The final outcome of each member is quite compelling, the descriptions of the refugee camps vivid, the end result quite revealing. Many survived others gave up and one young woman would learn the truth but will she ever be reunited with her son? What about her father, brother and Wilma? This story spans a time period where one man’s fury reigned and ruled so many different countries, dominated so many governments and allowed so many to be tortured, killed, maimed and gassed because he hated them. What happens to Greta and the rest you will learn when you read the heartbreaking epilogue and learn the harsh realities of the times? One outstanding novel. One author whose research is extensive and so many scenes and conversations so vividly depicted he takes readers back to where it all began: Bratislava: Who comes home? The Luck of The Weissensteiners: After reading this novel you decide whether fate really did hand them a lucky hand. You decide: the Weissensteiners and the Winkelmeier: joined in marriage but never really as one.
Fran Lewis: reviewer
Lets dedicate this to all those who lost their lives at the hands of those who never really understood that different beliefs are what makes the world so special.