Swedish schools and Autism/ADHD

I am getting more and more e-mails via my blog, from people who are considering moving to Sweden for work and for Graduate Studies. Their concerns are not really pertaining to that aspect, but to the aspect of what does Sweden have to offer their handicapped children. Disabled is such an awful word in my opinion (like disabling a car from rolling or starting or lacking an arm after WWI) so I will stick to handicapped. And we are not talking about regular handicaps, like blindness and deafness. In a way, a child is more blessed if they come with that handicap, since there is a support system for that. There is an acceptance in society for that. There is no acceptance for ADHD, ADD, DAMP nor is there an acceptance for Autism. Because there are too many children labeled with these handicaps today.

If you ask the person on the street, why that is, the average person will say that the psychologists do not know what they are doing and many will say that these diagnoses are just an excuse for bad parenting. What do I mean with saying too many are labeled with these handicaps? I mean that society can no longer handle the pressure. Articles have been written on how many get the diagnosis and noone understands the epidemic we have in front of our eyes. But one thing is for sure, that the schools can not handle these children, the health care system can not handle the amount nor is there any money to give the children what they need. IN THIS COUNTRY!

I do not mind having contact with all my readers, but if I end up writing the same thing to everyone, the purpose of this blog is lost. I created it, in order for all my penfriends to get an update on my life, since I discovered that I was writing the same thing to them all, over and over again, and was always behind in my correspondence. So I will try to answer everyone’s possible questions right here in this post.

To you out there who are contemplating a move to this country for various reasons, I ask you to contemplate the following questions once, twice, three times and perhaps ten times, before you make your decision.

Question number one: Imagine yourself arriving in Sweden and your child demands instant action. Your child needs to get settled in, before you can take up your graduate studies or your new job. How exactly are you going to communicate with people when you do not know a word of Swedish? In Sweden, it has always been a fact that only the person who screams the loudest, gets care and what they need and want. The others get bulldozed. It is very difficult to fight for your child’s rights, if you do not have the language to do so.

Yes, in a recent study it was concluded that Swedes speak English best in Europe, but what are we comparing with here? Italians? French? People who do not want to learn another language and whose countries and schools are not pushing for this, dubbing all TV and offering very few language classes. You might run in to a 20-year-old in Sweden, sitting at the train station with his iPhone 6, who will talk to you in English before he runs off to his job for a computer company or to the university where he is studying to become something in media. But when you walk in to a health clinic and speak to the secretary about setting up an appointment or you have to ask at the supermarket where you can find the gluten-free food, you will get an embarrassed person shaking their head in front of you. Yes, the 20 somethings who have been in academic programs at gymnasium will be able to converse a little with you. But the people who chose the practical programs will not. They have only studied English for 8 years and might not even have done their homework. They will know the F-word and the extreme word for poop. And use it in every Swedish sentence, happily, unaware how offensive it is. But that is about their extent of English language skills.

The people you will meet at BUP, Habilitation, in schools, authorities and health care personnel, will be between 40-65 years old and since they have not used their school English since they were 19, which prepares you for nothing, they will not even be comfortable in speaking English to you. They will not know all the words and they will not understand what you are saying. To dare speaking a foreign language, you need to feel confident in it, and a Swede does not feel confident in speaking English, if the person has not traveled a lot. The school English is useless and I can just give the example of myself. I graduated from gymnasium with the highest grades, at age 19, and headed for London, England. To work as an au-pair. And when I arrived, I had no idea what people were saying and I did not dare to open my mouth. It took a long time for me to adjust, but I cursed my English teachers, who had not taught me the names of everyday items, things you need for your daily living, in an English-speaking country.  Then imagine people who have not spent years in an English-speaking country the way I have. How reluctant they will be to speak your language and some will even say that “when in Rome, do as the Romans do”. Meaning, do not come here, if you don’t know our language.

And why is it so important to know Swedish then? Because when you have a child with a handicap, which can not easily be observed from the outside, you don’t get any understanding or help. EVERYTHING becomes a fight and a struggle. Life becomes totally uphill.

Your second question ought to be, am I ready for the fight? What came as a natural thing in your own country, a human right, something which came per automatic after the diagnosis was set, will never do so in Sweden. You are supposed to handle everything on your own, and if you do not and ask for help, you run the risk of ending up at social services. But say that you are willing to take that risk, because things are just too much at home, you do not know how to handle your child, you want help tools, education and so on. Then your first call is to BUP. Child- and Youth Psychiatric care. If your child has ADHD/ADD/DAMP you stay with them, otherwise they will have to send a referral to Habilitation, where the autistic children end up. And then starts the wait. For an appointment. Usually it takes months. And you get one hour with someone, whom you can sit and whine to. But as far as practical help? As my husband says, “Schnurr”. I will return to the power or lack of power they have, further down.

For a single parent, these procedures mean that you can forget having a life, because your entire life will be to fight for your child. If you come here as a couple, one person will be busy trying to get help for your child and the other person will be the breadwinner. Only, if the breadwinner do not come to all the meetings, which is the case in our family, because the breadwinner would lose his job if he was absent that much, then BUP and Habilitation will count the present parent, as a single parent. And you should be aware of that they have a DUTY TO REPORT YOU if you do not live up to their expectations. There is a proposed law in parliament right now, which wants to allow the removal of children from their parents’ care, when the children do not behave in school and elsewhere. Their bad behaviour caused by their ADHD and Autism, is going to be blamed on their parents, if the law is passed. And then we, who have children who act out and are aggressive, because of their brain dysfunctions, live on borrowed time as parents of these children. Others will be considered better fit to raise our children. And there is nothing you can do if the social system have decided to take your children away from you because you do not give them enough attention, you do not fight hard enough for them, if you do not curb their bad behaviour…

But let us not paint Lucifer on the wall, but say that you have got in to Habilitation or BUP. I have been a visitor to BUP now for the past two and a half years. My son “Kitty” got his diagnosis as a 5-year-old from what was called the base team at the hospital in Lund, and on the day I received the paper which stated that he has ADHD, the doctor wanted to prescribe Concerta. I told her to forget it and her answer was “if you can not handle things, contact BUP”. I waited four years before doing so, and read everything I could about ADHD and did things by common sense and by trial and error method.  Then his teacher demanded that he be medicated. I refused BUT I contacted BUP to find out what rights I have and what rights my son has. What happened?

I was sent on a parenting course for ADHD strategies where I learned everything I already knew from all literature I had read and also by experience. So my husband got in to trouble at work for nothing, since he had to be off work during the times when I had lessons. The lessons given by BUP and Habilitation are ALL given during day-time, when I do not have baby-sitting and most people are at work. They do not have classes in the evenings because their personnel do not want to work in the evenings!

After we contacted BUP, it took a couple of months, and then the counselor at BUP came to my son’s school to inform them what ADHD means. They could not have cared less. No changes were made. An occupational therapist was sent to the school to observe and give suggestions on changes that needed to be made. The teacher told him to forget her changing anything. What has my help from BUP arrived at? After two and a half years, my son has received a chain quilt, so he can go to sleep, a whiteboard schedule with magnetic pictures, a time log and a ball pillow to sit on in school, instead of jumping up and down. That is it. He doesn’t look at the schedule, nor does he use the time log and he refuses to use the pillow in school, because then they would notice that he is different. Like they don’t  already? But in his world, he does not stand out as different from everybody else.

He is now on medication for ADHD. Not on the Amphetamine drug Concerta, but Strattera, a non-stimulant, which you take every evening and it works 24 hours a day. He is also on Risperdon for his aggression, which is usually given to schizophrenic persons, but in much higher doses than what are given to ADHD children, already on Strattera.  We see the nurse about once every three months, where his height and weight is checked as well as his blood pressure, and the doctor once a year. To get the drug is a nightmare since not all pharmacies have it and it is expensive. Plus you only get a prescription for one month at a time, so the child can not overdose on it or sell the drug. But this means that every month you have to go through the same nightmare, to try to get a new prescription and you only get to talk to a secretary who has rare telephone times.

Is it just bad for us? Have we fallen between chairs somehow and it would not be the same thing for you? I think all internet support groups and Facebook groups tell the story that ours is not an unusual one. It is actually the way it is. When I discussed schooling for these children with another reader, I remembered a friend in the US, who described all the help her boy was getting for his Asperger’s. And I remembered thinking, wow. Group therapy for boys where they learn to socialize and read facial expressions/body language. Special schools. You name it. Dream on, it will never arrive in Sweden!

The third question you need to ask yourself is: In a study a year or two ago,  they concluded that among Europe’s ALL countries, Sweden was the worse in helping their children with neurological handicaps. They receive the least help of all! Even backwards countries like Romania was above us on the list and Greece, who is in financial ruin. What does this say about Sweden?  Think about what you have around you right now, in the way of help, support, assistance. Are you really willing to sacrifice all that for graduate studies or a great job? Because while you might learn amazing things in your studies and you might earn a lot of money in your field of work, your child is more than likely to go through hell in Sweden.

Yes, you can sit and chat on Facebook with other frustrated Swedish parents, but it does not solve your situation. You can blog and vent, like I do, but it does not help my boy to learn how to read and do math, nor does it help him with bullies. There is noone to talk to. If you whine and say it is all too much to handle, they fill out the papers for social services! You should in their view know how to cope, innately. And they are only looking out for the child, not for your wellbeing. But I would not say that they are even doing what they are supposed to do for the children, since they have no power to do so.

So, the question dealt with are you willing to step in to the unknown, or shall I say back in time, and forego all the care and help you now have for your child?

Which brings us to the big question all of you have: SCHOOL for my child. One mother asked if her son would be allowed to go to a special needs school because that is where he is now. I hope she does not mind me bringing up her case like this, but it is to illustrate a point, so I hope she will forgive me. In her case, her boy is acting out badly but is smart. In the US you are sent to special needs school when you behave poorly, if I have understood her right, because that is how her son ended up there. And it is a good thing. People know what they are doing at such schools, they have the patience needed for autistic children and the children get the love and respect they deserve. I had to break her heart that there would be no such thing in Sweden for her son.

In Sweden, the average  mother is home with her baby for the six first months and then the father is home for the other six months. If the couple can afford it. In our case, I am home all the time and my husband could only be off for the two weeks after the baby was born. His paternity leave months have saved the state some money, since he has never been able to use them and the state did not have to pay the 80% of his pay at all. Then the parents put their baby in daycare where the child is till it starts what is called zero class. But daycare is an ugly word in Swedish so it has been called pre-school for the past 26 years at least. But it is what it is.

Zero class is started the year you turn 6 and is an in-between state, between school and pre-school. Some schools have made it in to a regular school year, because they do not know how to do things differently. Other schools use it as a play year. And yet others do a little bit of both. The year you turn 7 is the year when you start first grade. But with autism, you usually have so many problems, that the ages when others do things, will not suit you. My son “Kitty” with ADHD, who received an autism diagnosis as well, on the 18 November 2015, started zero class one year late, because his speech was late, he is born in the end of December and he could not sit still. My autistic son “Boo” started zero class when he was 6 but he is now doing second grade a second time, since he can not read, nor write nor do math, nor stay in the classroom to learn things. There was no way he could go on to third grade in that condition. My son “Gubby” just started zero class in August 2015, at the age of 7, because he has severe language problems and is “behind” in his development. He is the sweetest little cutie but is more on a 4-year-old’s level than a 7-year-old’s.

You go to school for 9 years, if you do not count the zero class, and then you choose a program for gymnasium. There are tons and tons of programs to choose from, a regular jungle, but when you have settled for one and have been accepted, you look at three more years of schooling. You graduate in June during your 19th year on Earth. Then it is on to University or unemployment. For the lucky few, you can actually do military service, but that is not an option if you have autism or ADHD. Nor can you become a police officer.

The average person, will sign the papers about their child’s future school, when they arrive in the post box. They have had their child in the day care which is situated the closest to their house and their children will go to the council school closest to their house as well. The child will take off on foot or by bicycle to school each day and after the school hours are over, they will attend after-school-daycare which is held at the school somewhere. A few are latch key kids.

Some time when I was living in the US, the Social Democrats lost power in Sweden and the right-wing parties took power instead. State owned companies were sold out and while the school system and the funds, had fallen under government before, it was now transferred to the individual councils instead. Why am I bringing this up? Because in the 1970s, Sweden’s school was considered the best in the world, and a year or two ago, Swedish politicians got a nasty wake up call, when they were informed that Swedish school is now one of the worse in the world. They can’t understand why, but I can say this: When you decided to solve your financial problems, by cutting the money from the schools and health care system, you can’t expect to have the best care and school anymore. You do not get there by a miracle but by hard work and by spending money.

That is the situation we are looking at today, when our autistic and ADHD children go to school. Some councils are poor, some rich. Where are you going to conduct your graduate studies? In a rich council or a poor one? Where are you going to work, in a rich or poor council? Because I can tell you, it is sure going to affect your handicapped child. And I can tell you this, that the poor councils put schools very far down on the list of places to spend their few coins on.

I can not say what goes for councils other than my own, but from what I have heard from parents who live in other councils, the situation is pretty much the same where ever you live in Sweden, when it comes to what sort of help your child can get, with small variations. But I will for the most part continue telling what goes in my council, that of Lund, the famous University town with lots of international students.

We live out in the sticks. Not in Lund major in other words. But sticks and sticks. 9000 inhabitants, four schools with one of them containing a high school. The latter was burned down a couple of years ago, by a boy with DAMP, who is famous all over the village. His father is a police. NICE! These four council schools are under all critique. I would not dream of putting one of my children in one of them and it has always been like that. All parents who have children in the schools, warn people moving in or contemplating changing schools, “Do not put your child in my child’s school! They can’t teach in the afternoons because the children scream and behave so badly”.  The school which is called the village school, has a headmaster who do not care at all about any kind of diagnoses. One mother told me that her autistic son, had to sit in a class with 50 pupils in the afternoons. He could not handle it, so she and her husband had decided to sell their house and move out of the council of Lund.

When I was looking for a school for my youngest and for “Boo” to change over to, I called one of the other schools’ headmaster. She told me verbatim “my school is for normal children who will sit still in their desks and learn. I can not give any child a full-time assistant, the best I can do is give them a couple of hours a week with one”. I think we all know and understand that an autistic child needs a full-time assistant if he or she is going to be able to go to main stream school. Too much happens and goes wrong otherwise. Habilitation has told me to have the headmaster reported because according to the law she is not allowed to say what she said, but the law is one thing and what is practiced out in the council is a totally different matter. The parliament can sit there and write a law which says that every Swedish child should be allowed to go to school and learn according to their capabilities and that things have to be adjusted for them to be able to do so. But in reality, there is no school in Sweden that can afford that and uphold the law. They break the law on a daily basis at a majority of the Swedish schools.

In Lund’s council, my village has been determined a dying one, so they do not want to spend any money on it and in it. When we moved here, only 7000 lived here and it grows constantly, new houses being built and young people moving in having babies. But Lund has decided to use the money for a new adventure swimming pool and to install tracks and trams around the town. Against the inhabitants wishes. Most of us would have prefered money for  the schools instead and for the health clinics so one actually could get to see a doctor when ill. But that is how it is, the councils now choose what is more important to spend money on.

If you do not want your handicapped child in a village hooligan school or in a council school with a bad reputation, what then? Well, you can wish for a good council school but the council will decide where there is room for your child. So your only other option are the independent schools. One mother asked me “Are there private schools in Sweden?”. Yes, there are two private schools to my knowledge. The students who go there come from the Royal family and extremely well to-do families. The schools have had a lot of publicity since the bullying is going overboard, the 9th graders forcing the girls to walk in front of them naked, the younger waiting upon the older ones, classic private school attitudes that one recognises from films showing such things in Britain and the US. A behaviour which does not fit in with Swedish values at all. All this said, the schools are also in locations far away from the public eye and are boarding schools. I would not dream of putting my handicapped child in such a place where the atmosphere is not that of tolerance, quite the contrary.

No, we have independent schools which one probably would classify as private in many countries, since there they would have to pay for such schools. In Sweden you do not pay for these schools but it also means requirements from parents and that they can do a little bit like they please, at them. To make sure your child gets in to the desired independent school, you should enter them in to the queue upon birth or as soon as possible after that. Because the queues are long and the schools do not want to get too big. You can be lucky and slip in on a banana peel, when there is an opening occasionally and noone to fill the slot, but it is not something you can count on happening.

You ask why everyone does not want to put their children in these often calmer and smaller schools? Because people are comfortable, they do not want to drive their children to school. And they do not want to sacrifice of their own free time, which might be limited in the first place, to go and do garden work, mend things broken at the school, clean the school, build things etc. And some are just plain conservative, they went to a council school so why should not their children?

I have a lot of experience from the independent schools and if I am going to be 100% honest, I might as well admit that there is no perfect school. Every school has a backside to it. You just have to pick the least  bad of them all and hope for the best.  That is how I have ended up this year with my five still-in-school-children, at four different schools. And I can definitely not recommend that. I managed to get “Boo” in to a Waldorf school because they had one opening for his year and he has been lucky I should say, because his teacher has taught an autistic boy before, for 9 years. He is also lucky, because his headmaster has the energy to fight for extra funds, which one can do, if one has taken on a handicapped child. He has to fight though, even though there is so much proof that “Boo” is a handful and has to have a full-time assistant. They declined the application in the first instance and he has had to contact lawyers and go to a higher court. Not all headmasters have that courage or energy to engage themselves in their jobs, full force.

But there was no room at the inn, so to speak, for “Gubby” and “Kitty” at the school. So “Gubby” is going to a Montessori  school in an entirely different village. The only reason he got in there, and the rest of his class mates, was because they have been going to the Montessori pre-school, which is part of that school. They did not accept any outsiders this year, from the outside queue. So no room for “Kitty” at that school either. The school got extra money for “Gubby”, but they decided to not hire an assistant for him after all, even though he needs one. Instead they have solved it by the school’s music teacher spending Monday-Wednesday with him, before lunch, and the after-school day-care teacher spends Thursday and Friday mornings with him and all afternoons. He gets out of school at 12:30 which is when the others go to after-school-day-care. Which is something which does not work for an autistic child, since in that place, there is no order what so ever and total chaos. The noise level itself is overwhelming. I would never do that to “Gubby”. He would spend the entire time flaxing about, worried sick and being insecure. Noone would be able to be with him either. That is not how after-school-day-care is set up.

“Boo” has to be fetched at 13:45 when his school is out, for the same reason and his assistant and the special ed teacher told me after just a week or two in school, that they were relieved that he was not in after-school-day-care, because it would never have worked.

“Kitty” is at a Catholic school and heaven knows why! I have tried to get him in to a good council school in Lund because nothing can get worse than what he is in right now. But grade five was full, so you have to enter a queue. I tried Montessori and Waldorf and they are full. He is stuck in a school where the only credentials that you need to get employed, is that you are Catholic. Doesn’t matter if your Swedish is so poor that you are the only one who understands it. And the headmaster does not believe in diagnoses. So he doesn’t do anything. He knows nothing about ADHD, nothing about autism and that is the way it is going to stay. His personnel, know nothing about either handicap, and that is they way it is going to stay until he takes charge, hires in people who will educate his teachers, and the school starts listening to what BUP and Habilitation have advised them to do. That will happen in the millennium. Not now! I have been banging my head so bad trying to get them to educate themselves and make changes for “Kitty”, for six years now, and it is totally pointless. I have even stopped being nice when the headmaster phones me and tells me that “Kitty” has kicked someone in school, that he has taken someone’s jacket and have thrown it up a tree and so on. My new answer is “Well, if you had had enough teachers out on recess, this would not have happened. I have demanded that for years. And you know that my son is a nuclear bomb ready to explode, so one teacher should keep an eye on him in particular. I have done my job, I have put him on medication and I have asked for an assistant which you abhor, so there is nothing more I can do!”.

Because this is the reality in Swedish schools today. Your child has to go to mainstream school unless Habilitation has tested your child and your child gets an IQ under 70. THEN and ONLY then can your child get the school it needs, a special needs school. You only have mentally retarded children in those schools today. My youngest son has IQ 50 when it comes to everything language. BUT not in the other fields. He looks like an EKG curve on the IQ test and has landed on IQ 90, when one puts them all together. And you have to be under 70 on everything. Autistic children rarely land there though. They land like him and his brothers. An uneven curve. Low or average IQ but still with LOTS of problems. Like my sons’ special ed teacher says at Habilitation “They are called high functioning but they can’t function themselves in our society, but need lots of help.”

