My Friday Book: “Arons bok”/”The book of Aron” by Aron Neuman

imageA very thin memoir, which I picked up among the leftovers, at the religious book shop in Lund, one week after the hordes of sale shoppers, had raided the shop. They turned their noses up at this book, and I am sad to say, that I think I know why. I really, really should have taken my reading glasses out of my bag and looked the book up on google, or read a little bit here and there in it, before purchase. When it said on the back, that this 93-year-old man, had finally written his memoirs, I should have read this as a warning light.

When you are 93 years old, you might have a clear mind still, but what is important for you to record, might not be so interesting for the reader to take part in. Nor is your memory going to be totally reliable, sometimes 70-80 years after the events described. The years will have tainted the events. And that is the problem I have with this book.

Let me translate the back side of the book for you: ” For me personally, 1938, became a turning point in my life. During my 1000 days in the military, I learned how difficult it is to live like a Jew in Sweden. I was thrown from a protected environment, in to one of anti-Semitism, hatred and bitterness. But the propaganda of hate towards the Jews, also strengthened my Jewish identity. Aron Neuman was born in Lund 1919. In this book, he relates memories from his very long 93-year-old life, where the Jewish heritage and involvement in the Jewish community, has played a big part. Aron Neuman was educated at the Business school in Stockholm. During 30 years, he worked as an accountant and as a volunteer in several Jewish organisations. After retirement he studied art history and together with his wife Viola, he founded the Jewish Museum in Stockholm, 1987.”

To me, it sounded like an interesting book because 1. I live in the council of Lund 2. I thought he would bring to life, the Jewish community in Lund, that more or less, probably don’t exist anymore 3. I thought he would describe exactly how the Jews in Sweden felt in the 1930s and during the war, but also how they reacted to what they heard from Europe.

The book lacks all sorts of feelings. It is basically what I call a “shopping list”. I did this, I did this… I met this important person, I met this important person. I’m afraid I would classify the book as the worse kind of memoir, because afterwards you have not got to learn to know the person who wrote the book at all. You don’t know what Aron is about at all, except that the he moved in circles with celebrities. In many ways, Jewish celebrities, which I have never heard of. But even worse, I have learned nothing at all about what it is like to live in Sweden as a Jew, not now, not in the 1930s or during the war. Aron does not bring in any feelings in the book, but it is just a cold observation of his life.

My observations:

Aron’s father, was called Selman Neijman, who was born in Pikkale. He says the village was situated on the border of Lithuania and Latvia. But when I googled it, to see where the village is and what it looks like, google came up with nothing. On the other hand, he did say that it was very small, but still, no records of it at all? Selman, which I guess, is Eastern European for Solomon (but I could be wrong), was thrown out of his home, when his mother re-married. There is no mentioning of how many children were thrown out and Aron does not know anything about his uncles and aunts. But his father came to Sweden, to Lund, like many other Jews at the time. No mentioning of the date of his arrival, why he chose Sweden or anything else of the sort.  I suspect he moved in to Nöden, which was the slum back then, and a very posh place to live in, today. Gorgeous little streets and houses, but was hardly considered so, at the turn of the century 1900.

Reading the short paragraph about his father’s background, made my mind start wandering. My dad worked for a Nejman, in the town I grew up in. My dad had nothing good to say about the man, since my dad in his spare time, had worked on some sort of invention, and showing it to Nejman, was a big mistake. Nejman stole the idea as his own and my dad got nothing for it. It made my dad bitter and I do not think he ever tried to do anything like it again. I remember all the old drawings and measurements on papers my dad had at home. I was too young to know what the invention was, I just know that my dad was angry about the entire thing, and disappointed. He was forced to quit school early, because he came from a poor family, but he had the drive to learn new things, his entire life. Unfortunately, he was never able to do anything about his intelligent brain. He could not lift himself out of the working class. You stayed where you were born. Unless you were Jewish, I guess. My mum told me later on, that Nejman’s father started out as a peddler in metals, but the family ended up millionaires.