A help which they for the most part can not get. Habilitation and BUP, can go to the schools and they can suggest and advice, but they can not force the schools to spend the money. And the schools will not spend the money if they can avoid it. Things got so bad for “Boo” at the Catholic school, that he was never in the classroom. He learned nothing. He was bullied and called stupid by the other children. He was in constant fights with other children. I had daily phone calls and complaints about him. They had a psychologically troubled woman working at the after-school day-care, who had been placed there for free by the unemployment office, to get what is called work training, to be his assistant. The last term she refused to go to school and look after  him. So they brought in another person they did not have to pay, who shook him, swore at him and was generally unpleasant to him. He was a student who just wanted some cash for his holiday. “Boo” was a wreck the last weeks of the term and I was so grateful to get him out of that school. So, to put your child in an independent school is not always the best thing either. Some of them are just nightmares! And they do get less funding than the council schools, since some parties in Sweden, want the phenomena of independent schools, to disappear. They have got in to their heads that only rich people can afford to have their children in these schools and that the most solidaric thing is that all children get equally bad schooling. Noone should have a chance!

But you haven’t said what sort of help you get at BUP and Habilitation, some might say now at the end of this post. It is because I can not say that they have helped me with this or that. “Gubby” got his diagnosis of autism in March 2014. We did not get to meet anyone from habilitation until september 2014. That is how long that queue is. About a month went by, before I got to present my child to them, him never having set foot there yet, and then he got to go there for a play session, which is part of their testing procedure. To see how bad the handicap is. Not until December, a couple of days before Christmas, did the IQ testing take place. By then I was hysterical, since Montessori wanted to know if he wanted a place at their school or if it could be given to an outsider. Habilitation had sent me to a meeting about the special needs school, since they thought he would end up under 70. But then the testing took place and he landed on 90. So that meeting was wasted. 4  months went by and then the speech therapist tested him. I got those results in June. And the promise of getting to test out apps he can use, to help his language along. That appointment was at the end of November this year. So the first practical help we received with the apps, that we have to pay for ourselves, was 1 year and 8 months after he got his diagnosis. On an average, this is how long it takes for every little help you are to receive. Because too many children need help.

Like I said earlier, my son “Kitty” has received some help tools which has not really made a major difference in his life, thanks to him objecting to using them or because he does not have the patience to use them. As far as school goes, BUP has not been able to influence that at all, so all meetings with counselor and occupational therapist has been wasted time really. It remains to see what will happen when he now has to start going to Habilitation as well. At least I hope they will be able to explain his autism to HIM better than the idiot at BUP did, wo had my son in tears and looking at the psychologist with murderous eyes.

When it comes to “Boo”, he got his play session pretty quickly, in December 2014, after getting his diagnosis on the 11 September. I know, what a date! He then was tested by physical therapist and occupational therapist in February 2015 but we did not get the test results from that until May. We were  promised a weighted pen among other things. He got the weighted pen in December 2015, ten months later, and then it was not his own but the occupational therapist’s personal one, since she doesn’t know what has happened with the order. He also received a book like “Gubby” received back in September 2015, which is just like the ADHD whiteboard with coloured days. You write down or draw what will happen every day in the book. (You can see pictures and read about the tools, in a post I wrote years ago.) He also got a time log, since he has no concept of time. Just a little example of how it will take months on end to receive tools promised. His IQ testing took place in June 2015, in other words 9 months after his diagnosis.

“Boo” has motor problems but gets no physical training per se, except for what he gets when out on recess. He gets to go swimming at Habilitation three times per term, the first times were in the spring 2015 and this past term, it did not become until in December. The weighted pen will help him to write, since he finds it so difficult. And now in January, we have been promised to get an appointment to try out a handicap keyboard for computers, since they have decided to let him be more on a computer, unless the task is writing in itself.( Something which was decided in August!) Otherwise they can not get him to work in school. He can’t use his hands that well for things.

In conclusion, I would like to say, that making a move overseas is a very big thing. I have lived in England and the US myself and know what a big change that was for me and I have seen how difficult it has been for my American husband in this country. To move with a handicapped child in your luggage so to speak, is even more of a major thing. You have to forget everything you are used of,  from home, and accept a new way of doing things. For a child with ADHD or autism it will be a major trauma to move to new circumstances and the decision to move should not be made lightly. You could end up with people around you, who will help you and bend over backwards for you, but realistically this will not happen. You will enter a nightmare without end. One always have to look at the pros and cons with every decision, but as a parent to a handicapped child, one has to look at decisions in another kind of manner than other people. Am I doing this for selfish reasons? Is this the best for me or for my child? What will my child get out of this?

It makes me think about how my little “Gubby” has started zero class this autumn and is getting invited to all these Birthday parties. When the first invitation arrived I went in to shock. Because what does one do? Yes, it is very sweet of the parent to not forget him and for the child to want him there as part of the class. But what would it be like for “Gubby” to go to the party? He does not understand what a Birthday party is. That it is somebody ELSE’S Birthday and party. That he is not the main figure. He does not know what the routine is. That one says Happy Birthday and gives the present to the Birthday child. He does not know that one sits down to eat food and then cake. He can not understand the rules of the whispering game around the table. He does not understand that when in someone’s home, one must ask where the loo is, when one needs to go. That one must go to the loo when the bladder is full and not hold on for King and Country, just because one doesn’t know where the loo is or mamma is not there to wipe. He does not understand that after the food, there are games that everyone is supposed to take part in and follow the rules. Because he does not take part in games and does not understand rules. In other words, a Birthday party is not really a fun thing for him. It is fun for the person who is celebrating and for the parents of that child, who see their child having fun. But for my child, it is not fun but just a bunch of confusion and stress. He will react with flaxing his arms and go in to his own world. He will smile his Chinese smile and be cute, but he would have been calmer and more content at home. I have told all parents that we appreciate the invitations but at this point in “Gubby’s” life, we are abstaining from bringing him to Birthday parties, since he does not understand what they are all about. Maybe he never will. And that is what life with an autistic child or one with ADHD is like. You have to abstain from a lot of things in life. There are places where you are not welcome. There are activities that you can not go to because your children will flip out. And yes, it can feel unfair, to always be on the sacrificing side, but on the other hand… Noone forced you to become a parent. When you make that child, you take a risk of the child coming out with a handicap. And just like you go and buy help wheels for your child’s first bike, you have to help your handicapped child with everything it needs to succeed, even if it is way more than a couple of training wheels bought easily in a shop. You might never receive the freedom to do what YOU like, depending on how handicapped your child is, but then that is the life you are supposed to have on this Earth. Obviously you will learn what YOU need to learn, by it.

To all of you with questions, I hope that this post has helped you on your way to an intelligent decision. To have a child with autism or ADHD in Sweden, is tough. I can not lie. You have everyone against you. It means a life filled with tears, but when that child cuddles up to you and tells you that he loves you, you forget about all that. If you have more questions or feel that I missed something, please let me know and I will either answer in a personal e-mail or on the blog. I do not profess to be an expert. I can only tell you what I have encountered in my life so far with a just turned 12-year-old, 9 year-old and 7-year-old, all of which suffer from autism and one having ADHD on top of it all, like one handicap was not enough for a human to carry. (I have four more children beside them, by the way.) Other parents will have other experiences no doubt, but I can promise that all of us do the same head banging on that brick wall and we all feel the same frustration. Whether you will find Sweden wonderful and helpful or not, totally depends on what you are coming from. If you come from Syria, Sweden will seem like paradise, for the first couple of days at least. If you come from the US, you will see what a difference there is between living in a super power and a small country.

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My Friday Book: “The Treasure of Mr. Isakowitz” by Danny Wattin

imageOn the back of this book, someone said that the author writes like something between political commentator Göran Rosenberg and Woody Allen. Göran Rosenberg came out with a book, a couple of years ago, where he told the story of his father, who survived WWII and the Holocaust. It is called “A Brief Stop on the Road from Auschwitz” but I gave up on the book  after the obligatory first 50 pages. (My Swedish teacher in gymnasium always said, that you always have to give every book a chance. If it is still bad after 50 pages, you can put the book aside and not return to it, but it usually takes 50 pages to get in to a book.) Göran Rosenberg’s book was just awful. It was some of the most drole 50 pages I have ever read and I decided that my life is too short to waste on a bad book.

Everyone no doubt know who Woody Allen is, and I can’t say that I am a fan of his films. They are bizarre and only cement the idea that there is something wrong in Mr. Allen’s brain. With one exception. One of the funniest films I have ever seen, is “Radio Days”. It is supposed to be a portrait of Allen’s growing up years and family. I am not sure if it really is, but if it is, then it could explain why a boy’s brain might have got screwed up. On the other hand, lots of little Jewish boys have grown up in similarly crazy families and have turned out just fine! If you have not seen that film, please do! You do not have to see Woody Allen’s crazy and ugly-looking face, only hear his voice as a narrator, which is a great bonus. And the film shows both how much the radio meant to people before the television entered our homes and what it was like to grow up Jewish in New York, around the time of WWII.

One of my favourite parts is when the little boy who is supposed to be Woody Allen, has played hockey with his grandmother’s dentures for a puck. But the very best part is the Atonement Day/Yom Kippur, when Jews are not allowed to do anything except mourn and regret their sins. They can’t eat, wash, wear clean clothes etc. This family, in the film is just sitting in an armchair each, in their living room, waiting for the day to end, being starved and arguing as usual. The family lives next door to a family of communists and non-practicing Jews. On this day, those people have decided to annoy the other Jews, by barbecuing in their garden and play secular music, on a loud volume. The boy’s aunt always suspects that her husband goes over there to eat pig meat, which is a constant reason for argument. But on this day, she sends him over to tell the neighbours to turn off the music. He is gone for hours while she sits and complains loudly that he is probably over there eating pig and when he comes back, she is furious because she can “see” that he has eaten.

That film is crazy and funny, and this book is very similar to that film, in that respct. Danny Wattin tells the story about his “crazy” family and about a journey his father Hans-Gunnar, his son Leo nine years old and himself, make to Poland to find his great-grandfather’s treasure. And he tells the story in a Woody Allen way, describing how he grew up in a Stockholm suburb in Sweden, interwoven with the progress of the treasure hunt.

As a matter of fact, he is not so concerned with the treasure in itself. To him, it is a chance for the three males to bond and get some sort of closure to the Holocaust. But to his son Leo, this is a treasure hunt which has to take place, after he heard of his great-great-grandfather burying one in his garden, before he was arrested by the Nazis. The only thing Danny’s grandfather Erwin ever said about that man, the 1930s and the Holocaust.

Gunnar, does not really have any high thoughts about his strange son. He finds everything his son does, strange. Like not having a TV, naming his children strange names, but most of all, it is a matter of Danny not trying to fit in and be as assimilated as Gunnar and his wife are. A struggle Gunnar has had to go through his entire life. Like when his daughter every year fought to have a Christmas tree and her ending up having one in her room with presents under it, and finally dancing around it as well, all on her own.

In a way it is not about assimilation at all, but a generation thing. Danny watches TV on his computer, which he repeatedly tells his parents. And his sons names, Leo, Mingus and Moses, were picked because he and his wife liked them, like most people choose names for their children.

It is also a matter of different personalities and families. Danny remembers well, how his mother’s side of the family was like something out of an Isaac B. Singer novel or say Woody Allen’s “Radio Days”. But his father’s family was always very sane, calm and well-behaved. And maybe that is what makes this book so funny and great to read, because whether you are a Jew and can recognise yourself in those parts of the book or whether you are a Gentile like myself, you can draw parallels to your own life and family. Which one of us do not have crazy family members who act in a not so usual way or have crazy family traditions? And which one of us have not had conflicts with a parent who have determined that their way is the only correct way of doing things?

Danny sets out to describe what it was like to grow up in a suburb and on a street where everyone did the same thing.  His family ate pig just like their neighbours and washed the car on the Sabbath. They were totally assimilated and like he says, the Nazis would have hated them for it. On the other hand, Hitler, would have been the one who got beaten up in Danny’s neighbourhood, for looking different and like an immigrant.

He also brings up how his sister and himself did realize they were different, since everybody else’s parents were so calm and never argued. That it is a Jewish phenomena to always argue. At the same time, he felt quite lost in the Judaism which the Holocaust surviving generation still lived with, when he grew up. He did not understand the Hebrew things they read at the holidays, when all of them got together to eat and celebrate. And he really could not see the purpose of all the symbolic things during those holidays, not having been taught the why and wherefores. It must have been very difficult to grow up  and not really know what one is. With one foot among the survivors who would tell you that if the Neo-Nazis got hold of the information that you are Jewish, they will kill you, and one foot in a family which is doing everything to fit in and be like everyone else, because there is no reason to not do that. His father having been born in Sweden and having been given a really Swedish name.

The conversations between Danny and his father are the funniest of course in the book. His father having an answer for everything and an opinion about everything. Like why Danny has never become a best-selling author.  His father tells him the following: “you must have more violence and sex in your book… Like Stieg Larsson. There has to be a man who gets to have sex with everyone he meets and a girl with a motorbike who is a little bit lesbian. … Not so much so that she will not sleep with the main male character. She will have been abused and will take a violent revenge. Then your audience will say that it is a book about fighting the oppression of women and not a orgie in sex and entertainment violence. Just like when women produce pornography and people applaud it and say that it is a feminist act of resistance.” Unfortunately the father is right, is he not?

Books and films today, have to have sex and violence to attract an audience. It is disgusting and very, very sad. Even worse is the fact that every book and TV series, have to have a homosexual aspect. Is it going to become what pedophiles say as well? That “homosexuality used to be taboo, but is now completely accepted. Pedophilia is just another form of sexual preference and will likewise be accepted one day, just like homosexuality.” (Taken from a documentary with an interview with a pedophile who was totally serious about the future!) Is that what the world is coming to? Will society one day accept pedophilia as well, like pedophiles think? Because when I sit and watch later productions of “Miss Marple” and see how the producers in every episode make one of the leading characters homosexual, and every book and film having it as a side theme, I start despairing. The world has really become a very dark place. In this book, the father is the realist and accepting the modern world more than his son is.

As their journey proceeds, little things will  make Danny start thinking about his family and growing up. When they stop to stretch their legs in Söderköping, his dad sits down in front of a gigantic ice cream in a café and this makes Danny think of his father’s mother Sonja and all her trips abroad. She was always correct and taught him to always behave in a good manner, which made him love her the most of all his grandparents. At the same time he now realize how little he knew about her and her growing up in Berlin. She was the only one of his grandparents’ who grew up in a religious home and whose parents refused to visit her after she had children, since she did not have them circumcised.

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As a matter of fact Danny says that the rest of his family “were all assimilated city Jews, who did celebrate the holidays but couldn’t care less about all the rituals which would have made life more difficult for them.” His great-grandfather Isak, was not from Germany like the rest of his family, but from Poland and 6 months before the trip, Danny learned more about the place where Isak came from. A place called Suwalki and I guess that all Jews who arrived to Sweden in the 1800s, came from this particular place, which means that most Swedish Jews stem from the same place today. The established families at least.

I am impressed with how well Danny has researched his family or should I say, how successful he has been in finding information. This Isak had emigrated to Norway at age 16 and left for Russia in 1918, where he got a visa to Sweden, where he met his wife and had his daughter Sonja. They had to leave in 1922, when they moved to Berlin. Why all the moving around? Because he traded illegally. Back in those days, most Jews were forced to travel around selling things in housing complexes and I guess he had no right to do so. Usually they bought up scrap metal and old rags. My dad used to work for a man who was a millionaire and that man’s Jewish father had started his career, by that sort of trade. Tells an important story doesn’t it? That if you are stubborn enough, you can succeed, no matter where you start out.

The family managed to get back to Sweden just in the nick of time, on a banana peel, it seems. The Jews in Stockholm tried to prevent them from coming, but Sonja’s mother who was Swedish, had a brother in politics who could help them. Otherwise, Isak and Sonja’s sister would surely have perished in a concentration camp. Sonja was 19 when she returned to Stockholm and her sister born in Berlin, was 12. Neither could find any friends, so to not be totally isolated, they got involved with the Jewish society. Not because they wanted to, but because they felt like such outsiders.

To be honest, Danny points out, that it is not easy to get to know anyone in Sweden. That perhaps we suffer “from a national Asperger’s Syndrome”. Good question really. We are a nation of shy people. Or is it shyness he asks. Or do we not care at all for others except ourselves? He thinks that Facebook has saved Swedes, by letting us tell the world who we really are and give people a glimpse of our personalities. I am not so sure I agree. Is it not only teenagers who tell everything on Facebook and does not hold anything back? I think a lot of people are like me, very cautious on Facebook as well. And to be honest, I fail to see the purpose of Facebook at all. I just get tired when I go to my home page and see the notifications on it. It is nice to see what the Autism and Asperger Society has been up to, and other societies I follow or am a member of. But I do not have the time to read the articles… And as for my friends and everything they have pushed like on, so that my home page is flooded with it… Boring! I joined the society of Colouring Books for Adults and while it is very nice to see how people colour in books that I own myself, and others I do not own, I get weary of reading comments there as well. It is so pointless really. All of it. I do not agree that my Facebook shows who I am at all! At  the moment it only tells that I have reached a certain level on Juice Jam and the results of all surveys I have filled in, for the fun of it. But honestly, Facebook surveys or tests, with only 6 questions each, does not at all tell who I am. There is no way to determine that in 6 questions.

But I get side tracked just like Danny. During the trip, Leo treats his grandfather Gunnar to sweets and it makes Gunnar tell his grandson about how Danny once stole tons of candy from his father, samples for a business he was setting up. Danny starts thinking about his cousin Gabi from Israel, a lover of food and drink, and his own grandfather on his mother’s side. Ernst grew up as a privileged child, in Breslau, Germany. Till Hitler came to power and everything was taken away from the family, little by little. He and his two older brothers and sister, started to prepare for emigration. And Gabi’s father Georg did manage to get out and to Palestine. Married, fought with the British in WWII and then for the new Israel’s right to exist. In that fight he died.

Danny continues talking about that part of the family, in the next chapter, which is called “A Swedish Tiger”, although that is just one translation of the saying which became propaganda posters during WWII. Another way of translating the message is that a Swede will always stay silent. During the war it meant that you should not give away secrets, like where you as a soldier was posted or other sensitive information. But it also meant, which Danny points out, to not speak out against Germany. Not for it either really. It was dangerous to speak out against Germany since the country needed the German business and Sweden did not want to get invaded.

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But what Danny wanted to lead the conversation in to, is that it often is hard or difficult to read a Swedes expression. He means that at least his Jewish mother’s side was much easier to read since the feelings were always right on the surface.  So much so in his mother’s father’s and mother’s family, that her Breslau grandfather finally had enough and moved to a Jewish nursing home to live out his last days in peace.

While this Wilhelm’s son managed to escape to Palestine in the 1930s, and his daughter Marianne likewise, he and his wife were not that lucky. After the boycotting of his shop, he did time in Buchenwald concentration camp and upon his release from there, he and his wife Hertha decided to walk to freedom in Italy, the day before WWII started. They did not have a penny to their name anymore, all assets frozen, but an US relative had deposited money for them in to an Italian bank account. They just had to get there and then continue on to Palestine. The plan worked as far as Italy goes but Hertha was discovered to have cancer and died in Trieste, leaving her husband to walk through all of Italy. He managed to get to Palestine only to be stopped at the border and sent to Cyprus. He was 60 years old, so it was quite an ordeal to go through before he after a one year wait, could enter Palestine with the help of his son Georg. When Georg had died, he wanted to go and see his other children, the two sons who were living in Sweden. They saved enough money, for him to go and visit a couple of times till he finally moved here at the age of 70. He lived with Danny’s grandparents but since he did not appreciate the noise level and that it basically felt like a hotel, with lots of people always visiting, he left what he called Hotel Lachmann.

When Danny and the travel companions reach the city for the ferry, they have to kill time by playing cards. Like his mother, he asks his son, whether they should play with fair rules or like auntie Hilde, who always cheated. He grew up knowing her, but he never understood that she was not just a friend of his grandmother’s but her grandmother’s aunt. I have avoided talking about the grandmother on his mother’s side, Helga, but now I guess I should sum up what Danny says early on in the book. This Helga was not someone to ignore. She would walk up to a neo-nazi and slap his face, having no fear of anything. They were all used to her standing under their kitchen fans smoking Pall Mall without filter and swearing at everything and everyone. She was opinionated and cared nothing for other people’s feelings.

Now he remembers her in the book, by telling her story. A story he had heard in fragments his entire life, without taking any interest. Noone ever listened to what she was actually telling them between her cigarettes and swearing. She talked while Danny’s both grandfathers never said a word about their history. Helga Gumpert grew up in a small town, Schneidemühl, where her father sold petrol and Ford cars. They did not lack money at all, but they were far from rich, in Helga’s aunt Hilde’s eyes. She and her husband were “filthy rich” according to his grandmother Helga. Having a tailoring business with 120 employees making dresses and clothes for all of Berlin’s fashion boutiques. They took trips for inspiration to Paris each year, every day a personal hairdresser shaved the uncle’s face and a message therapist came in and gave Hilde a message every day, too. They had everything except a child so Hilde loved to look after her sister’s children. When Helga was 3, she was sent to Berlin and Hilde, to avoid whopping cough. She came down with it anyway and got to stay for three weeks, but Hilde loved it. She had six dresses made for her and treated her like a princess.When she was six years  old, she moved to her aunt Hilde, to go to school in Berlin and there she had a governess who taught her French, a private chauffeur and every other luxury on offer. Danny’s grandmother realised she was spoiled rotten and that when you are that, you do not notice what goes on around you and the fall becomes the greater, when things go bad. It did not seem like she missed that luxury life so much, but what she missed was all the noise of Berlin and social people. And the fact that she spent most of her life in a quiet country where people do not speak to each other.

And of course the luxury life did  not last either. Which Danny returns to later in the book, when he speaks of how Helga’s father had to sell their business in Schneidemühl in 1936. He never got the money though since his account was frozen before the money arrived and when he was to pick it up in cash, he found out that the SS planned on arresting him when doing so. So he never went and never got the money. But the SS would not leave him alone in Berlin. They came to arrest him, but by then he had gone in to hiding and then fled to Czechoslovakia, to be safe. He had to stay in a single’s hostel and Helga’s mother had to send him money since he could not receive a work permit nor any kind of permit to stay.

When they get on the boat to Poland, the next problem arises. Danny’s father wants to eat the same sort of dish, that his grandson has ordered. A children’s portion of a hamburger, of gigantic proportions to a very reasonable price. But the waiter will not allow a grown up to eat that dish. Danny tells his father that Leo will not be able to eat all but Gunnar does not want to eat leftovers. He wants his own dish and Danny finds it all amusing since half the family has always dreamed of living on a Kibbutz in Israel where one shares everything. Even his grandfather Ernst’s brother’s wife Ruth, who always seemed so content with her suburban life in Stockholm.

She grew up in Grünewald, the poshest area of Berlin since the 1800s. Life was lived on the sunny side till Ruth’s father died and left her mother to support five children on her own. With Germany’s hyperinflation, this became very difficult.  They had to move to Berlin major and rent out rooms as well as serve lunch to returning guests, something which I guess was a common thing. It meant that the children could eat at least. But things got worse and worse and they had to move to smaller and smaller flats. Ruth also noticed the change in society before many others and joined a Zionist group already at the age of eleven, in order to emigrate to Palestine. The rest  of the extended  family could not understand her, how she would want to leave  a country where they had lived for generations. They said that if they had to move, “it would have to be on the last train” out of Berlin.

Ruth’s two oldest sisters Vera and Lily, were dating German men but in 1932, Lily’s fiancé broke things off with her because she was Jewish and she took her own life. As the streets were flooded with brown shirts, every day Germans lost courage and the family lost all its friends. At age 14, the school she was to attend was closed, so her mother sent her to a cooking school meant to prepare girls to marry. Not until she was 16, did she get to start preparing for emigration by going to stay at one of the kibbutzes set up in Germany for teaching what the youths needed to know and learn. Ruth met her future husband Heinz there and his brother, Ernst (Danny’s grandfather on his mother’s side) and many others whom Danny met, growing up.

One gets amazed by this statement, when almost in the next sentence, Danny talks of the ship  moving in the opposite direction of what his relatives tried to go in the 1930s. But only some of them. All of Ruth’s relatives and their spouses and children, decided to outstay the brown shirts and only leave on the last train. And that they did, to the concentration camps. Paraphrased from Danny’s book. Amazing how an 11-year-old child can be so clear-sighted while the grown ups were not. On the other hand, adults have more fears of leaving the known for the unknown, than children do. Unless they are autistic.

Ruth had joined the biggest Zionist organisation in Germany, called Hechalutz, and the Nazis actually encouraged organisations like these, in order to get the Jews to emigrate. British Palestine was not anti-immigration either, since they needed farmers. More and more Jews saw this as an alternative or the only alternative since the Germans was slowly but securely closing all other options. Ruth’s sister Vera was living a dangerous life, being involved with a German and having had his daughter. All family members finally understood that they had to get out of Germany. So Ruth’s oldest brother applied for a radio technician job in South Africa and got to leave in 1936. He was allowed to bring one person over, so the siblings did everything in order to persuade their 56-year-old mother to go. She finally gave in and left. And by doing so, she finally could help her daughter Vera with child and husband, to get out as well, to safety. Ruth was alone by 1938, if one did not count all her Zionist friends. Among them were Ernst and Heinz Lachmann.

Danny has had to puzzle together Ernst story, since he never got to interview his grandfather. He did get to see a VHS tape that his great-uncle Heinz had made though, as an 83-year-old, where he told his own story. Of how he as a 19-year-old was forced by the SA to build a concentration camp outside Breslau and how he and his brother went to a Kibbutz outside Augsburg, where he met Ruth. He and Ernst were not convinced Zionists but they wanted to get out of Germany at any cost. They joined  Hechalutz perhaps because it was the only organisation they could get in to, is Danny’s suspicions. He married Ruth right away since married couples could get out sooner and on one travel permit. They did not like the fact that they had to sleep in dormitories so when the got the chance to move to Heilbronn and get a room of their own, the two left and brought Ernst with them. At both places they worked as gardeners for local people, to learn “farming” skills for Palestine. But their travel permits never arrived.

In the morning of 9 November 1938, Ernst, Heinz and the other eleven men at the Kibbutz in Heilbronn got arrested. When Ruth went to the police to get to find out what was happening to them, she was sent home and found out the synagogue was burning. What noone knew was that all synagogues in Germany were burning and that it was an order from the top and not a little local thing. In the evening SS and some neighbours arrived to smash everything they had and the windows on the house. When a neighbour woman tried to intervene, they smashed her windows too, even though she was not Jewish.

The next day Ruth went with her Kibbutz friend Henny and asked about their husbands and found out that all the men had been taken to Dachau. Ruth had asked Gestapo to come home and mend their windows, and to Danny’s amazement, they had done so! Every day they went to ask for their husbands and found out that the men would be released if they had an entrance permit to some other country. But what country would let them in? Ruth’s mother had offered to help her get to South Africa and that meant that Heinz could go as well, as her husband but to leave the other men behind?

When Danny’s grandmother Helga had arrived home from school on the 9 November 1938, she only found her little brother in the flat. Since the Nazis could not arrest her father, him hiding in Czechoslovakia, they had taken her mother instead. Luckily she had met a police man on the street, as she was carried away, someone who dared to stand up for her and help her get released, since he knew her. So she came back home on the 10th November determined to get herself and her children out of Germany. Children under 16 could actually get out on different child transports to Great Britain and some other countries. Sweden had promised to take 500 children if the Mosaic congregation in Sweden paid for their upkeep. Margrete Gumperts applied to several countries and her 13-year-old son got to leave for Britain at the end of 1938, while Helga did not get to go to Sweden until May 1939. Then her aunt Hilde and husband Philip had been able to leave for Sweden too, with the help of a business associate and they continued through Russia till they reached the US.

Helga left Berlin the 4th May 1939, and could wave goodbye to both her parents since her father had fled from Prague, after the Germans had arrived there too. But he stood in another spot than his wife, for safety’s sake and moved around Berlin to try to survive. But Helga never saw her parents again.

What about Ruth? She could not abandon the eleven Kibbutz men, so she and Henny traveled to Berlin and the head quarter of the Hechalutz, where they were told that one could travel to Sweden and Britain as farm hands. They were convinced there would be a war and that Britain would enter it, so Ruth decided that it must be Sweden then. They went to the Swedish consulate and applied, since Sweden had decided to take in 150 farm hands, in case of war and the country having to become self-sufficient. They would get to stay two years in Skåne. My province! The men were not released from Dachau for weeks but eventually they all got out, even Heinz and Ernst who should not have been released because they had frost-bitten toes and the Germans did not want bad publicity. But the men had fooled the guards and disguised their toes with hot baths.

They arrived to Skåne and was placed at a large estate in Skurup. They had 400 cows for them to take care of, for very little money and the women were paid in milk and potatoes. They had to live in barracks. Now, from what I have heard from this period, a lot of Swedes lived the same sort of life really. This is the time when my dad’s father worked a lot in the same area as these Jewish men and women! My grandfather worked as a day labourer and dug ditches all through the war and did other farm work. He was also cheating on my grandmother who was expecting her fifth child at this time, while my grandfather had made a girl pregnant around Skurup. Both women gave birth in 1940. But by then my grandfather had totally abandoned my grandmother. He had not told his new flusie though that he was already married. He called himself Edvin in that part of Skåne, so they would not know that he was the married man Artur from the western part of the province! He earned very little from his work and my dad and his siblings were starving, while my grandmother was on her knees picking sugar beets for the farmers. Her oldest daughter, whom she had after being raped by another man, died at this time as well, from tuberculosis. So if anyone thinks that the ordinary Swede had a much better life than these farm hands, it is not true. A LOT of Swedes were poor and worked as farm hands and day labourers! The only way my mum’s family survived the war and had food on the table, was thanks to my grandmother’s foster-sister up in Småland, who had no children and a farm, so that she could send things down here, to help out. My mum and her sister had to take care of themselves while both my grandparents worked in the sugar factory. What was produced during the war, I have no idea, since the sugar was rationed.

9 April 1940, they all saw the airplanes fly over Skåne, towards Denmark and Norway. My mum told me that the windows rattled and my grandmother had packed clothes, for them to run off to the forests up in Småland, to her foster-sister Edith. My grandfather sat in a bunker down in Ystad somewhere, as a soldier, probably hoping that he would not have to face any German soldiers,  since he was a very peaceful man. And Danny’s grandfather and the other Jews, were petrified for other reasons.

What happened with Helga, the little Princess of Berlin who had had a French governess and private chauffeur? She arrived on the child transport and a lady from the Mosaic congregation in Stockholm met her, having no knowledge at all, what Jews had been through in Germany. Helga became a house maid, for an older Jewish gentleman which was a common thing to happen. Instead of sending the children to school. And Helga had dreamed of becoming a doctor! She received no money for her work and was treated so poorly that she went back to the Mosaic congregation and complained after six months. They placed her in another family where she at least got paid. She was very angry over not being able to go to school though. The older man had said to his defence, that she was too old to go to school. And I think that perhaps Danny does not realise that the majority of the Swedish population did not get to go to school after their confirmation in the State Church. Which meant that children were 14-15 when they quit school and became domestic servants, errand boys, became apprentices etc. Only Jews and the rich went on to higher schooling!

My dad was one of the ones who had to quit after 8th grade. That means that he was 14 when he graduated and became an apprentice to a baker. That is what it was like in those days. And that was in 1945!!! My mum always hated the fact that she had to go nine years in school, since the law had been changed four years later, because she hated school and could not wait to get out and become and apprentice to a hairdresser. These children had no options and to dream of becoming a doctor, was ludicrous when coming from the social classes they came from. Helga must have been at least 15 when she arrived here, if she was 89 in 2012. It almost sounds like she was 16 in 1938 and should have been too old, to come on a child transport in 1939!  So the man was not “bad” in that respect.

In the next chapter he  enters an interesting conversation about name changes, after his father speaks of changing his surname to his favourite dish. Wattin is the name Gunnar’s father took, to give his children a chance at a good career. Danny would have liked to have changed it back to Isakowitz, since it sounds sexier and one should stand up for who one is. But he also realizes that this is how a youth thinks. That we grow more realistic with age. A name is very important, there is no doubt about it. That is why I changed my name in 2011. Back to my maiden name. Since I did not understand anything back when I was 22 and got married. When they asked me at the registration office in the US, what I wanted my married name to be, and my future husband told me that his mother did not want me to take the family surname since she wanted to be the only Mrs. S…, I got angry and obstinate and told the registrar that I would be Mrs. S…

A couple of years later I was desperately unhappy with that decision. I disliked my mother-in-law and did not want to share name with her or be associated with that horrible woman. And knowing the story of the background of the name, well it made me ashamed to always have to tell the story to inquiring people. Because people ALWAYS ask where it comes from. Who feels proud to say: Well, my father-in-law was posted in Alaska with the Air Force and his nutty wife joined a Kabbalah sect. That sect believed in all letters having a number attached to them and you must have names with the right numbers. The numbers in your name, have to add up to a particular sum, or you will not have a happy life. So she changed her first name and surname and forced her husband to do the same thing. Only, this was the Cold War period and the Air Force and authorities got suspicious why a high-ranking officer was changing his name, so they did not promote him any further. He became bitter and eventually divorced the cow, since she had wrecked his life in so many ways that he could not live with her anymore.

What I never got around to telling my mother-in-law, who was anti-Semite, was that Kabbalah is the Jewish mysticism only practiced by a very few chosen Jews. Chosen because most people will go insane if they study it. Few can handle it. I have studied it, for my university course Judaism, and I can assure everyone, that since you do not understand anything, you can go insane trying to understand it. My professor told me that “Don’t try to understand it, just drill it in to your head so you can answer the exam questions!”.  I said goodbye to our Kabbalah surname in 2011 since no way was my daughter Serena Rose going to have a commemorative plaque at the cemetery with that name. She has my maiden name, which I took back, since that is ME and not my mother-in-law. And my four youngest have had my maiden name added in front of the Kabbalah surname. She had such a low IQ that she did  not even realize that the surname she manufactured was not so Scottish as she thought! It is not the Scottish version nor the French. And she who always walked around dreaming of Scottish ancestry.

But Danny will probably not change his name, since he is a realist. I doubt it is a good thing to change it to Isakowitz in today’s VERY anti-Semitic Sweden. It gets worse with every Muslim migrant which crosses our borders. And Ruth and her Kibbutz friends were so afraid that the Germans would cross our borders in 1940, that they fled to Stockholm where they first could not get any gardening jobs, thanks to German passports, but Swedes needed the help, all men gone in to the military, so they finally managed to get jobs. And Ruth, who became a house keeper to a man on the council, managed to get them a house, where they could live Kibbutz life, share everything and grow things in the garden to sell. It became a meeting point for a lot of Jews and the seven people who lived in the house grew very close, even though only Heinz, Ernst and Ruth were related. Ruth had a baby daughter Juditha, in 1942, but the little girl died of pneumonia since the winter was so cold. Ruth had a son, Johnny, in 1943, who got a lot of extra parents. Henny from the Germany, never had any children of her own, so she really became a spare mum.

In August 1944, Helga was invited to a party at the “Kibbutz”. While sitting comforting a sad Johnny, Ernst had come in and tripped over her. That led to dating. But she did not want to marry him, since she was set to move to her aunt Hilde, who had settled in Texas, USA. Hilde had convinced a rich Jew to pay for it all. But it was a tough journey to make. Fly a re-modeled bomber airplane to Glasgow, take a train to London and sail to the US. But the bomber could  be shot down, so it only took off if the weather was right. Helga had to be ready to go, for months and made lots and lots of trips to the airport, only to find out, that the flight had been cancelled. On the last trip there, Ernst had given her a lift, and as they returned because of no flight, he proposed. But she did not know if she really loved him and Hilde was after all a relative. She had two weeks to decide, took a job and thought a lot. Then one day, her employer came in and said that there was a flight and that she must hurry. Helga phoned the organizer and said that she did not know what to do, but if he could get someone to take her place that day, then she would stay in Sweden and get married, otherwise she would go. She stayed and married Ernst. As soon as possible,, after the war ended, she found out that her brother was alive in England and that her mother’s brother was alive in Israel, after having hidden in Holland during the entire war. Everyone else had been killed.

While travelling in Poland, Danny makes the reflection, that his father is all amazement over Danny taking his son Leo on the trip. Gunnar’s parents never hugged their children nor did they every take their children on vacations but sent them away to camps etc. Gunnar decided to raise his children differently and Danny, well he is a modern father. But he starts remembering his grandfather Erwin, who never hugged his own children, but once hugged Danny after a ping-pong match. Danny was an insensitive teenager but that day, he had felt something was up, and had let his grandfather win. Soon after that, his grandfather had committed suicide and noone knew why.  A man had passed away, whom they knew nothing about really. Till one day, when his brother Georg, whom Erwin had always said was  not the slightest interested in his relatives, came for a visit, from Argentine.

Georg Isakowitz had a very sad tale to tell. He had as a child dreamed of becoming a concert pianist. When  15 years old, he played at a Catholic school in Königsberg, a piece by Bach, when Hitler Jugend walked in and demanded he stop. He did not hear them, so they rammed the lid down on his fingers, over and over till they were broken. When he got home, he refused to tell his parents what had happened but had decided to leave Germany. He applied for a visa, to go as a farm hand to Argentine. On the eve of him receiving his visa, his mother died of a stroke. But before that, she had packed two gold coins in his socks, which he did not know. He was arrested in Hamburg, for trying to smuggle currency and put in a youth prison. The prison guards broke his arm, destroyed his thumbs and hit him so hard in  the head,  that he had to have surgery. But help was on its way. A year later, his father’s lawyer friend, finally got him released and put him on an airplane to  Argentina. Only problem was that his visa had expired and they took him in to custody as well. He knew he would be sent  back  to  Germany since he had nothing speaking for him  to get to stay. But he got seriously ill and was taken to hospital. As soon as he could, he escaped and walked the streets till he one day ran in to some cowboys, who agreed to take him with them. He spent five years in the countryside, being a cowboy. As soon as he could, he had fixed visas for his father and Erwin to come to him in Argentine. But his father was too old to go and he never found out why Erwin did not show up. After the war, he went to see his brother Erwin in Stockholm, but his brother did not want him there, so he left. And his brother spread the rumour, that it was Georg who did not want any contact with his surviving family. One  reason could have been that Erwin, according to his brother, always was envious of Georg’s piano lessons and constantly was at war with everyone and everything.

It does not explain the abuse though, which Erwin put his children through, constantly beating them and being overly strict and unloving towards them. Georg told Danny that their father in turn, never lifted a finger against them. The thoughts on how our background shapes us whether we want to or not, makes Danny ask Gunnar if he was bullied as a child, for being Jewish and if the others knew that he was Jewish. Gunnar says something surprising. That it was something nice to be Jewish, because people in Sweden admired Israel and looked upon it as a model socialist state and very modern in its thinking. Sweden sure changed in just one generation, since Danny felt that he had to do everything he could, to hide the fact that he is Jewish. Today, it is dangerous to be Jewish in Sweden. I am surprised they dare to stay here, really.

image

By now,  Danny, Leo and Gunnar has arrived in Kwidzyn, their goal. A historian informs Danny and Leo, about the history of the place, while Gunnar does not even want to be present. The town never had more than a couple of hundred Jews and that relations were fine till the Nazis arrived. Georg had told Danny, how his mother Dorotea had handed out clothes for free to Polish workers, who had no money to pay with and that when the Nazis arrived, those same workers made sure that customers could not get in to their shop. Classic story really. Danny did find out something new though and that was that Hermann Isakowitz must have had to sell his business during the 30s, like all the other Jews in town had to do, according to the historian. So he could  not have been fetched from his business combined home, by the Nazis, when time came. And the Russians had burned all the houses around the town square, in 1945, where Hermann’s shop had been located. Or they think it must have been located, since the Russians  had also burned all archives and left the place an open field. The Poles having tried to recreate the square, when Danny visited, and having dug the place out, only finding spoons and forks, nothing of value. Or?

Danny was informed that the grave stones from the Jewish cemetery, had also been removed for safety, since people stole them for filling material at their building sites. The same day, he goes to meet with local historian Lukasz, who spent his entire youth trying to find out as much as possible about the former Marienwerder or today’s  Kwidzyn. He has three photos from Danny’s great-grandfather’s shop and the last of the three, shows that Danny is an identical copy of his great-grandfather. Lukasz also has a map which shows that Hermann had two properties and Lukasz can guess where Hermann dug down his treasure. A place now  full of asphalt and an underground garage. He sadly tells Danny that whatever was found, when it was dug out, went in to the archeologists pockets.