I started googling the family, to see if they are related to Aron Neuman, but I could not find out anything. Not about my dad’s employer nor about his sons. Amazing in this day and age. I went to school with the youngest son and my neighbour dated the older son, for years. I almost thought she was going to end up marrying him. I never knew they were Jewish, until my mum mentioned it one time, when I was a teenager, and my former classmate started to spread rumours about me. No, what he did was give the girl bullies in my high school, ammunition. Telling them things I did back when I was 6 years old, which to a teenager is very sensitive and not something one wants to be bullied for, 8 years after the fact. Like me wearing knitted pantaloons, under my snowsuit, as a 6-year-old, to prevent urinary tract infection. And those pantaloons being knitted in all the leftover yarns my mum could find, which made them look like Joseph’s multi-coloured coat in stripes of all colours and width! Why did Thomas have to do that to me? We had been friends back then, as 6 year-olds, but also in first and second grade, till I moved to the other part of town.

So, my research about Nejman, gave nothing. Perhaps Neijman was a very common name among Eastern European Jews? Aron’s father changed his name to Neuman, since it sounded more German and “less negative sounding”. This after he had married a Polish Jew from Raigrod. Eva Fridman and her family had left Poland because of pogroms. Why Selman left his country of origin, is unknown, but Aron thought it was to avoid the tsar’s military service, of 25-40 years. A thing the tsar created to get Jews to cut their strings with Judaism. To avoid getting stuck in the military, people chopped off fingers and Aron’s father lacked three fingers.

During his time in Lund, Selman tried all sorts of occupations, till he started a cap factory in Eslöv and a cinema. Funny, since my dad lived in Eslöv and worked there, when he met my mum at a dance. He actually met her at lots of dances, before he spoke to her. But the night when he first talked to her, he walked her home and then walked to Eslöv. Quite a walk! Anyway, it is fun when people in memoirs, mention places connected to yourself and your family, even if my family did not move in the same circles.

Like I said above, Nöden in Lund, was a place of poverty and 600 Jews lived there according to the book. Shocking Selman, since

Nöden in Lund

Nöden in Lund

they were orthodox, which he was not. The only thing Aron says about the group, is that it was very poor, religious and kept to itself. They mostly worked as peddlers, which you had to have a permit for, which hardly anyone of them had. Too expensive I’m sure. What they did not understand either, was that as they celebrated THEIR sabbath on Saturdays, the Swedish people celebrated its Sabbath on Sundays. The church was very strict on this in those days and Aron thinks this is one thing which created anti-Semitism. That the Jews dealt with money on Sundays, the Christian Sabbath day.

Things has changed a lot since I grew up. Nowadays, Swedish shops are open for business all days of the week, but when I grew up, Sunday was a really dead day, if you grew up in a non-religious family. No shops open and if you had forgotten to buy enough milk or something, then you had to go without till Monday. For us children it meant that there was no point in going anywhere, because the entire town was dead. You could not see a single person out, except now and then, someone walking their dogs. When I worked as an au-pair for the Lawrence family in London, a Jewish family owning a furniture shop, they actually kept their shop open on the Jewish Sabbath and kept it close on the Christian Sabbath. To be like everybody else no doubt. Easier to get people to work for them as well, I guess. And my day off was Sunday. I wonder if they still do that or if they have their shop open 7 days a week?

The 600 Jews in Lund, had large families and Aron’s mother gave birth to eleven children. Her firstborn, Isidor, wanted to become an officer, but as such he could not live like an orthodox Jew, so he gave up his dream. Most of his siblings actually went in to antiques or art. Except his brother Martin, who married a “Gentile” and became a doctor. At least his mother shunned him for this, but he did not seem to have regretted turning away from Judaism. He even asked to be cremated when he died. A thing Jews do not do!