He also brings Danny home to his parents where he keeps all HIS treasures, which he has found around the town, during childhood treasure hunts. He plans on  opening a museum, and showes Danny all sorts of things, but the thing he really wants to show, is the clothing cupboard he has just bought, which contained a hanger with the name H. Isakowitz imprinted on it. A gift for Danny to take home as a souvenir from his search for his ancestry. Gunnar is as overjoyed as Danny is, over this find! But unfortunately, the next day yields  nothing but frustration when Danny, alone, is escorted to a cellar to look at grave stones he can not read, since they are all in hebrew. He does not find Dorotea’s stone. As the three leave the town behind, Gunnar is surprised to hear that Danny actually believed in the story about the treasure. Gunnar has always figured that it was one man’s wishful thinking and Danny realizes that it probably was the old man’s way of avoiding to talk about what he had REALLY been through.

That people who have been through hardships, look to the future instead of looking back. That they want to just  blend in with the masses and be like everyone else. That this is why they change their names, to not stick out as, say Jewish.  Danny thinks about how hard his grandmother Helga was, the spoiled little Princess from Berlin, who was thrown from a world of luxury in to a  very insecure world. And how she ended up being so hard on everyone else, expecting much, since she had had to learn the hard way. Maybe that is  also why Erwin beat his children for smallest offence. But you can not really teach children with violence! They can never learn your lessons, because they have not lived your life. They will  have their own lessons to learn, in THEIR world and time.

8 months after their return home, Danny found out about an archive which tells his grandfather Erwin’s entire story. How he studied business till 1934, when the Jews were forced to quit the school of business in Königsberg. He then also joined the Hechalutz movement and moved to Denmark, to work as a farm hand in 1937. In 1938 he went to Sweden and worked as the same, for three years. He ended up working as a farm hand for seven years and during that time he did everything to behave well, so that he would get to stay safe. He also tried his best to get his family out of Germany. He was not successful, but his sisters Ewa and Hanna, managed to get to England and survived the war.

Hermann wrote desperate letters to his son Erwin, asking him to help him out of Germany, and Erwin applied over and over to no avail. Finally he received a post card where his father said it was too late. By then Erwin was really in trouble himself, since the Germans had removed his citizenship and he had been forced to marry his girlfriend, since she was pregnant. Hans-Gunnar was born stateless. After the war, Erwin’s problems continued since he was not allowed to go visit his sisters in England and then return to Sweden. And in 1947, his sister Hanna, was not allowed to come and visit and help the family with a new baby, even though 500 pounds had been posted as security for Hanna  not trying to stay beyond her six month visit. In 1949, Erwin was denied once again, to go see his sisters. He and his family did receive Swedish citizenship, finally, but he was a frustrated, broken man, who had failed to do everything he has set out to do. This, Danny thinks, might be the real cause for his bad parenting.

Hermann Sigfried Isakowitz was murdered in Riga, Latvia, according to Yad Vashem’s records, which is where the book ends.

The book is a very different kind of Holocaust book, and in that it is refreshing. Somehow it gives one hope, because even if 6 million Jews died one way or another, by the Nazis and their associates’ hands, many Jews did survive. Maybe not millions, but they were not exterminated from this Earth, like Hitler had planned and wished for, and that is important to remember.

When I see “Romeo and Juliet” I always hope that the story will end differently. Even though I know that it can’t or it would not be Shakespeare’s play. When I read the diary of Anne Frank, I hope the end will be different every time. But her grave stone stands in Bergen-Belsen, testifying to the fact, that she and her sister did die there, somewhere, and she did not survive the war. That is why it is so nice to know when setting out reading this book, that for Danny to be there, the people he speaks of, did survive. What is the “worse” part to read is actually how he does not see until  now, that all his Jewish ancestors have made him in to the person he is. That one can close one’s eyes to one’s background, one’s heritage and people, but it will all catch up in the end. It has tainted us to see the world in a specific way and it has made us act in certain ways in certain situations, even if some people are blind to that fact.

The book has its humourous moments. But there is always something dark behind it all. And that is what a lot of Jews probably asked themselves as they ended up in concentration camps and today ask themselves, as they feel as split as those people did during the Holocaust. To die for being Jewish, when Jewishness doesn’t mean anything to you. Danny says that only one person in his family was brought up in a religious home, and yet they were all put through the same hardships, for belonging to a people who they did not really think that much of. I guess that is what is so difficult for me as a Gentile and a historian to understand. How one can be Jewish and not feel Jewish. How one can more or less deny thousands of years of history, being a link in the chain. At the same time, I as a Latter-Day Saint, don’t have more than one choice. Either you are in, or you are out. There are not degrees in our church. You are active or you are not, you do not have conservative, orthodox and ultra-orthodox to choose from or secular.

Throughout the pages it seems like both Danny and his father, can not decide whether to be Jewish or not. Eating pig but celebrating the Jewish holidays. Danny hiding that he is Jewish but his father wore a star of David around his neck, as a child. I spoke of studying the Kabbalah driving Jewish men insane. Well, I would say that I would go insane if I lived with one foot in one world and another foot in the other one, like Danny and Gunnar do. And in a way, all of Danny’s mother’s side of the family did. That is the dark  in this book, that no  matter how much genealogy he does, he still doesn’t really know who he is.

The only thing I did not like about the book, is the fact when Danny speaks of the ill-treatment Ruth and  Helga received in way of bad pay and no further schooling, upon arrival here as refugees. Of course, all his ancestors came as refugees, so he has no other knowledge, of how the other side lived, on the other side of the hedge. There could have been an afterword which took that up, but that of course required research. My dad and his sisters starved! There was no welfare system to help them. A majority of the population lived in one room, where they slept and ate. There was a report written in the 1930s, called “Dirt Sweden”, where the researcher blamed it all on having too many children. Another report said that one should let the state raise the children, while the parents both went out to work. Yes, Danny’s Jewish relatives had a rude awakening, but it is a little bit difficult to feel truly sorry for privileged people, when they lose their privileges and have to test what real life is like. My dad had a good head, he was bright and wanted to have studied. But it was  not done when one was born in the working class. Or should I say in the farming class without land? You were not entitled schooling beyond the age of 15, you were not entitled respect nor a job per automatic. Many people like my mum’s bright mother, had to leave school and go in to service, clean and cook for the rich. And have the father of the house, try to rape them in the kitchen or in their little maid’s room. And when they could not stand that any longer, the factory floor was the only option. Or marry a farm hand, move in to one of the farm barracks, and work for slave wages as a couple, the woman milking cows and the husband working the land.

For these Jewish refugees to feel bitter about their reception, is not really fair. They came to a poor country, way behind other European countries in development. And how can you give something to refugees, which the innate population does not have? Their ungratefulness makes me think of the refugees today, from Syria mainly, who are flooding our borders, expecting to live on our tax money, with no thoughts at all, to the fact that more than 10% of the Swedish population, is unemployed with no chances of finding jobs, because there are none. And what do they do? They sit and complain about our Swedish food being gross and not getting fancy enough places to live in. The young men are out on our streets handing out the Koran. So, not when in Rome do as the Romans do, but they want to move Syria and all the other Arab countries, to Sweden. Then it will not only be Jews who need to flee our country. But which Jews will it be who flee? The ones who feel Jewish or the ones who suffer for something which they can not make peace with?

This book, seems to be coming at a time, when the market is being flooded with books, trying to make us feel positive about all the migrants entering our country. But no book can change my view on all the Muslims flooding our borders, and I really do not care if people scream till they are blue in their faces, that these people are being persecuted just like the Jews were, 1932-1945. Because it is NOT true and it is NOT the same thing. Not at all. Read the book, and you will become fully aware of that fact. May it be translated in to English soon, now when it has been so in to German.

 

 

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My Friday Book: “The Traitors” or “Förrädarna” by Camilla Lagerqvist

“The Traitors”, is the third book, which Camilla Lagerqvist has written, about three youths growing up in Sweden during World War Two. And this is my third post, about the books, so if you have not read the two previous books or posts, perhaps you ought to read them first, before proceeding with this one. The first book being “The Assignment” and the second one, “The Ice Children”.

It is about a year since Swedish Maja lost her best friend, when the friend moved to another place, in order for her father to find a job. The small village Gullfors in the province of Värmland, by the Swedish-Norwegian border, is not offering too many job

Värmland

Värmland

opportunities. But the summer holidays of 1943 brought two new friends and a big, dangerous adventure. The first friend being Swedish-Norwegian Benjamin, who had to flee to Sweden from Oslo, since his father is Jewish and all Jews were being arrested by the German occupation force, to be killed in concentration camps. His mother Greta, is an old friend of Maja’s mother, so the two youths very quickly become close. But not as close as Maja would have liked. She fell hopelessly in love with him as soon as she met him. It is not easy to be 13, is it. The second friend is Norwegian Hilde, whose mother is in a relationship with a German soldier, named Kurt Behm, and when it was discovered she was pregnant, the persecution got so bad, that they had to cross the border in to Sweden, just the way Greta and Benjamin had had to do. Hilde can not keep her eyes off Ben either, as he likes to be called, so this is an underlying tension, throughout the books, both girls competing for his attention.

But for the most part, we are spared all that teenage stuff, and it is the dangerous things, these youths get in to, which play the major role. In the first book they had to get a message to the resistance fighter, called the Black Rose, that she was in extreme danger. They crossed the border and managed to get the message sent to her, via a resistance group, which Ben’s father Harald belongs to. In book two, the Black Rose aka Elin Björnsson, has become their teacher and it is December 1943. Elin ending up in the hospital after an accident, is out of commission, to take on the dangerous job of getting the ice children out of Norway, before they get arrested and killed. So once again, the Black Roses, as the three youths now call themselves, cross the border in to occupied Norway, to do Elin’s job. The danger they get in to is indescribable, but they get back to Sweden with Sara Eisenman and her two children. Elin tells them that Sara’s brother David, needs to be found though. He went missing in Norway but somehow he has arrived to Sweden, but noone knows where to.

imageAs this book starts, it is June, again, in 1944. Things have been pretty calm, but a new adventure is about to start, when Maja gets home one day and her mother tells her that Ben has been there looking for her. He has been to Hilde’s as well. And now he can not be found. He has been staying with his mother’s cousin, since his mother once again has had to go to Stockholm. The cousin is worried sick. Maja and Hilde go to see if they can find clues in Ben’s room, as to where he has disappeared to. All they find is an empty envelope, under a chest of drawers, having arrived from a place called Furudal. The person who sent it, is called Sven, but that is all they can read from a very sloppily written name and return address. They go to ask about Furudal and find out that it is situated in the province of Dalarna, close to Rättvik.

Greta having arrived home, gets a concerned look on her face when she finds out Ben is missing and when the girls mention Furudal. But she doesn’t tell them anything. Instead they concoct a plan. Hilde’s mother Aase, baby brother Olaf and Hilde, are supposed to go visit a cousin of Aase’s, outside Rättvik. Maja convinces her own mother to let her go with, even though her dad is coming home on furlough. The money and ration coupons are scraped together and the party of four, set off on the train, already the next day. They don’t arrive until late at night and the four of them

Dalarna: Rättvik is on the right side of Lake Siljan, i the middle.

Dalarna: Rättvik is on the right side of Lake Siljan, in the middle.

to walk out into nowhere, trying to find where this cousin of Aase’s live. Maja makes the reflection that Aase is a very insecure, nervous woman and wonders if all the harassment in Norway, after it was discovered she was a collaborator, made her that way.

Eventually a big, tall man comes for them, and it turns out to be  cousin Reidun’s husband Helge. They live on a farm and in her mind, Maja once again wonder, what she and Hilde will do for five days, if Ben is not in Furudal. She could have stayed home to see her dad, who is with the Swedish Army, protecting Sweden against an invasion.

The next morning, they set out for Furudal, by bus, but bringing bicycles, which Helge has loaned them. He was also the one who made them some food to bring along and asked no questions, when they said that they really wanted to see the old “bruk”. (Bruk is translated as factory in google translate, but that is not really a good translation for what this was. A bruk was usually connected to richer landowners’ mansions. They usually produced something, most often metal works, so a smithy was present. A big such, with lots of workers in it. And the estate was usually located close to some nature source, like a river or waterfall, which would provide transport as well as power. But it was still on a very small-scale and more like a farm atmosphere, than a factory one. ) He understands that they want to see all the beauty around Furudal and “it is a good thing what they are doing up there!”. A cryptical thing to say and when the girls arrive, they do find a strange thing behind the mansion in Furudal. Norwegians chopping wood, Norwegians doing excercises and shootings going on in the forest.

The girls have not heard about such a camp and they are completely bewildered when they see the Swedish females in uniform, called “lottor” (equivalent of WAAFs, ATS and WRENs), making pea soup (Standard military food in Sweden, even sold on cans to the public now). Two females motion for them to come closer and ask them if they are volunteers. Hilde answers “yes”, so they are told to get aprons. Inside the barracks, they find even more women in uniform and they get the aprons. When they get back outside, a high-ranking officer walks up to them and wonder what they are doing there, but the two “lottor” quickly answer for them and say that they are volunteers from the village.

The two girls help Lisbeth and Elsa, dishing out soup for all the men who have now gathered from all over and then the girls get to sit down and eat themselves. Since Lisbeth seems so helpful, they sit down beside her and ask her if she has met someone called Ben. She can not recall that she has, but when they ask for Sven and show her the envelope, she is able to see that it says Lauritsen after Sven and points the young man out to them. Sven admits to having written the letter to Benjamin Rosenbaum and finally trusts them enough to say that they are friends and that he wrote, because he though that his commanding officer in the camp, Harald Rosenbaum, might be in danger. Maja suddenly recalls a conversation with Ben a week earlier, when he had said that his dad was in safety and that there are several ways to fight the Germans in Norway. This as an answer to Maja’s question, if Harald was not in the resistance anymore. From Sven they find out that a Norwegian army is being trained in Sweden, in several places actually, to liberate Norway and that Furudal is such a place. But that Harald has gone missing. And when Ben arrived, he went missing as well.

They don’t get to finish the conversation until hours later, when the girls have peeled potatoes all afternoon. They are on their way to the bus, but needs to find Sven, to get more information. He doesn’t trust anyone, so he walks with them to a place where noone can hear them. There he tells them about two inspectors having arrived at the camp. While inspecting the camp, one of them could not keep his eyes off Harald. He had walked off with the other inspector, to discuss things first in Norwegian and then switching over in to German. Sven had heard that they were going to take Harald to a cottage, where he would meet the Captain. The next morning Harald was missing and noone believed Sven, when he told them that Harald had been kidnapped. When Ben had found out, he set out to find the cottage, but never returned, when he had said he would.

The girls decide to go back the next day and tell Aase and Reidun, that they have promised people in Furudal, to help out at the health camp there, for Norwegian refugees. Helge helps them out, when the women object, and shows the girls that he knows perfectly well, what sort of camp it is.  The girls head for the camp, but make sure they are not observed this time. To not be seen, they head out in the forest, to discuss how to find Sven again. That is when they hear voices and from their hiding place, they jump out gleefully, when they see Ben’s face. He got lost, trying to find the cottage, which is called the Bear Cottage. They all decide to help out, trying to find the cottage, but they have to wait till evening, since Sven is not allowed to leave the camp. You get kicked out if you do.

Ben says that all Norwegian men fleeing their country, ends up in these camps, training to be a police army and that his father trains them. (This is a true miss by the author, saying that Harald was a policeman before the war,  since she in the first book claimed that Harald Rosenbaum had a music shop in Oslo, but had to close it down, after the Germans wrecked it and smashed all windows. Noone was shopping there anymore. I really do hate when authors think they can get away with things like this, assuming us less intelligent or having dementia.) While Maja starts thinking about Norway becoming a free country and Ben and Hilde perhaps moving back there, Ben moves on to say that the Black Rose aka their teacher Elin Björnsson, visited his mum, before she left on an assignment. She spoke about his dad being in real danger, since the Germans have put a prize on his head. Ben had listened in and was horrified to hear the sum of 20 000 Norwegian kronor and that his father will be taken to the Gestapo headquarters in Oslo, if caught. Harald is wanted because he and his men have dug tunnels under a lot of important buildings in Norway and then putting mines all over the place. The other men had already been killed, according to Elin .

Waiting for evening to come around, the girls write a letter to Aase, saying they must stay and do dishes, so they will not be able to catch the bus home. The letter will go with the bus driver and be dropped by the farm of Helge’s. An hour too late, Sven joins them with a road description and the four set out through the forest, towards the Bear Cottage. But when they get there, it looks like noone has been there for ages. Till Sven finds cigarette butts outside and Hilde finds a newspaper from the day before, under a chair. A piece has been ripped off and Maja notices that somethings has been written on the part ripped off and making dents on the next page in the paper. She gets a pencil from Hilde and colours the spot grey till she can see letters appearing in white: 20/6 Karlstad C 08.35 to Oslo S. Someone is taking the train the next day to Oslo! They run out to tell the boys, but they find them standing on what looks like a newly dug grave. Ben digs like a madman, while Hilde runs inside, since she can no stand to stay and watch. Maja stands totally paralyzed, till she hears from Ben, that it is not his dad. Sven recognises the man in the grave, as the inspector, who said they had to abduct Harald. The inspector has been shot.

While Sven covers over the body again, Maja remembers the newspaper and shows it to Ben. He recognises his dad’s handwriting and they decide that they must stop the men from taking that train. They need to get back to the camp quickly. While Sven bikes back to the camp, the youths bike to the village of Furudal, to phone Ben’s mother Greta. She has ways to contact the resistance. They might know how to stop the men, from taking Harald to Norway. Unfortunately Greta is not home, so Ben decides that they must stop the men, on the train, themselves.

Standing as close as he can, their bicycles linked in each other and his nose almost touching Maja’s, she hopes he will kiss her, but as usual Hilde comes and spoils it all. She calls out, asking what they are doing, and both tumble to the ground entangled in the bicycles. Ben will not stop looking at Maja, but they need to hurry. So off they go to the camp, to see what they can do in way of help. When they arrive, Sven waits for them, since he has found them some beds, where they can sleep.

Ben’s plan is for them to take the train from Orsa in Dalarna, to Karlstad in Värmland. Sven says that there is no way he can ask anyone in the camp for help. He trusts noone, after some people spread out that Harald had left to go visit someone, indicating a pleasure trip. When he told the officers that Harald had been kidnapped, noone believed him thanks to that “rumour”. The problem is that they do not know when the train leaves. Ben says that his dead uncle used to know all train schedules in his head, which makes Maja suddenly ask if his cousins looked like him. He answers that Jakob did. Sven wonders what happened to them and Ben has to tell him how his uncle, aunt and two children were killed in Auschwitz. He gets so upset that he runs out and Sven goes out after him. Hilde suddenly realises, that it is way too dangerous for Ben to get on that train going to Oslo, that he must stay behind. He objects when he gets back inside, but Maja points out, that on their previous assignments, they never knew how dangerous things would get and that she is sure Harald does not want his Jewish son, to put himself in such a danger. If the Germans catch him, he will be killed like all the other Jews. Sadly enough, Sven can not be helpful either, since he has signed a contract and to go awol from the camp, means the same punishment, as in the army.

While Hilde sits quiet, biting her nails, Ben and Maja make the plans. They will take the train to Orsa, change for a train to Karlstad and then get on the same train as Harald and his captors, at 08.35, heading for Oslo. They will find the same carriage as the men and sit down with them. At one point Maja will say to Harald in the Yiddish, which Ben has taught her, “Tell them you need to use the loo. We will pull the emergency brake in a moment. Then you can escape.” It has to happen before the Norwegian border, so that Harald can escape through the loo window and not be caught by the Gestapo.

The first stage of the trip is to get on to a freight train unseen. Ben keeps the staff at the train station busy, while the girls almost get killed, trying to get in to one of the wagons, as the train speeds up. As they arrive in Orsa, they get discovered, but that turns out to be in their favour. They run as fast as they can and Maja falls badly, when they jump up on the platform, in front of the train station. When they find a door, they burst in through it, and find train personnel. Hilde quickly says that Maja is hurt and the conductor washes the injury and put plaster on it. Then he says he has to leave, to send off the Karlstad train. The girls get panicked and ask when it leaves and he answers “in three minutes”. When they tell him they have to get on it and have not bought tickets yet, he tells them to climb aboard and he will get them the tickets. He does and he charges them nothing for them, which solves the problem, they had worried about, of them not having enough money for the return journey.

When they arrive in Karlstad, they barely have the time to go to the loo and then get on the train. They are forced to buy the tickets on the train and they have not seen anything of Harald and his kidnappers. When the tickets are bought, their search starts. They basically walk through all the carriages looking for the men and not until the last carriage, at the back of the train, do they find them in a smoking compartment. They walk in and sit down, even though the men give them obvious looks, saying that they are not welcome. One of the cold looking men in a suit, even tells them to find another place to sit, but the girls point out that they are getting off soon. The man is very curious as to where they are going and Hilde gladly tells them about her grandmother and all the fun things they will do at her place. Maja is not prepared for Hilde suddenly saying “what is that verse you are going to say to grandmother?”. Maja suddenly remembers the note in her pocket and the yiddish sentences she has learned.

But the words refuse to come out. She starts “Zog az du” but she suffers acute memory loss. If you plan on reading this book, this might be a good point, to halt in this post and jump down to the eighth paragraph, from the bottom. If you do not read Swedish, please go ahead and “enjoy”!

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Harald stirs though at the three words, but keeps staring out the window, which he has been doing, since they entered. For some reason, the men assumed that the girls were getting off in Ottenbol, the last place before the border, and right then, the train passes through it and the men wonder how the girls could have bought  tickets to Ottenbol, when it doesn’t stop there. But Hilde is fast. She tells them that she never said they were getting off there, only that her grandmother lives there. That they are getting off in Charlottenberg. Right then Maja remembers all the words and spit them out. The men scream and chase the girls out. The conductor is right outside, so the men sit back down, but the girls go to sit close to the loo.

Harald soon comes walking through the carriage with the Gestapo looking men. First one man enters the loo, to check it for weapons, assumes Maja. Then Harald enters and the girls head for a carriage with an emergency brake. They pull it and fall over each other. When they get up on their feet, they run back to the loo and see the two men looking inside it, it being empty. They hope that Harald has found a good place to hide, since there are no trees nearby, only open fields. One of the men jumps off, running to find Harald. The girls sit down and decide to get off in Charlottenberg, which is before the border (I know. The author said Ottenbol was the last stop, earlier on!) As they discuss this, they suddenly feel hands on their necks and the cold-faced man from the compartment, tells them there is a punishment for stopping a train, like they did. He also points out that he has a gun aimed at them, with a silencer, under the seat. He takes them back to the compartment and noone of the passengers see, how Maja tries to signal to them, that she and Hilde are having a gun pointed at their backs and are held captive. When they get to the compartment, the man in there, called Heinz, handcuffs them and then he asks “The Danger”, who is the cold-faced Norwegian, what they are going to do with the girls. The Danger grabs Maja’s arm hard and pulls it backwards. He tells both girls that they are too young to be resistance and that Harald is a very great danger to the security of Norway. Maja wants to scream at him, that he and his traitors, are the real threats.

The Danger gets cigarettes out and threatens to burn the girls in their faces, if they do not tell him where Harald has got to. But how can they say anything. They do not know where he is. Then the Danger forces Maja’s face out the window, so she gets hit in the face by every branch and twig, which the train passes. He is just about to stick Hilde the beauty’s face out, when the train comes to a sudden stop. The Danger sticks his hands in the air and Maja hears a familiar voice tell someone to take his gun. It is Elin or the Black Rose. She and her men take the two men off the train and she is just about to get the girls out, when she notices they are still handcuffed to the seat. Just as she is about to try to unlock the handcuffs, with a hairpin, the train starts rolling towards Norway again, where Elin is wanted and facing a certain death.

Elin manages to get Maja loose, but it takes a while to try to liberate Hilde. She tells them that she had no idea they were on the train, but that she and her group had been told by an informer, that Harald was on the train. They were to liberate him in Charlottenberg, but there were too many collaborators there, so they had to wait and now she wonders where Harald is. The girls tell her the entire story, from the beginning when Ben went missing in Gullfors, to the end. And Hilde is still handcuffed. She asks Elin if she has been able to see her parents in Oslo, since she joined the resistance and Elin answers that their relationship is not the best and the reason why she joined the resistance, in the first place. Because her parents stood by and did nothing. She grew up living next-door to a Jewish family. The mothers had coffee with each other and Elin played with their son, Saul. And then when she was 19 and Saul 17, her father came home one day, upset, and brought his wife in to a room where they discussed what had upset him. Elin had eavesdropped, but had just been able to make out the words Germans, Jews and internment. The next day the Germans arrived and arrested their neighbours and Elin could hear the family screaming. But her parents stood in the flat doing nothing and they had done nothing the day before, when they could have warned Saul and his parents. Elin decided then, to join the resistance, because one can always do something, if one chooses to do so.

Right then Hilde comes loose from the handcuffs and they pull in to Magnor, in Norway. Maja stands up and thinks they are getting off, but Elin says that they are going on to Skotterud, where she has friends, who will help them. Right then, men from Sipo, the security police, enter the train and one of them opens the door to their compartment. He wants to know where they are going. Elin shows him her papers and says that the girls are her sisters and minors, so they need no papers. He thinks it is very strange that they do not look alike, but Elin says that Hilde looks like their dad and she and Maja look like their mother. The Sipo tells Hilde, that she is a perfect specimen of an Aryan and that makes Maja nauseous. She rushes to the loo. But as she closes the door to it, the roof caves in. And Harald stands in front of her.

He shows Maja how he hid himself in a space between the inside ceiling and the roof of the train. A trap door led up to it and it is frankly beyond me, how the other men did not see it? Anyway, he has not got off the train, since there has only been open fields and no trees, but he is getting off in the same place as Elin and the girls, and he tells Maja to tell Elin that they will meet at the Gammeltofts. Then he ushers her out the door, even though she really needed to go. As she gets back and the train arrives in Skotterud, she tells Elin that she has met Harald and the message he sent her.

They are watched by the Gestapo-man, as the author now calls him, and Elin walks up to a heavy-set woman with a small boy. She hugs the surprised woman and whispers something in the woman’s ear, which makes the woman hug Elin back. Maja catches on and tells Hilde to bend down and talk to the boy, so that it looks like they know each other. Right then there are screams and the border police and Germans start shooting, after a running man. Maja is terrified that Harald is getting killed in front of their eyes. She and Elin, run up to see if it was Harald. But it was not. The woman whom Elin hugged, tells them that they must hurry to the Gammeltofts, since the man, was someone who used to help them. The girls walk off with Elin and she tells them that no, she did not know the heavy-set woman, but she saw a pin with the Norwegian flag, pinned on the woman’s chest and this means that she supports the resistance. Elin had whispered to her that she felt threatened by the border police and it was pure luck that the woman hugged her back.

After a while, they hear cows and up a hill they see a bunch of lodges. This woman called Turid Gammeltoft is outside, making goat cheese and inside the biggest lodge, they find Harald together with Turid’s husband Eskil, and two other men. A lumberjack named Atli, will take them over the border at once, but Swedish resistance needs to meet them on the other side, since Harald hurt his foot, when he jumped off the train. Eskil gets a telegraph out from a hiding spot and Elin contacts the Swedish side, after which they are off. But when they are outside, they hear motors approaching. They hurry as much as they can, down the hill towards Atli’s horse and wagon and off they go towards the Swedish border. Elin wants to know what happened in Furudal. Harald tells her that he was not paying attention too well and trusted people he should not have. “These men arrived to observe how we train our men. They told me that Sipo was going to do razzias along the border and that I could be useful, helping to warn refugees, trying to cross the border. They knew everything about me and my work.” Too late he understood who they were. Maja asks him what happened at the Bear Cottage and he tells her that he managed to escape for a while, but that the Danger shot at him. He missed though and hit his own colleague instead.

At this point they arrive to the end of the road and Atli and his horse Sampe can not take them further. But he tells them that his colleague will help them. He is further in to the forest, chopping down trees. It has by now started to rain and thunder and the noise is added on to by the sound of motorcycles getting closer and closer. They walk on till they hear an axe and Elin walks up to the man using it, asking him if he is Morsken. He asks who is asking and she answers the Black Rose. With admiration in his eyes, he promises to take such a famous lady across the border, as well as the others, but they have to go another way than the usual, since the forest is full of refugees and collaborators. The chief of police and his men, have just walked by him, saying they are out hunting, even though they have no guns with them.

They walk on small little paths only visible to Morsken and then suddenly they hear voices, just when Morsken has pointed out a hunting tower and saying that the Swedish border is just behind that structure. He tells them to hide and then he walks up to the men, who are the chief of police standing arguing with his men. The chief of police is suspicious and asks what Morsken is doing there, when he just told them that he was supposed to be out chopping down trees and that in a totally different place. Morsken says that he thought he heard a cry for help, but that it must have been them arguing. The police man draws a pistol from his belt but Morsken gets him to put it away and stop accusing him of smuggling refugees across the border. He starts walking with the men right towards where the group is hiding, but walks by them talking about finding the perfect tree for the chief of police’s wife’s new table. The group has to try to find their own way to safety. They walk on, till they finally run in to the three men Elin telegraphed to come and meet them, on the Swedish side. They get a lift in a lorry back to the camp in Furudal.

Ben runs to embrace his father and then he gives Hilde and Maja a group hug, disappointing Maja of course, who would have liked to have been hugged first and receiving a personal hug. Then Sven comes out of the shadows and Elin asks “David, what are you doing here?”. Maja is confused. That is Sven Lauritsen, why is Elin calling him David? Elin looks at them and tells them that they perfectly well know who David is, them having saved his sister Sara and her children. The vanished David. Now I get as confused as Maja, because the author says earlier in the book, that Sven and Ben were old friends. Then he would have known him as David!

It gets even more incredible. When the youths rescued Sara Eisenman, she told the youths that her brother David disappeared two days before all Jews were arrested. She also said that David was 13 years old. Just the same age as Maja, Hilde and Ben. Now David is suddenly two years older than them, otherwise he would have been WAY too young to be in the police army in Furudal. Not fitting in to the storyline in other words. Maja asks him how he could get in when he is not 18, the youngest they accept, and he tells them his story. Which doesn’t fit with the previous book’s. The Germans came to his school, to arrest all Jewish boys and since he knew what that meant, he took his bicycle and biked out in to the country and hid in a barn. The farmer discovered him but he did not like the Germans, so he hid him for a while, till they heard that women and children had been taken to Auschwitz and had been gassed to death. Then David thought his entire family was dead and the farmer knew a resistance man, who helped David get over to Sweden. Since he did not know what Swedes thought of Jews, he stole a dead neighbour’s name and social number. (How on earth did he know that number? I have no idea what my neighbours numbers are, I don’t even know all my children’s by heart. It is the birth year, month and day, but then we all have four numbers unique to our person.) When he tried to enlist in the Swedish army, the people there asked him if he wanted to fight for a free Norway and he said yes, so they sent him to Furudal.

Hilde has to stay with her mum, at the farm with Reidun and her family, as punishment for having taken off without permission. But all the others returned to Gullfors, including David, who got fired from the police army, since he was too young to be part of them. Once again Maja fools her parents and tell them a lie, that she ran in to Ben in Furudal and wanted to come home early, from her trip to Dalarna. Her mum thinks it sounds strange but… A week later, the day before Hilde is due home, Elin takes David, Ben and Maja to Karlstad, so that David can be re-united with his sister. They walk in to the house and up the stairs and ring the door bell, but Ben pretends he lost something at the entrance door of the house, and asks Maja to go help him search for it. When she gets down there, he pulls her in under the stairs and says “I’ve wanted to do this for a long time” and kisses her. Finally. Both Maja and I as a reader, has waited for this and have wondered, since Hilde is the beauty. Nice to find out that not all good-looking boys/men are vain and want a matching beauty for their own looks.

As usual the author ends the book with some background information. This time about how dangerous it was to cross the border but also about the police army having existed. They were never needed during the liberation, but became the police force after the Germans had left Norway in 1945. 13 000 young refugee Norwegians were trained, just like Sven/David and it was all secret, since Sweden was supposedly neutral.

How would I rate this book? Not as good as the two previous ones. Not at all. Sorry, but the plot line was way too weak and not at all believable. It was not as exciting since the majority of the book took place in Sweden, where the youths were not really in any danger. It never gets you worked up.

One of the worse things about this book, is the fact that the author seems to suffer from dementia, since she has forgotten what she has said in her previous books, about the characters that appear in this book. I do not like to be treated like a less intelligent person! One of these big mistakes are the fact that Benjamin tells the girls in the first book, that his dad had a music shop in Oslo. A very believable fact, since most Jews, in Scandinavia at least, have been shopkeepers, physicians and lawyers in the past. I am sorry but it is not believable at all, that a Norwegian Jew would be a police officer in 1939! And police officers did not own music shops! So a great mistake made there. Another thing is how quickly Maja thinks up solutions in previous books and suddenly in this book, she is the wet noodle and doesn’t know what to do, while Hilde is the one who is the quick problem solver.

If one wants to be picky, one could ask, how does Sven find out the train times in the middle of the night at the camp? No telephone available. Not trusting anyone, so he could not wake anyone up to ask them if they knew. And how many people know when freight trains leave a train station, in a foreign country, all the people at the camp being Norwegian refugees. In other words, it was impossible for the girls to catch that train, unless they just camped out at the station, till one arrived.

Another impossible thing was David. Being 13 years old in December 1943 and 16 in July 1944. Wow! And if Ben had been such an old friend of his, like David said he was, why did not Ben know that Sven was the David, they were all searching for? And why did he not know Sara Eisenman, when they met in book two? After all, David did live with her, so Ben would have known his friend’s family. And even more ridiculous was this thing about the social security number he stole from a neighbour. As I explained above, social security numbers are so personal that it is not something you know. I know mine, my husband’s, because I have had to make phone calls on his behalf, him not being a native Swedish speaker, and my oldest son’s, because I learned that one, before I started to have more children. I know my youngest son’s, since he has spent so much time at the hospital, which means having to say it over and over to personnel there. And I have learned “Cookie’s” lately, because I make all library reservations in her name, in order to avoid fees for books. So, in a family of nine, I know five social security numbers. Most people only know their own.

But the MOST horrible mistake that the author did, is not knowing a thing about Jews and still writing about them. ( I want to clarify that I am not Jewish, BUT I have studied the Jewish people and Judaism for years on end!) She is teaching youths the wrong things. In book one and two she serves them pig meat! Which a Jew will not go within ten miles of. Whether they are orthodox or just being a member of the Jewish people. In this book, she really does it, as one says. And this time I just want to scream. Why? Norwegian Jews did NOT SPEAK YIDDISH! The only Jews speaking yiddish, are eastern European Jews. Yes, Eastern European Jews did move to Scandinavia in the early part of the century. But they assimilated, because there was no room for orthodox Jews in our society. And by the 1930s, most Jews had married Christians and were more or less secularised. Even the ones who stuck to marrying like-minded Jews, were secularised enough, to not use yiddish. That language would have died out with the first immigrant generation. And did so.

If we take a close look at the Rosenbaum’s in this book, we can draw the following conclusions: Harald Rosenbaum is not a Polish immigrant, nor is he an immigrant at all. He has a Norwegian first name. Nor is he likely to have close ancestors from Eastern Europe. I am guessing that they are German. In Germany, Jews were forced to take on a surname, like all Germans had. Jews often not having surnames during mediaeval times and before. Jews had to buy their surnames and if you were poor, you would get a horrible name like Schwarzkopf (black head) but if you were rich, you could buy a nice name like Gold, Silber (silver), Silberstein (silver stone). Rosenbaum means Rose tree, so Harald does not stem from paupers, from Eastern European shtetls. He is more likely to stem from the German business class.

Harald has also alienated himself from the Judaic faith, enough so to marry a Gentile. Greta is Swedish and not one bit Jewish. Since she was never in any danger in Norway, it means that she has not converted. Technically, according to the Jewish faith, Benjamin is not even Jewish, since he has a Gentile mother. Membership of the Jewish people, is inherited via the mother. But of course the Nazis had other ideas about that. But this is very telling. Harald is not religious or he would not have married Greta. He would not have been so rude as to speak a language she doesn’t understand, at home. Had he even known Yiddish. If he was going to teach his son anything about his Jewish background, it would be some words in Hebrew, enough for Ben to pass his Bar Mitzvah.

When I trained as a journalist, I was taught, that if a writer/author is going to succeed at all, he or she must write about what she knows. Camilla Lagerqvist obviously do not know a thing about Jews, but is just grabbing at things, which she knows nothing about, and THAT is embarrassing. You can’t just make up things like the above, just because you need it to fit the story. By making Swedish youths think that all Jews speak Yiddish, you teach them that Jews do not fit in and did not fit in. That they are their own little entity, in the population. And that is exactly what the Nazis made people think. That is what anti-Semitism has taught for centuries, that they are not one of us. While the three books have been exciting, albeit book three much less so than the others, I can not accept this, I think unintentional anti-Semitism. She needs to be more careful in the future, if she is going to include Jews in her stories. It is a very touchy subject in today’s society, especially with all the neo-Nazi groups gaining votes and power in all European countries and the prevailing anti-Israel feelings as well. Things need to be correctly described, even if it means that you can’t make deadline.

 

 

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My Friday Book: “The Ice Children” or “Isbarnen” by Camilla Lagerqvist

If you have not read the first part of Camilla Lagerqvist’s books about WWII and a little Swedish community close to the Norwegian border, housing the resistance group “The Black Roses”, then you might want to at least read my previous post called “My Friday Book: ‘The Assignment’…”. Book two, “The Ice Children” very much builds on that one, but of course consists of an entirely new adventure for the three now 13 year-olds, Swedish Maja, Norwegian Hilde and half-Swedish/half-Norwegian Benjamin, who happens to also be Jewish.

imageSix months have passed since the youths crossed the border to find Benjamin’s dad’s resistance group, the Frode group, in order to have them warn a resistance woman, called the Black Rose, that she had been betrayed and was to be arrested and executed. An experience which also meant that Maja, got shot by German soldiers, who were pursuing them back towards Sweden.

It is nearing Christmas and the children are happy and content with their substitute teacher Elin Björnsson, who also happens to be the resistance fighter, the Black Rose. But only Maja and her friends know that. On the first day of the book, none of that is occupying the youths’ minds. They are to spend a day out on the frozen lake, with grades 5-7. Elin is alone in charge and all children get their skates on, according to their fortune. Benjamin or Ben as he likes to be called, in borrowed, too large skates, Maja, in the kind that one tied on one’s feet and Hilde, the metal pokers from her mother’s stove. Elin, on the other hand, has skated in championships, so she dons real white figure skating skates. The girls decide to talk her in to showing them the Salchow jump. Elin hesitates since it has been years, but doesn’t want to disappoint. It all ends in her falling really badly though and putting both her shoulder out and breaking her arm in several places. She is rushed to the hospital and there will be no more school that week, since a substitute can not be found.

Benjamin’s mother Greta has left for Stockholm, to help an aunt, who is so ill, that she has to be hospitalized, and Benjamin has to stay with his mother’s cousin. The woman makes him go to bed way too early and after Elin’s accident, he wants to retrieve his book from his desk in school, so that he can read under the covers with a torch. But while they stand in the classroom, the three of them, a telegram boy arrives with a high priority urgent telegram for Elin Björnsson. They tell him she is in hospital, but persuade him to give them the telegram and they promise to give it to her that very day. First they try to phone the hospital  and talk to Elin in person, but they are told that she is in theater and will not be able to communicate with anyone for days. Since they know it is an important telegram, they decide to steam it open in order to know what to do next. They do not fully understand the telegram which says:

The Black Rose new assignment stop

Ice children discovered stopped

Will be sent to Auschwitz stop

Germans arriving tomorrow stop

Fetch ice children and bring them to Sweden stop

N668390

E6790

The children don’t know what to do and what the message means. Benjamin’s only thoughts are whether they are Jewish or not, because he knows exactly how dangerous that is, being one himself and having had to flee Norway before it was decided to kill all Jews living in Norway. Maja wonders if he can get hold of his father, who is still in Norway as a resistance fighter. But he doesn’t know where his father is, his mother having told him he is on assignment. Maja still decides that they must try to get hold of him so they walk to her house, where a telephone has been installed, and Benjamin gets to phone his mum. But she doesn’t answer. Maja sees no other alternative than to suggest that they have to cross the border again and get to Benjamin’s father’s resistance group. They might know what to do and what the numbers mean. Maja tells her mum she is sleeping at Hilde’s and Hilde tells her mum the reverse, both knowing that the mothers will not speak to each other, since Hilde’s mum keeps to herself, having given birth to a German soldier’s baby boy. Benjamin on the other hand, writes a note for his mum’s cousin, telling her that he has taken the train to Stockholm, to stay with his mum, since there is no school anyway.

That night they meet by the tall stones by Maja’s house, donned with rucksacks and skis. The temperatures are very low. Maja has packed warm chocolate, sandwiches and apples for all tree, in case the others forgot food, but Benjamin arrives with ginger snaps and soda, the only thing he could find at short notice. The food will be useful later on. They set out on the hunting trail which is the closer route to the resistance cottage in Norway. It turns out to be tough skiing when they get to Norway. Maja is traumatized having to travel the same way, as when she got shot. And they realize the danger in them showing their tracks in the snow. They finally have to travel on the road but doesn’t run in to any trouble until they reach the village before the resistance cottage. Suddenly an angry dog appears and the only way to get rid of him, is for Hilde to throw all her packed food to him, consisting of dried meat. Cold and exhausted, they continue till they get to the place where the cottage should have been. But it is not there anymore. The Germans have burned it down.

The children feel at a loss. What to do with the telegram now? And if they stay out in the cold, they will die. But go back to the village with the dog? It doesn’t feel safe. It is 04:30 and they ski deeper in to Norway, till they see the smoke from a chimney and a farm. It looks like a nice place, with snow shoveled up to the door, between apple trees, but Mrs. Kvarnswärd in Maja’s village, had turned out to be a Nazi spy, so who can one really trust? They decide to knock on the door, and a smiling elderly woman opens. Hilde is the one who speaks and tells the woman that their teacher is sick and they decided to go find Hilde’s grandfather, but got lost.

Bergdis invites them inside and calls on her husband Arne to join them. He sits down in the kitchen observing them from a corner, while they sit down at the table, to eat some of Bergdis home-baked bread. Ben whispers to Maja, to get the telegram out and fold it so that only the numbers will show. Arne wonders where Ben’s grandfather lives (sic the author forgetting what Hilde had said???) and Ben lies and says that he has moved and that they do not have an address, just a code. Arne gets up to look at it, but his breath is so foul, that Maja gets nauseous. She stands up quickly and asks for a toilet and is directed to one, down a hallway. On the way there, Maja glances in to a living room and to her horror, she notices a big portrait on the wall, of Adolf Hitler! Maja panics and doesn’t know how to warn her friends, since Bergdis and Arne might be dangerous. She walks back to the kitchen just to see that Arne is unfolding the telegram. She runs in to the kitchen and snatches the telegram from Arne and quickly says to Ben and Hilde, that now she knows where Ben’s grandfather lives. (Noone reacting over her Swedish?) They get out to their ski boots in a hurry and Maja wheezes that the couple are nazis.

Arne demands to see the telegram, but Maja throws herself out the door. Arne has by then grabbed Ben by the neck. Hilde runs by him and kicks Arne as hard as she can, on his knee, so that Ben can escape his grasp. Arne screams after them but they keep on running with their skis in their arms, till they get back to the forest. They need to find someone who can tell them what the code means and then find the ice children themselves. After skiing several kilometers, they finally see smoke from a chimney again, and this time, they have come to an inn. The owner invites them in for breakfast and after a much-needed visit to the loo, Maja falls asleep sitting waiting for the food.

Aage the owner, treats them to all kinds of food and while they eat, they have to make a decision, whether to show Aage the telegram or not. Who can they really trust? They are running out of time. They write the numbers on a napkin and say that they have been given a homework task which they do not know how to solve. Aage says that it looks like coordinates and go off to try to figure out where it might be. But the children get dressed just in case, since he might have gone off to phone the Germans. Right then, two military vehicles pull up outside and the children panic. They run in to an adjacent room which turns out to be a walk in closet, full of clothes, smelling strongly of moth balls. Ben grabs Maja’s hand and she realizes that he is as scared as she is. That is when the moth balls become too much and she sneezes. The Germans in the dining room, turn silent and Maja can see a blue eye in the key hole and hear a silent order whispered. Aage calls out to the Germans, just as Hilde finds another door. They tumble in to what looks like a living room, just as the door to the closet opens from the dining room. But they do not stop. They head through a hall in to the inn’s kitchen. As they run out in to freedom, Aage enters the kitchen and screams for them to stop  and outside a big man named Aksel, grabs hold of Ben.

While they hear the Germans leave, in front of the house, Aage swears that he is not a sympathizer and he says that he can take them to the place, of the coordinates. But they have to wait a couple of hours. Ben gets to help Aage out, while the girls get to rest in the living room. Hilde tells Maja, why she calls her little brother, “the boy” instead of Olaf, which is his name. Hilde and her mum had had a nice life before the Germans arrived. Hilde had had friends in school and her mother had worked as a seamstress. Then the Germans came and her mother went to a dance, where she met German soldier Kurt. The day it was discovered that Hilde’s mother was pregnant, her mother was fired from her job. And when Hilde came to school, some girls held her while some others emptied one of the barrels from the outhouses, over Hilde. Hilde’s best friend Siv had not done anything to help and had laughed with the others and called her German brat and the child of a whore. Even though Kurt was not her father. Had it not been for him and the baby, they could have stayed in Norway. So Hilde “hates” her new brother.

At 10:00, after the girls have taken a nap, it is time for them to leave in Aage’s lorry. The girls get to sit in the back, on the flatbed, while Ben gets to travel inside. The girls are worried but Ben says that he overheard Aage discuss a sabotage made by the resistance, with Aksel, and that he praised the resistance fighters. Aage drives them to the village of Mossfjord, where he points out two farms and says that they should ask their questions at those two farms, since the people there are nice. But he also warns them, that the village is known for having nazi sympathisers. He tells them that if they are in danger, they must ski over the fields, behind one of the farms, to reach his inn.

The children walk up to the first farmer, who is outside with his horse, and says “we are looking for some children…”. He tells them that the only children he know of, are his own grandchildren. But he points them towards the next farm, which Aage had pointed out to them as well. When they are about to leave, he warns them to not walk around asking questions like this, since there are ears listening. As they walk towards the “safe” farm, they see an evil face pressed towards a window, watching them and they feel very frightened.

They can feel the person’s eyes in their backs all the way to the other farm, but they still walk up to the door and knock. A dark-haired woman opens and Ben says “We are looking for some children who are in grave danger”. The woman closes the door but Ben knocks again and this time the woman opens angrily. She tells them she has no children but Maja decides to reveal all, including that she is Swedish, by opening her mouth. She gets the telegram out as she tells the woman of its contents. The woman reads it and turns white in her face. Then she calls for her husband Espen and asks them to come in, since people are spying on them. They see tiny skiing boots in the hallway and realize that the woman lied. Espen reads the telegram and then sends his wife outside, telling her that she knows what to do.

Espen tells them that it is a terrible thing that the resistance cottage was burned down, after a sympathiser told the Germans about it. And that it is the same person who has now betrayed the ice children, it being his neighbour, who spied on Maja, Ben and Hilde just moments ago. Espen decides to introduce them to the ice children and pulls down a ladder, from the ceiling, leading up to the attic. Up there, they are introduced to the Eisenmans. Sara Eisenman shakes their hands and points at her little 3-4 year-old children Philip and Susannah. Espen tells them that they have to leave quickly and Sara grabs a bag and gets her children dressed in a hurry. As they all descend the ladder, they hear the sound of a motor outside. The Germans have arrived and Espen have them running up the ladder again. Espen tells them that he will do his best trying to get the Germans to leave and if they see them leaving, they must run out the back door and run to the barn, where his wife Mette will instruct them what to do.

Through a little window they can see argumenting Germans, the neighbour coming running out of his farm with his grandchildren and the Germans getting in to their car and driving over to that farm. Ben grabs Susannah and Maja Philip and all six of them stumble out of the house and over to the barn, where Mette waits for them. She tells them to run through the barn to the milk room and out a door there, where they will find their skis and a covered sled for the children. Espen comes in and says that the neighbour helped them, but that they need to hurry. Maja needs to tie her boot laces and puts down Philip. Right then, a cat runs by and Philip runs after it, before anyone can stop him. Outside, someone screams in German at him and Hilde decides to run out to fetch him. Maja orders Ben to get out with the other two and she will wait for Hilde. Ben gives her a hug, which of course means a lot to her, but gets ushered out by a now angry Mette. If you want to read the book yourself in Swedish, you might want to quit reading the blog post right here or jump down to the last four paragraphs. Otherwise, enjoy:

imageMaja sees through a window, how Hilde stands and talks to a German soldier and then she comes in to the barn with Philip. While they run over a field, to catch up with the others, Hilde tells Maja that the soldier was Kurt and that he ordered his men to search the house, so that Hilde could get away. But soon they hear dogs barking. They find Ben, Sara and Susannah and Ben puts Philip in the sled with his sister, and straps the ropes around his shoulders, while the others get their skis on. Maja now discovers that there is no way they can take the open fields to Aage’s inn, without the Germans seeing them and shooting them all in the back. They have to ski through the forest, and ski fast, because the Germans and their dogs are right on their tracks. Which is not easy for Sara, who has been in hiding for six months and have not done any kind of exercise. But she tries her best, knowing that her life and her children’s, depend on it.

After an hour, the sky has gone dark and it has started snowing. Sara keeps on falling but the children have fallen asleep in the covered sled. Hilde takes over pulling it, since Ben is getting tired. Suddenly, they discover that they have lost sight of Ben. And when they call out for him, Philip wakes up and wants to get out of the sled while his sister whines about being hungry. Then they suddenly hear Ben calling for them and he has found a little lodge (used by shepherds) where they can shelter from the snow storm. It is necessary for them to break in to it, but Sara knows how to get in through a locked door with a poker, having broken in to her mother’s larder many times as a child, to retrieve cookies. She has kept the playhouse poker as a memory.

After discovering that the lodge has one wood sofa, table, two chairs and a bunk bed, Maja also realizes that she has lost her rucksack with all the food, at the farm. They have to eat a dinner consisting of Ben’s gingersnaps, soda, real coffee, which Hilde’s mum had received from German Kurt, and parts of the bread they had eaten at the inn, which Ben had smuggled in to his rucksack. When they have eaten, Sara makes a bed for herself and the children in the bottom bunk and the children fall asleep. Storytime! Sara explains that they are called the ice children by the resistance, since their name is Eisenman and Eis in German means ice. Right then Philip screams out the name David and Ben wonders if that is the father of the children. But Sara says no. Her husband was taken to a prison and then sent to Auschwitz with 500 other Norwegian Jews. On arrival he was chosen for a work camp but when he tried to save a mother with her two children, all four of them were shot. The woman’s husband had survived at least long enough to smuggle out a letter for Sara, telling her the fate of her husband. Who is David whom Philip calls out for in his sleep? Sara tells them that he is her little brother, who disappeared two days before the Germans started arresting Jewish women and children. He is 13 years old and was living with Sara, but she had to give up her search for him, when the Black Rose came and took them in to hiding. Sara had known Elin for years, having worked in Elin’s father’s clothing shop since she was 19. She had been home with her children for years, but had just started to work again, when the Germans started to arrest the Jewish men. She had continued working, since she needed the money and her mother’s friend Marit had looked after the children. One day, Elin rushed in to the shop and ordered a customer to leave. She told Sara to quickly pack her things. Elin had borrowed her dad’s car and had driven Sara to Marit, where she fetched the children, and then they drove to Elin’s childhood friend’s parents, Mette and Espen. The next day, the nazis started to arrest women and children of the Jewish people. Maja in turn tells Sara why they came to save the Eisenmans and not Elin.

Sara goes to sleep for a while. They have agreed that one person must guard the fire and also make sure no Germans show up. Ben says that Maja should take the top bunk and he can sleep on the hard wood sofa. But Maja doesn’t want Hilde to get to sit by Ben. Her jealousy and infatuation from the first book, is as strong in this book as in the first. Ben suggests that they can sleep in the top bunk together, head to foot, so to speak and Maja readily agrees. Two hours later, Hilde wakes Maja and tells her that it is her turn to sit guard. Maja gets a stomach ache, when Hilde says “He is so beautiful when he is a sleep, don’t you agree?”. Hilde is so beautiful and Maja is sure that Ben would fall in love with her, if he knew how Hilde feels about him. If he is not already. Maja feels miserable and even more so, when Hilde climbs in to the bed and lays down right beside Ben, contrary to what Maja had done, and as close as she can. The two hours go slowly and when Maja wakes Ben, he gets shocked when he sees Hilde beside him. And a little disappointed? In the morning, Ben gets a compass out of his rucksack and tells them, that they need to ski west, since he thinks that is where the border is.

Sara insists on pulling the sled, but she is a small and skinny woman, and doesn’t have the strength for it for very long. Maja feeling guilty for not doing her part, offers to take over, but also finds it very heavy. The children are by now whining about hunger and thirst and that is when they hear dogs barking. Ben and Maja skis ahead and notices that not only have they come to the end of the forest, but loads of Germans are walking with dogs over the fields, right towards them. Ben decides that they have to backtrack and travel south instead. The children are now crying and the dogs bark louder and louder. Maja skis as quickly as she can, Hilde and Ben being ahead of her and she doesn’t notice the big branch hanging down. She skis straight in to it and gets a large gash across the forehead. Her friends have not noticed but Sara tells her it is bad and that she is bleeding a lot. They push her beanie down trying to stop the blood flow, but Maja feels dizzy. And nauseous. When she and Sara catch up to the others, Ben is signaling for them to be quiet. There is another noise now, apart from the shouting Germans and barking dogs, that of people skiing. They all hide behind some large stones, but Philip starts crying and soon Maja feels a hand on her shoulder and hears Sara crying out for help. Maja passes out.

When she comes through, Hilde is wiping her forehead and Ben holds her hand. Sara sits with her children in her arms and by her stand two men dressed all in white. Hilde whispers that they are resistance and that they are there to help them. Espen had contacted them but they had been stopped by the snowstorm. They inform the children, that the Germans are out searching for resistance fighters, who blew up a weapons depot during the night, who had disappeared in the same direction as Maja and her group. They get to ski after the white-clad men  through the forest, over a road and on to a smaller road, where a lorry is waiting.  They are promised a ride to the border. Ben tells Maja to come and sit inside the lorry with him and Maja sees how disappointed Hilde looks at that.

Ben is about to climb in to the lorry, when he halts and then he jumps in and embraces the driver. When Maja gets in, Ben turns toward her and smiles a big smile, introducing her to his father Harald. He is Jewish and a resistance fighter, so he lives a very dangerous life and Ben has not seen him for years, even though he has been able to receive a letter now and then, smuggled across the border. Harald drives the lorry to a safe house, where a friend of his, Margret, has decked the table with sausages, fried potatoes, meat and big bread cakes. They all stuff themselves full, till suddenly Margret rushes in and whispers something in Harald’s ear. He tells them they must leave at once. The children wine and don’t want to, so they have to be forced. Hilde is on the way to jumping up in to the back of the lorry and Maja wants to tell her, that she can sit inside with Ben this time, but then she remembers how Hilde told her in the lodge, how easily she could fall in love with Ben, and Maja doesn’t dare to take that risk. (Author forgot that she never wrote that when they were in the lodge.) She feels guilty though. Something is up because Margret rush back in to the house, turn off all lights and then pull all curtains shut.

They drive quickly towards the border, till they suddenly notice five or six vehicles, supplied with skis, travelling across the fields towards the lorry. At the same time an airplane is travelling towards them, shooting through their windscreen. The chase is on and Harald drives as fast as he can, till they suddenly have a German lorry blocking the road. He manages to evade it and drive in on another road. The children don’t understand how the Germans can be so adamant about stopping them, till they find out from Harald, that the lorry was used for the sabotage of the weapons depot and that they had no other lorry to save the children with, nor had they had time to change the license plates. Harald drives like a madman and it is a miracle that they do not crash and that the people in the back don’t die. But they manage to shake off the Germans long enough to get out and put on skis and head for Sweden. Harald having to don snow shoes, since there are no skis for him. The Germans soon find the lorry though and start pursuing the group.

The group can not travel too fast, since Harald who pulls the sled, can’t travel very fast in his snow shoes. The snow is falling heavily and they are all cold and tired. Then they hear a car and get petrified, but Harald gets more and more convinced that they might actually be in Sweden. They get out on a road and stay on it, making sure that they can get off it quickly, if a car approaches. When a car does approach, Harald calls out that it is a Swedish one and he stops it. He tells them that the couple in it, has room for three and that they are close to Gullfors, Maja’s home village! Maja tells the driver to drop Sara and her children off at her house, which will be the first one they arrive to. When Maja and the rest of the group arrive to her house, a strange big special branch police car is parked outside.

Harald tells them to not tell the truth when the police is there. That they must say that they got lost and slept in a lodge, which is not that far from the truth. When they enter the house, Hilde’s and Ben’s mothers are both there, as well as Hilde’s baby brother and the police. Hilde’s mum leaves right away with Hilde. Maja finds Sara, Philip and Susannah sitting on a sofa in the kitchen and as they all enter it, Greta says ‘loudly’ “Isn’t it great that my cousin and her children heard from the neighbour that I was here?”. Ben walks up to Sara and shakes her hand, telling her how nice it is to see her again. The police act suspicious and ask the youths if they know that they have been reported missing. They tell them that normally they do not go out on such an errand, but since there was a a sabotage in Norway the night before and they had indications that the youths had crossed the border, they came, since there was a fear for their safety. The police leave reluctantly after Greta tries to explain it all away.

Greta wants to know exactly where they have been, after the police has left and who on earth Sara and the children are. Harald keeps the fact that they were shot at, a secret as well as the information about the sabotage, and Maja and Ben try to say as little as possible too. But Maja makes sure to tell, that Kurt helped them, in order to make Hilde’s mum look a little bit better.

Two days before Christmas the youths meet up to go and see Elin in the hospital. Ben is waiting for Maja and tells her that she looks really nice in her new beanie. She of course would have loved it, if he had kissed her, but he just moves some hair out of her eyes and then Hilde arrives and pushes herself in between them. On the bus they see a mum and her two children and Maja thinks about how Sara now has moved to Karlstad with her children, in to a flat Greta has organized for them. In the hospital they tell Elin EVERYTHING and she is mighty impressed. She also has information for them. David is in Sweden somewhere.  Elin’s sources lost track of him and he needs to be found, so he can be told that his sister and niece and nephew are safe. Maja, Ben and Hilde all nod. It will be their next assignment even though they have promised to never do anything dangerous again.

Like the previous book, the author have added some background information to the book. Like the fact that a lot of resistance groups were formed in Norway, in order to save the Jews, after the Germans announced that the Jews were to be arrested and sent to camps. A newspaper article shows proof of how much was actually known at the time in Sweden:

Dagens Nyheter (biggest morning paper and considered right-wing) 2 December 1942

“Not only in the private houses, but also in the nursing homes, the hospitals and mental institutions, did the city police enter to fetch Norwegian Jews for deportation. There were new upsetting scenes in the harbour, when the Jewish families were hoarded aboard the ships. Women were separated from their husbands and children from their parents. Eyewitnesses explained that what they witnessed on the 26 November where the most horrific things they had ever experienced.”

Did I like the book? Yes, I did. It was very exciting, more so than the first one actually, since they had more to lose this time. A mother and her two children, but also Benjamin. I also do have my objections. The book would have been better, had there been some sort of map to follow. As a person who sees everything in front of me, when I read, I really got confused over how they travelled. It finally sounded like they just went around and around in circles and that they were far away from the border. Which can hardly have been the case. I also do object to the obvious mistakes the author has done, in claiming in latter chapters that people have said certain things in earlier ones, which they never did. And making silly mistakes like saying they were looking for Hilde’s grandfather and then suddenly it is Ben’s grandfather they are looking for. Or how about Maja opening her mouth in Swedish and noone noticing!

My third objection is the same one I had for the first book. The author insists on feeding her Jewish characters sausage. The Jews do not eat pig, no matter how secular they are, they never will touch pig meat and sausage is made out of pig. Benjamin, Harald and Sara would never have touched Margret’s sausages and Sara would never ever have let her children touch them either, no matter how much they screamed. It is such a small matter but if you try to be correct in all other information and try to stay as close to the truth as possible, then this should be changed. Swedish children should be taught that Jewish people do not eat pig. It has to do with common knowledge really and treating other religions with respect and tolerance.

Comments Off on My Friday Book: “The Ice Children” or “Isbarnen” by Camilla Lagerqvist

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My Friday Book: “The Assignment” or “Uppdraget” by Camilla Lagerqvist

Finally, I have been able to get a new keyboard for my iPad, so I can create again! My book today, ought to have been “The Thief ofimage Time” by John Boyne, the author of “The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas”. But while the latter was a daunting yet very good book, which refuses to leave you after finishing it, the previous is just one of the most boring books I have ever read. I force myself to read a couple of pages now and then but it is just not worth the struggle. When I saw this book being recommended to my family, Swedish “Uppdraget”, it was easier than easy to put Boyne’s book down to rest, in order to see if this other book, was a book for any of my children. I have now read it twice! Once myself and once aloud to “Kitty”, my 11-year-old son, who is not too keen on picking up a book. He was slightly bored at first since it is a rather slow book in the beginning. No action on page one, so to speak. That is why I read it aloud, while he ate dinner, so he was a trapped audience. Once things started to happen in the book, he did not want me to stop reading till the end. So a couple of hours later, sore throat and all, I had him convinced that history and these books are exciting! He was thrilled to find out that there are two more published in the series and want us to start on the second today. A little short version for all of you who do not know Swedish (in case they never translate it):

imageMaja is almost 13 years old and it is summer 1943. Her house in the province of Värmland, is the first one which one arrives to, after crossing the border from Norway. She is by now as used to hearing the German machine guns in the forest, as she is to hearing the neighbour’s cows.

Her father has been called up, which means that her mother is trying to run the family nursery by herself, as well as taking care of her three children Maja 13, Gullbritt 10 and Per-Erik. One hot summer night, sleepless Maja notices a pregnant Norwegian woman crossing the border, with a daughter in tow, the same age, as Maja. But they are not the only ones arriving in the community of Gullfors. Maja’s mother’s friend from school, has also arrived with her son. Maja is absolutely thrilled at the thought of new friends, since her best friend was forced to move far away, with her family. Everyone getting called up or having to leave, to find work.

The next day her mother has invited her old friend Greta and her son Benjamin for dinner. A feast on eggs, which she must have traded with the neighbour Persson, who is a farmer, or having used all their coupons, and sausage. Greta tells them how they had to escape from Oslo and first lived in Stockholm, till Greta’s uncle testamented his cottage in the village, to them. While the grown ups chat, Maja gets to show Benjamin the hothouse and the Norwegian mysterious girl arrives, to buy potatoes. She gets scared off  at once though, when German fighter planes fly straight over the house, trying to avoid the radar.

They find the girl hiding by a strangely shaped stone formation in the forest and the three sit down on the stone to get acquainted. Maja doesn’t know what to say to handsome Benjamin, so she asks what it was like to live in an occupied country. Benjamin is the only one who answers and says that his family were forced to close their music shop, but that it was alright, since all glass had been broken anyway. Why, asks Maja. “Because we are Jewish.” Not only did they stamp a J in our passports, says Benjamin, but everyone above 14 was taken to forced labour. His dad had already left by then though, and had joined the resistance.

The next day Maja and Gullbritt are forced to go deliver produce, from the hothouses. Their favourite house is the house of the deceased doctor. His old wife Christin Kvarnswärd lives there and keeps track of everything which happens in the village. As soon as they sit down to feast on cake, which is the ritual at Mrs. Kvarnswärd’s house, she starts interrogating Maja about her new friends, which Maja finds odd.

Another morning,  Benjamin comes by and invites her to go bathe in the lake by his cottage. On the way there, some bullies are being mean to the Norwegian girl, named Hilde. They are  calling her “German brat”, meaning that she is a traitor. Hilde runs off and Maja can’t stop her, to find out why the girls were bullying her. While swimming with Benjamin, he tells Maja of the resistance group his dad belongs to and that a woman has joined them. He does this with admiration and says she is called the Black Rose. She had smuggled out documents from the German headquarters, dressed up as a german soldier and had been able to escape to his dad’s group.

Suddenly Hilde joins them and shows that she has the fancy swimsuit Maja dreams of owning, having seen it in a magazine before. Hilde also has the breasts which Maja lacks and Maja sadly notices Benjamin’s admiring eyes and how Hilde steals all attention. Maja’s sore spot is that she has no female curves yet and being teased in school for it. When it is time to leave, Hilde takes Maja to the side and  tells her that the bullies called her a German brat, but that her dad was Norwegian. He is dead and her mother is engaged to a German soldier, which made life too dangerous for them in Norway. All children spitting at Hilde in school and people being mean to them in general. Her mother is expecting his child. They thought they would be safe in Maja’s village, after the German smuggled them across the border, but their Norwegian neighbour’s relatives, live in the village, and she fears for continued harassment. She has Maja swear that she will not tell anyone, the truth.

Another day, Maja’s mum tells her that the doctor’s wife, has invited Maja and her new friends for cake. Excitedly, the three children head to the cake feast, in the posh house. Mrs Kvarnswärd asks for their names, as they pile cakes on their plates and she is pleased to hear Hilde Langland’s name sounding so Norwegian. But the room grows cold and uncomfortable when Benjamin Rosenbaum introduces himself and Mrs. Kvarnswärd asks him if it is a Jewish name. He doesn’t eat anything more after this. And things get worse, when they are on their way home. His mother comes running, telling him that his paternal uncle, aunt and their children, six and four years old, have all been killed in a concentration camp.

The next morning, Benjamin informs the girls that he wants them to form a resistance group. Both girls are all up for it and come to  the first meeting that evening. But Benjamin is all fired up and thinks that they should start acting at once, by creeping through the forest and spy on the Germans, who have set up a guard post, right by Maja’s grandmother’s blueberry spot. A place her mother has forbidden her to go to, since the Germans took over Norway, the spot being on the Norwegian side of the border. While watching the Germans, they see an older Norwegian man trying to cross the border, him getting discovered and shot, basically right in front of the children’s eyes. Shocked, all three run as fast as they can back to Maja’s, the latter vomiting.

They go on though, having a second meeting, where Benjamin decides that they must make a bomb, which will destroy the weapons’ storage and prevent the Germans from shooting people trying to cross the border. He needs Chlorine, which Maja can provide from her parents’ nursery. But when she arrives to Benjamin’s with it, she finds him hugging Hilde in his tool shed and in a rage of jealousy, the soon to be teenager, screams at Hilde, asking her if she has told Benjamin about her mother carrying a German soldier’s child, intending to marry him. Hilde runs off in disbelief and shock over having been betrayed and Maja hands the Chlorine to Benjamin, and heads home in tears, having betrayed her new friend like this. But she had just had enough, not having any female shapes yet and Benjamin clearly admiring Hilde’s looks and breasts, particularly every time they go swimming.

All the same, Maja avoids her friends. But when chocolate arrives from her father, she realises that she must give it to Hilde and say that she is sorry. It is not Hilde’s fault Benjamin is in love with her. Nor does she tell Benjamin why she did what she did, when he and his mum come to visit. Things sort themselves out four days later, when Hilde joins the two by Benjamin’s little lake. Kurt Behm, her step-father-to-be, crossed the border the night before and had a conversation with her mum, which she listened in on. He told her mum that the Germans had been informed that they had an impostor in the German consulate, a woman, who in reality was a resistance fighter. The informer called her the Black Rose and she would be arrested the next day and executed in public, to teach the resistance a lesson.  Benjamin decides that they have to cross the border that night and warn her. His bomb can distract the Germans.

Maja has a better idea. They need to get to a village near the border, where Benjamin’s father’s resistance group is in hiding. Maja suggests they go there via another village, a village where she has been many times with her grandmother. Her grandmother’s sister Ella lives in the forest with her husband Björn, and they can get to their farm on little cow paths, which the Norwegians and Swedes have used for centuries, to cross the border on, instead of on the official longer route. Hilde and Benjamin think it an excellent plan. Ella’s house can become a hiding place if needs be and from there they can go and ask the Frode-group to contact the Black Rose.

The children set out at 23:00, but do not get very far, before they discover that they are not alone, out in the forest that night. A black car, which Maja has seen before outside Mrs. Kvarnswärd’s house, quickly approaches them on the road they are on before needing to enter the forest, and the children can not hide before the driver and the passengers have seen them. In the moonlight, they see that Mrs. Kvarnswärd is one of them. The children start out on the path but Hilde soon needs to pee. She parts from the group for a minute, and that is when they hear voices in the forest, men talking about having to find the children and stop them. Mrs. Kvarnswärd’s orders. The children start running as soon as Hilde gets back to them, with the men in pursuit. The children arrive to Ella’s just minutes before the three men, and is let in by a surprised Ella, who has not seen her sister’s grandchild for four years. She soon understands the situation and has Ben and Maja hide in the wood bin and Hilde, in another safe spot. They barely manage to hide before there is a knock on the door. The men outside want to search the house for children and Ella, having skin on her nose, answers that they are insane for even suggesting a woman of her age, to have any children. She and Björn manage to get the men to leave.

While the children get something to eat, Björn draws a map to the place where he has heard there are resistance fighters in hiding and he gives them two bicycles. They bicycle as fast as they can, but do not arrive in the village Rimsdal until 04:00. They find the house which seems abandoned but after knocking for a long time, someone finally opens the door. When Benjamin introduces himself as Harald Rosenbaum’s son, they are finally let in and find the small cottage full of resistance men. It takes a while to convince them that they have come to save the Black Rose’s life and Hilde has to admit to that her mum is together with a German, but that she herself hates the Germans. The red-bearded leader, finally gets a radio out and sends the vital message to Oslo and the Black Rose. Benjamin does not get to see his father, who is on assignment, but that is the least of his worries. Now they have to get back to Sweden, and a guide named Hans is sent with them. But they barely manage to get out of the village, before a strange-looking vehicle with two German soldiers arrive, to arrest them.

If you are  one of my Swedish readers, you might want to stop here and buy or borrow the book at the library! But if you can’t wait for the conclusion, please continue:

Hans does his best to distract the soldiers. He screams to the children to run as fast as they can, while he is being beaten. Benjamin gets a homemade bomb out of his rucksack, which he throws on the road to create chaos, which it does for a while, giving them time to run across a smoke-filled field. But soon the air has cleared and the soldiers start shooting at the children. Maja takes a hit in the thigh and runs the risk of bleeding to death. Together Benjamin and Hilde drag her between them while running. The soldiers do not pursue them, since one of the soldiers had qualms about shooting at children. Somehow Maja is conscious enough at times, to guide them in the right direction and eventually they run in to her farmer neighbour Persson and her mum, who are out looking for them. The children have by then concocted up a story, that they must stick to. They were playing too close to the border, not knowing how close they were, and the border guards shot at them.

Hilde shows up some days later with Ben, to tell the group about weird things going on at Mrs. Kvarnswärd’s. Hilde’s mum is now cleaning for the rich woman and there are strange meetings in the evenings, when Hilde’s mum is told to leave early. One evening when she had to go back for her forgotten handbag, she heard shocking things which were bad for Sweden. But that is all Hilde knows. Days go by, and Maja’s dad gets home for a couple of days of compassionate leave. When he has left, a white-faced Hilde shows up and asks Maja if she can manage a walk to Mrs. Kvarnswärd’s. The latter has demanded that Hilde come and when Maja asks why, Hilde answers that Mrs. Kvarnswärd suspects that Hilde has stolen something from her.

Hilde explains all to Maja on the way there. She had listened in to a conversation her mum had with her lover, across the border. Hilde’s mum is supposed to clean the old lady’s house except for one room. The study. But when Mrs. Kvarnswärd was away one day, Hilde’s mum saw the door to the study open and all the dust on the floors, so she felt that a sweep in there would do no harm. While sweeping the floor, she noticed a drawer in the desk open and saw a box in there with the text “The Death Registry” written on it. Her lover told her to do nothing about it, over the phone. But Hilde accompanied her mum the next time, to the house, and snuck in to the study and stole the box, in order for Sweden not to get in to trouble. But when she left the room with her big rucksack, she was observed by the housekeeper Birgit.

The girls arrive at the house and notice the black car, from the night of their big adventure. They enter the house which seems empty, but soon Mrs. Kvarnswärd walks in accompanied by one of the men from that night, who turns out to be German. His name is Klaus. Mrs. Kvarnswärd does not believe Hilde’s lie about having gone in to the study, to try the typewriter and demands her box back. She also tells them to avoid that boy Benjamin “since he is of an inferior race and we don’t want that kind here.” The girls are shocked. Maja realises that Mrs. Kvarnswärd, who she always thought was such a nice old lady and grandmother-like, might indeed be a nazi spy. She is not nice at all but the calculating, cold woman her dad has always said that she is. Hilde is sent for the box, while Maja is held as a hostage. Hilde signals to Maja, as she is leaving, that she will go to Benjamin.

While they wait for the box, Mrs. Kvarnswärd and Klaus drinks and converse in German, but Klaus does take the time to laugh at Maja, being in pain from the gunshot wound. Maja is appalled by the entire thing. Then a lorry arrives and men jump out from it. Mrs. Kvarnswärd and Klaus go out to argue with the people and that is when Hilde sneaks in and tells Maja to come, that they must get out the back way while the resistance fighters from Norway, keep the others sidetracked. Greta has her own contacts and she was the one who got them there so quickly. Maja and Hilde head for Greta’s cottage, where they find not only Greta and Benjamin, but also Maja’s mum. Greta has been able to get the box open and she walks out with it so they can look at what is inside. The box is full of cards and each card holds a name and all the information about that person, as well as  recommendations for the Germans to have the person killed. It is indeed a death registry which was supposed to have been handed to the Germans, had they invaded Sweden, so that they could easily find undesirables and eliminate them in the German camps. Most of the names in the box belonging to Jews. Poor Benjamin finds his own card in the box and realises that Mrs. Kvarnswärd wanted him dead too. They close the box and Greta later hands the box to the Norwegian resistance fighters.

The next morning Gullbritt informs Maja that Mrs. Kvarnswärd has moved to Stockholm, to live there with her son. All her things are to be shipped there and the house sold. When school starts that autumn, Maja is delighted to have handsome Benjamin sit in front of her and Hilde close by. Their old teacher is off for six months, and they will have a substitute for that time. In walks a rather ordinary woman, semi-blonde hair, nothing raving about her, but she does wear fashionable clothes. Her name is Elin and after school she wants to talk to Benjamin, Maja and Hilde. They wonder what is up and is more than surprised when she thanks them for saving her life. She explains that she is part of the Swedish resistance and was working undercover in Norway, when she nearly was arrested. Her code name being … The Black Rose. Maja is flabbergasted. She had dreamt of the Black Rose so many times, imagining her as a raven haired woman with red lipstick, pirate looking and clearly a heroine. Not this rather bland woman who noone takes notice of!

That is where the book officially ends but the author has added how she got the idea for the book. She had read a news article about a very respected headmaster having passed away. In his belongings, his children made the awful discovery of a death registry like the one found by the children in the book. And he was not the only one who made up lists of people who ought to be killed by the Germans, had they arrived. Lots of people did, as well as nazi parties around Sweden. She also adds that even though Sweden was not at war, people could read in newspapers and hear on the radio, about the atrocities taking place in Europe and the camps. And finally that 771 Jews from Norway, was sent to camps and that only 34 of them survived.

What did the historian in me think about the book? It was exciting, if one is willing to overlook some historical mistakes and religious ones. Reading the book, it bothered me that the author put a lot of focus on the food they ate. My parents grew up during the war and all I ever heard of, was of the shortages. How everything was rationed. They had no butter, no eggs and especially no candy and cakes. Yet, both Maja’s mum, Benjamin’s mum and Mrs. Kvarnswärd are able to put plenty on the table. She does talk of dandelion coffee etc. but she should not really have given an impression that for the most part people could eat themselves full, because that was not the case. Nor were there sweets and sugar galore. Secondly, a Jew would NEVER EVER eat the kind of sausage mentioned, since it is made out of pig. Greta sighs and says it has been years since she had sausage. I don’t wonder about that! Being married to a Jew, he would not have allowed it in his house and would have taught his son not to eat it either. A Jew can be a non-believer but he will not eat PIG!

If one wants to be nit-picky, she also has put some politically correct things in the book, which was hardly politically correct or even something one objected to in those days. Boys were boys and girls were girls, non of the feminist crap entered people’s heads, so it is not really nice when the author tries to make today’s children think that they were just like us back then. Boys had clear roles and so did girls. Why not just teach children about that instead, so that they can see the progress which has been made? It is not like children would regress by hearing that!

I do think it important to look at our history though. Especially in these days when the nazi party of Sweden, cloaked in suits and calling themselves “Sverigedemokraterna”, like the  nazis ever stood for anything democratic, has become the biggest party in Sweden with 27% of the votes in the latest polls. Where are we heading? Is it not time to learn from history? What did Sweden really do during th war? Do we really have anything to be proud of? Were we really better than our collaborating neighbours? Or is it time to accept that we are no more innocent than the rest of the world. That anti-Semitism was as accepted in Sweden as in Norway. That Sweden closed its borders just like all the other countries, to fleeing Jews. That many people thought that Hitler was a great man who had straightened out his country and that especially the upper classes and the Royal House, was indeed totally pro-Germany.

Comments Off on My Friday Book: “The Assignment” or “Uppdraget” by Camilla Lagerqvist

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First day of school or where did the summer go?

The following post was written on the 17th August 2015. I could have just trashed it, but since I know my friends want an update and since I spent a lot of time on it, why should I trash it, just because it takes two weeks of nagging to get my husband to help me download a photo? So here it is, two weeks after the fact!

Both “Gubby” and “Boo” were excited about starting school today. I can’t say that I was equally optimistic. I know that we have had a holiday since the 12 June, but this year it does not really feel like it. This summer has not been anything like other summers and needless to say, not at all what I had planned. It started with visits to BUP (ADHD unit of child and youth psychology department), habilitation and to “Gubby’s” kidney doctor. What else? Can’t have a summer holiday from all that, can one? “Cookie” had to have her braces checked and D. had to have his second Twinrix shot, in preparation for going on a mission. Life was very, very hectic till the 26 June when we headed south to France, for a two-week “real” holiday. And we really had a wonderful holiday albeit a couple of altercations between certain elements of the clan. And “Boo’s” meltdowns of course.

No, true hell started on our way home from France. Close to the border between the Netherlands and Germany, I went sliding with the mini bus. Straight in to a round-about and the car was so wrecked that we could not continue to Sweden with it, nor have it back, fixed. We were supposed to have arrived home, happy, content, and continue our vacation by going to Sjöbo fair, paint the house and just relax. Instead we were stranded in our country village, with no transportation to go and buy paint, rent and bring home scaffolding. We had to go out to Sjöbo’s fair on buses, which took hours. And all the time, in the back of our heads, there was the worry about what to do. What car to get? How can we live with being heavily in debt again, over a car, for the next five years? While my husband sat from morning to evening searching for a new car on the internet, not being able to go and look at anything, since you need a car for that, I worried myself sick, was at BUP and habilitation again, going all over on the bus and getting more and more vexed about our situation. Fighting with the insurance company for one, took all life energy away from me. So when the kids suggested that I join them in the game “Hay Day”, I did. Just to escape real life. To pick up a book, was too stressful. I could not concentrate THAT much on anything.

When a week had passed, T. finally decided that something had to be done during the last days of his vacation. He borrowed a high-powered water hose from our neighbour and cleaned the house in preparation for painting it and wonderful members of our church, helped us get some of the paint home and the scaffolding plus some helping hands, for two days. It was a drop in the Ocean, it turned out, but all the same, it got us started and they helped immensely, since T.’s ADHD set in quite a bit, after the car crash. He felt overwhelmed about the painting business and was no doubt going to chicken out of the entire thing. Till our home teachers started to press him on the issue and organised things. He had mentioned the painting back in June, and they had decided to help with it no matter what. I will be eternally grateful for their service and their care because it forced T. to act.

But, when all helping hands were gone, we still had one coat left to do on the entire house and the scaffolding was gone, since we could only afford to rent it for one day. That is when D. climbed up on a tall ladder, we had borrowed, and the ladder just bent over. He flew down and scraped his leg really badly and sprained his wrist. He had to be rushed to the emergency room for x-rays and his eyes were filled with tears, because he was in so much pain. He is such a trooper. He always comes through for me, so I felt so bad and so guilty. I could not help one bit with the painting this time around (last time we painted was August 2005 when I was going through a miscarriage, but still was out there helping) since I just could not handle the strong fumes. One sniff and it gives me a migraine. I got a migraine anyway, since the smell worked itself in to the house somehow. The kids all ruined their clothes out there, including “Boo”, who for some reason brought out his winter jacket! I am not happy about it at all, but what choices did I have? None. The house had to be painted and the little ones could not be kept indoors. The house is now painted but the storage room needs another coat. And D. is still in pain. His ribs and his head hurt, the bruising is still there and his leg is still sore as is his wrist. The sore on his leg refuses to heal. May it all soon be well again!

When we got home from France, in a borrowed car, we discovered that D. had finally worn the sofa covers entirely through. I have had two sets for years, but the green ones are so full of rips and threadbare, that we have had to use the discoloured yellow ones for about a year. Now they were in threads. They had been living on borrowed time of course. So when we finally were able to borrow a car from a member in church, to go and look at a new car, which T. had seen on the internet, we also went to get more house paint and down to IKEA, to buy new sofa covers. We had no choice or the frame of the sofa would have got ruined! We had brown or grey to choose from and I chose the grey since it was the strongest fabric they had, all of 50 000 cycles. (The arm-chair seat is already noppy though, after just one month!) Because you wash these covers yourself! A must when you have children like mine. Forget about dry cleaning. Too expensive in Sweden. The sofa covers were not a cost we had counted on either, of course, for this summer. Money that could have been used to pay off our holiday debt, had to be used for them. But it is a relief to not have to see those ghastly threadbare, ripped covers anymore. One day, I will paint the sitting room walls, so we don’t have to see the children’s art work on the walls anymore, and the yellow grease spot where T. has had his head every evening! But the kitchen walls have higher priority! I will not even mention what the wallpaper looks like out there. I am actually starting to detest wallpaper. Children and wallpaper just do not go together.

So, we went to see the car and had a knowledgeable member of our church, go and look at it too. It was not cheap but it could have been much worse. Or? I will write a separate post on our car purchase I think, because that is not what this post was supposed to be about, but let us say, that after a LOT of hassle, the car was finally delivered to us, Sunday, a week ago (9 August 2015), in the evening. So for one week, I have had wheels.

So, back to this morning. I did not want summer holiday to be over at all. I need more sun. I need more rest. Nothing feels right. But, school started all the same, so I had no alternative but pack little “Gubby’s” rucksack with spare clothes and get him ready for his first day at the Montessori school, class zero, in our neighbour village. He was all excited and happily put on his new T-shirt from Primark in Canterbury. He skipped out to the car and we backed up the car, while T. took his time as usual. One can’t come early to anything, can one! Since I could not clone myself in to two people today, he just had to take the day off. You can’t have two autistic children start two new schools, on the same day, and not be there for them both!

So we were ready for take off, which is when I noticed a light on the dash-board of our one week old car, which should not have been lit. Worried, I had T. get the manual out while I drove. “There is a serious fault with the exhaust system. Drive very carefully to the nearest garage!” This is NOT what you want to see or hear, when it is only one week since you bought the car with borrowed money. This is not what you want to hear when you are totally dependent on that car, for your children’s school attendance! Neither boy can go by bus on their own nor is there a bus that goes to the schools. With moderation. There is a school bus for Waldorf, which is where “Boo” is attending. You pay a set sum each term for it. BUT you can’t have an autistic child his age go on that bus on his own. When he gets his meltdowns, a grown up has to be near by. He can’t be at a bus stop alone and blow a fuse. Either he will harm someone or storm off and miss the bus. So I was mighty concerned when we drove to “Gubby’s” school. I tried to not let him see it though and walked him in to the building and to his teacher. He ran up and stood and hugged her for a long time. This is a teacher he does not know that well, only having met her three times, BUT he felt insecure and then he hugs people. And tells them, that he loves them. I had to help him find his seat on the round mat on the floor, and then he sat there waiting for all the others, T. standing a bit off, and me having to head home to make phone calls.

I decided to phone Volkswagen themselves to ask about how dangerous it is to drive, with the said warning light on. After half an hour of wasted time in a telephone queue, I never was allowed to talk to the garage people, only two receptionists, and both of them told me to not drive the car at all. Right! How was “Gubby” and T. going to get home? Walk 7 kilometers? And what about me having to be at Waldorf, even further away, in less than 45 minutes? I told the women I spoke to that I had no alternative but to drive the car and they in turn said that it might mean more expensive repairs than it would have been from the start. I was told to phone the seller and ask if mobility insurance was included in our purchase. Only he did not open till 10:00! I had no choice but to take the risk and drive.

We drove off to our other neighbour village, where all parents and children had gathered outside the school buildings. “Boo” could not stand still so I had to let him run off and play on the swings, the water canal “toy”, the cableway… At 10:00 it started with teachers having walked off in all sorts of directions, holding gongs of different sizes. (I don’t know what else one would call them? Like a small dinner gong with a mallet.) One would hit the gong and another gong would answer  from another direction and this is how it went on for a while and then the sound of the gongs came closer and closer,  till the teachers carrying them finally gathered in front of the middle school’s building, where they “played” or sounded a melody with the different sized gongs. Then all the teachers sang a song, directed by the new music teacher. No words, just “noises”, but very pretty. Then the headmaster told a little story about the school which missed all the children over the summer, even though a whole lot had happened to it during the summer. Builders having done all sorts of work. Each teacher was presented and there are autistic children in several classes, since there is an assistant for each in grade 1, 2, 4, 5 and 6, so “Boo” does not have to feel odd. There are four others like him!

First the 9th grade teachers started calling up the names of their students. One at a time, they had to walk up to the stairs and hug and shake hands. Then applauds when the entire class was gathered and walked off to a set place in the garden school yard. Then came grade 8, 7, 6a and 6b, 5… “Boo” was bored and was playing, but when the 3rd grade was being called up, it was time to go stand with all the rest of us, waiting for his name to be called. Finally his teacher stood up and started calling out the names. I was standing beside a German Jewish father, wearing a crocheted kippah, whose son was commenting on everybody’s names, trying to figure out if there were more Germans there. This member in our church, has a son starting first grade, and when they called out his name later on, the son took one look at him and guessed “Chile”. I did not want to spoil his day by telling him that the boy’s father comes from Tonga!

“Boo” was called almost last. But he was excited since he had discovered that the girl he had had a fun time with at the council pool, was in his class and now he found out her name. I so much hope that he can make friends. When the 1st graders had been called, the 9th graders walked up and gave them each a beautiful flower as a welcome gift and then all the children formed a hedge. Two and two they stood and made part of the hedge or tunnel, all the way to the 1st graders classroom. I was taking photos so I missed that they started pulling parents to help out, to complete the tunnel. And then the music started. An old folk song from Sweden, which I love. Fiddles and accordion, like it is supposed to be, and “Boo’s” assistant being the one playing the accordion. All that was missing were people in folk dresses. It made me think about my granddad, who played such music on both his fiddle and his accordion, who danced folk dancing and had the right dress for it. And his parents got married in the church opposite this school! Wow!

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“Boo” was a little bit bewildered, but went through the tunnel with his class, after the 1st graders. He could not judge the distance so he bent over the entire time, even though he could have walked upright. When he got to the end, we all walked in and took off our shoes at the entrance and walked up the cold stone stairs to his new classroom, with a brand new, pretty, wood floor. Us parents, had to wait outside, and not until the children were let out, were we allowed to come in and ask questions. Everyone went inside and new students were introduced and welcomed, except the teacher forgot to mention my son! That felt odd and I noticed other parents staring at us. Oh well, I guess they will soon figure there is another new boy in the class and that the assistant is for him and because of him. There is a parenting meeting the 26th, which is my big evening, when I have to stand up and explain that my child is autistic and if their children come home and complain, it has its reasons. I already dread that evening since I do not like to talk in front of people and it is a very sensitive thing ,since many people will think “Why did they have to come here.” Of course not realising that this is our last hope!

When all the others had left, his teacher A. and the assistant showed us upstairs, which has a room which “Boo” and his assistant can retreat to, when “Boo” can’t handle the classroom anymore, when he gets restless, when the noise becomes too much, when he needs space. He liked the room and we also got to see the Eurythmy room which had a really nice feeling to it. Then it was time for us to take our leave. The car gave me some trouble on the road, the breaks working poorly in lower gear? I hope it was just a temporary thing! I can’t go crashing in to more people this year or I will never dare to drive again. All of us are nervous wrecks as it is. When we arrived at Montessori, “Gubby” was having fun on the slide, all children being out for lunch recess. T. was in conversation with “Gubby’s” assistant, who they might actually get rid of, if things go very well for him. I listened to that in horror, because he needs someone to be there for him ALL the time! The assistant is used to dealing with kids like “Boo”, so he could not see “Gubby” having any problems, but he does, since he can not speak like his peers, nor understand like them and he lacks all the social skills to function at a school. Just because you do not act out and hit people, does not mean that you have no problems! He needs a person who is there to interpret the world for him and who will be his mediator or help him with communication.

I spoke a little bit to his teacher, who was the one who thought that things had gone so extremely well, and then we all headed to our own village, me getting a report from T. All children had been asked what they had done this summer and “Gubby” had answered “we swam in France and then crashed our car in a round about!”. All the others had just mentioned all the teeth they had lost. But I guess France and the crash is very much on his mind and something which worries him still. And I who thought that it did not really have that much of an impact on him. After all, for the most part, the children had a blast that day, pushing the trauma to the back.

He had actually joined in with all the activities. But when lunch came, he was not impressed with the seat assigned, so he had started flaxing and waving his arms. And the dish, called “pytt-i-panna” did not suit either. I could have told people that. He never eats it at home. He had actually picked out all the meat pieces and eaten them. I was all amazement. He never does that at home! Here he doesn’t touch the dish at all. What is Pytt-i-Panna? Poor-man’s-dish really. When I grew up, my mum would make it with all the left over cold potatoes and left over meat pieces. You cut the pieces pretty small and fry them. But I doubt anyone makes it that way anymore. Now you just go and buy a big 1 kilo bag of it. The potato pieces and meat pieces cut in to perfect little cubes and then a little bit of fried onion among it all. I think that is what is served at the schools as well. Originally one had beats with it and fried eggs, with the egg yolk pouring out over the “pytt”, when cut in to. What do I think about the dish? Yuck! I went on food strike when my mum made it. And she never served it with eggs and beats. I have only eaten beets once in my life and that is when I worked as an au-pair in London. Me and another au-pair, were suddenly dying for pytt-i-panna, even though I never ate it at home! So we boiled potatoes, quick-cooled them down, cut them up as small as we could and fried them with meat. I can’t remember if we used hot dogs or bacon for meat. But we also had bought beets and fried up eggs. That is the only time I let beets, pytt-i-panna and that kind of a fried egg, pass my lips. I hate loose runny egg yolk and of course have not eaten an egg for the past 16 years, thanks to gall stones and not having a gall bladder after 2009. I can not get myself eating something which is magenta coloured either, so beets are a no-no. It feels like the wrong colour for an item of food! I hate the surface of fried potatoes. It gives me goose bumps. And meat has never really been my thing, except in exceptional cases. I know, I sound autistic, describing food in this manner! But I was born a finicky eater and it has not improved with age, since my gall system can hardly handle anything. Forget that removal of your gallbladder is the solution to all your problems! It only aggravates the problems!!!!

T. had to drive off with the car to the closest mechanic, after we arrived home. He tested the motor and could not find the problem but said that if the light stays on, we have to take the car back to where we bought it, for them to fix it. That is what the warranty demands. Great! Easier said than done! So, now I will live in constant fear, that the car will break down on me, out of the blue. I who thought that I would be able to relax on that point and just concentrate on getting in to a routine with the boys, run back and forth to habilitation and to BUP… It’s been decided that “Kitty” must be tested for autism as well. His doctor suspects that there is more behind his problems than “JUST” ADHD.

Update on the 31st August:

The light of course did come on the next day, on the car. Life can not be simple, can it? The car had to be taken back to the seller and we were given a horrible Ford in its place. It smelled strange. And on the last day, when I had to drive it, I could not get the window up on the driver’s side. So we drove through pouring down rain, with the window down. All this, since the AC was broken. We had our own car back for a couple of days and then the light was back on and up to the seller again and a new car had to be borrowed. A car without AC, without radio and only one window which could be rolled down. We got our own car back Friday evening, last week. But I am a nervous wreck. It does not feel like a safe car to drive and I almost freaked out today, when the rain was pouring down. What if I would do some more aquaplaning and have us all killed this time? Or be in a new wreck? T. is taking it in to the car inspection tomorrow. We might as well find out if there are hidden faults, ready to emerge at any time. Something we should have insisted on, before purchasing the car in the first place.

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My Friday Book: “The Thoughts and Happenings of Wilfred Price Purveyor of Superior Funerals”

imageCan a book about an undertaker be of any interest? Can he be an interesting topic for a novel? Will you put down the book, after finishing it, and say what a great book despite the morbid job of the hero? I haven’t got a clue! Because the author of this debut novel did the lousiest job ever, trying to put a story together. The people in it are entirely flat, without substance. The hero could have been a gardener. It would not have changed a thing in the story. She has put it on the fast forward button as well, like on a remote control, to avoid making it interesting. But of course I appreciated this, so that I did not have to suffer more than 263 pages of her word pooping.

I don’t want to put you off reading my review, but I must say that this book was so terribly predictable that, as soon as Grace, one of the two girls in the triangle “drama”, started having thoughts about a rape she had been through, I guessed who the rapist was and then I had also guessed how the book would end. I don’t like to have guessed everything which will happen in the book, 200 pages before they happen! Reviewers speak of twists and turns, yes, the author does twist and turn, desperately grasping at straws, trying to make the book exciting, but the only exciting thing in this book is if the undertaker will be able to un-tie his pyjamas trouser’s string and find his wife’s vagina! Could possibly bring a cheap thrill to someone out there, but it only vexed me, since Wilfred had asked his wife for an annulment of their marriage. You don’t try to have sex with a woman you hate, when you want to be free to marry the woman you love, just because you can’t control your urges! Honestly, Wendy Jones, stick to your daytime job. It is a scandal that someone published this and let you write a sequel to this crap. I will not read the second book in what threatens to become a series.

Want to make up your own mind about the book? Well here is the entire storyline:

Wilfred Aubrey Price, is 27 years old in 1924 and never went to war, since training as an undertaker was an exempt profession. His father and he lives together, after his four-year apprenticeship far away from home, for master Ogmore Auden, who taught Wilfred everything about life and funerals. Wilfred does not leave any impression at all on the living, including myself. A rather dull and boring man, who is semi-content with being the undertaker in Narberth, a small town in Wales. He dreams of having a wallpaper and paint shop in his home parlour and learning to use more words in his speech. To accomplish the latter, he buys himself a used dictionary and start out learning all the words on A.

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During a church picnic, happening before the book starts, he fancies the doctor’s daughter, Grace Amelia Reece, but it is a short-lived passion. As long as the picnic lasts. But all the same, she invites him for a picnic on their own and while they do not speak, Wilfred has a lot of thoughts. He is mighty impressed with the yellow dress she is wearing and can’t figure out how she got in to it. Instead of asking her how a woman gets in to a dress like that, he says “will you marry me?”. He is shocked at himself and even worse, more shocked when she says yes. He tries to break off the unwanted engagement, soon after the shock has settled, but she has already told her parents, so when he comes to talk to her, he is just railroaded by her parents. Unfortunately, I can’t stand people who are like Grace and Wilfred. Wet noodles. How can you like characters in a book, who will not speak their mind. Who will just do as they are told and walk around like zombies? It is one thing, to read about “Jane Bennet and Charles Bingley” not being able to speak outright how they feel about each other in “Pride & Prejudice”. Customs kept men and women so much apart, and social rules forbade open speech, that it can be understood, from the view-point of Jane Austen, that there would be a lot of misunderstandings. But I am sorry, people were not as innocent in 1924, and you just do not act at all like Wilfred and Grace, then or now. The story is not believable at all. From this first chapter, the book just goes downhill like a Harlequin romance. You just want to rip your hair out and burn the book to get over the pain of reading it.

Because Wilfred does not go home and ask his gravedigger father for advice. No, he avoids Grace and hopes she gets the hint. But she and her family spreads around the news of the engagement. At the same time, mr Edwards, the blacksmith in a village nearby, drops dead and Wilfred has to bury him. Arriving at the house to escort the wife and daughter to the funeral, he is smitten with Flora Edwards’ beauty. He can not take his eyes off her and while he behaves like the perfect undertaker throughout, he concocts a plan. He will go to deliver the bill a couple of weeks later and then ask her on a date, tea at a café.

Grace runs in to Wilfred one day, in town, after delivering honey, and asks him why he has not been around. That is when Wilfred somehow gets the courage to tell her the truth. He doesn’t love her and does not want to marry her so the engagement is over. He is so pleased with himself and moves on to the lady he does love. But her mother forbids Wilfred to go out with her daughter. Devastated he goes home but soon he receives a mysterious postcard which tells him to go to a deserted cottage by the coast. He finds Flora there and they spend the day in each others arms. No sex. No words at all. They keep on seeing each other and are happier than happy even though they never say a word to each other.

Then Grace decides to commit suicide since she has been raped. Her much beloved brother, the pride of her parents, have re-enlisted in the army and has received the rank of Sergeant. They are so proud of him. He leaves for his Army camp while Grace chickens out on the suicide and decides to face her father instead. She only goes down to her father’s office and says “I am pregnant”. Nothing else. He draws his own conclusions, rush out of the house and enters Wilfred’s. When Wilfred gets home, he is much bewildered. Why is the doctor there when the engagement has been broken off? Dr. Reece only have a few words for him. He orders Wilfred to be at the registrar’s office a couple of days later, at 9:52 and then storms off. Neither Grace or Wilfred gets to say a word. Wilfred was not born yesterday and realizes that he is being blamed for her pregnancy, the only reason why one is forced to marry in a registrar’s office with a couple of days notice. And Grace has no intention of telling who the father really is.

So Wilfred goes to the registrar’s office, in his funeral suit, looks at his bride with murder in his eyes, says his yes and that is the last time he speaks to her for weeks. They go home for a wedding lunch and suddenly she is so very big with child, according to the author. Imagine a doctor who never noticed that his daughter was pregnant?! That he nor his wife, never noticed the signs. And how about counting on your fingers, how pregnant you can really look after just a couple of weeks engagement???? Wilfred stays on his side of the bed, like a stiff plank, and starts starving himself. Grace actually gets a wake up call when she notices after three weeks, how he has aged and how thin he has become. Not that she REALLY CARES! He hates sleeping in her house and misses his father, his house and Flora.

Three weeks in to the marriage, he is all words! He goes bicycling with Flora, he is not himself anymore. Talkative, charming, flirting… They go out in the ocean, the tide being out, to look at a forest, imageusually underwater, kissing and not paying attention to the tide rushing in. To save themselves from drowning, Flora has to throw away her camera and they throw all clothes except their underclothes and run for it. Flora can not swim and goes under several times but Wilfred has decided to save her, so they finally make it to the beach and safety. They spend the night in the cottage, wrapped in each others arms, declaring their love for each other but Flora also finds out that he is married and that his wife’s baby is not his.

Flora goes home all depressed. She lost her fiancée Albert, in 1918, when his company was going over the top. She has been living like a dead since but now she has come alive, falling for Wilfred. But an affair is not her thing. Wilfred has decided to finally say something though. Even if it means that not a single person in Narberth wants to use him as an undertaker again. He demands an annulment from Grace and tells her he loves someone. He also asks who the father of the baby is. Madoc of course. Her brother. The hero. The man, whose bed and room, they share as a wedded couple. The next day, they go to face Dr. Reece. Grace doesn’t say anything, it is only Wilfred who is pushing for the annulment. A date is set to go to court. The night before, Grace undress though, doing everything to keep her treasure. She does not want to face up to life. She can’t care less if Wilfred is unhappy and loving someone else. She wants to pretend that all is fine. So she sticks her hand down his pyjamas and he immediately becomes a cave man, trying to get the pyjamas off. He has serious troubles, but finally gets them off and starts poking around between her legs. And then I guess it dawns on him, well I hope it dawned on him, that if he has sex with her, he can forget all about Flora. Forever! Because he stops and Grace gets so upset. She almost had him trapped. So they go off the next day to the judge and get the marriage annulled. He heads off on a picnic with Flora, to tell her that he is free to marry her. And Grace packs her bag to leave Narberth for good. Wilfred having given her half of his savings and her dad sends a great bunch of money with her as well. She is off on the train, her parents not wanting to see her off because of the scandal, and them not knowing the truth.

Is this what is called literature? Hardly! I can’t tell this apart from the Harlequin romances I read when I was 12, bought in the supermarket. It was a total waste of two afternoons and I could have spent the money on something nicer. How did I find it in the first place? I found the second part, on sale at the book depository, but did not want to buy that without having read the first book, first. I will never move on to the next. Time is too precious for me. And money.

Like I said above, people on Amazon has given the book five stars because of its twists and turns and because of its humour. I have humour, but nothing in this book was funny. It is a book about a wet noodle of a man and a spoiled, selfish girl. A girl who lets her brother rape her, even though there was no threat of him planning to kill her, if she did not comply. She knows she is pregnant when Wilfred proposes and ends the engagement, but she doesn’t care. She is fine with him being forced to marry her. Is their drama in this book? No. Things like this never happen in life. Sorry Wendy Jones, but the old ingredients of incest, rape and an unhappy marriage, does not spell success. In your case, it just reeks desperation. I think you need to continue your creative writing course for a while and maybe get another teacher, who will be honest and tell you the truth. You can’t write!

 

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