1919, Aron was born and they moved to Stockholm. So, so much for learning more about Jewish Lund and what life was like for the orthodox there. Aron does not really say much about religion at all, except that his mother was deeply religious, so much so, that she did not really foster them, but let the siblings foster each other, while she prayed. To be honest, reading the book is like squeezing blood out of a stone. One is so desperate for any knowledge of value, any new learning and information. But there is SO little of it.

In the chapter about the between-the-war-years, there is precious little of worth. I found one thing interesting and that was the property market. How difficult it was for owners to let their flats, so they often had to let people rent three months for free. I do not know if this ever effected my grandparents, who did not move around like the Neuman family did. My grandparents lived in a flat among many, in a villa-looking house, outside Lund. They did not have indoor plumbing at all and my grandparents were always working while my mum and her sister basically had to raise themselves, during the days. A neighbour, they didn’t like at all, kept an eye on them. For the Neumans, who were Jewish, the moves had to do with religion, since the synagogue always have to be in walking distance, and also because of their money situation. When business was good, it was really good, and they could live in a fancy part of Stockholm and when business was bad, they had to move to more modest lodgings.

He does say that the radio was constantly on during the 1930s, so they could hear what was happening in Europe. On the other hand, what was reported? He doesn’t say. He does say that the children did military excercises in the courtyard and a classmate joined he nazi movement in Sweden. But when does not children play soldiers, especially at the threat of war? They did all over Britain, even during the Blitz! I would have liked to have found out more. He was after all a teenager at the time, so he must have paid attention! The only anti-Semitism he mentions, is the time when he went to a football match and someone screamed “Death to the bloody Jew”, when a Jewish player tackled another player. When he started Gymnasium he and other Jewish boys asked to not have to have a certain teacher, who was known to not like Jews. I am sure there was anti-Semitism in Sweden, like in all other countries at the time, but he does not really say anything about what it did to him and how he felt about it. Nor if his family discussed it between themselves and with others. He says that he did not like school because of the anti-Semitism in Europe and that he had a teacher who wanted to show off his knowledge about Judaism. But it really did not explain the situation to me or anyone else wanting to know what Sweden was like back then.

The political climate in Europe made Aron more and more aware of his Jewishness, so after Gymnasium, he spent most of his free time at Jewish clubs, when not studying at the business school. A Jewish restaurant opened with Kosher food and a third synagogue was founded during the 1930s. The entire interior decoration was smuggled out from Germany, from the Hamburg synagogue, being described to Gestapo, that it was old wood and furniture.

During the war, the climate was definitely pro-German. Of course, the newspapers did not dare to be anything but. It was that or be invaded, since everything was reported back to Germany. Only two newspapers dared to say what they thought and they were censored heavily. Since it was said in Europe, that Jews are cowards, greedy, stingy with money and lack patriotism, Aron signed up for the military a year early, in 1938. He started out in a machine gun company, till his poor eyesight became a problem. In the Army he met with anti-Semitism, like someone not wanting to sleep in the same room as a Jew and someone saying that the Germans had made Norway free of Jews and that they soon would be in Sweden doing the same thing. That is all Aron says about the Army! In the Navy, the commanding officer did not want alcohol served in the mess, if Aron was there, since he did not want to toast with a Jew. The only service totally free of anti-Semitism, was the Air Force, since it was brand new and not based on German principles, but looked to Great Britain instead.

The refugees arriving to Sweden, were mainly orthodox, according to Aron, which really surprised me. I would have thought it would have been easier for assimilated Jews, to get entrance visas. Aron told about the refugees his family took in, like a book shop owner from Denmark and a Norwegian relative. And a little girl who arrived on the white buses. In other words, when the war was basically over and the Germans letting women leave Ravensbrück. All in all, half a page. But he says nothing ABOUT them really, nor how the family dealt with what they told them and how they felt about it all. Instead he tells about the rivalry between the Jewish congregation and the volunteer organisation, of which Aron was president. The Jewish congregation had an entire program set up for receiving the refugees and did not like the amateurs. They were also very eager to do the politically correct thing and were petrified of too many Jews arriving so they would all get in to trouble.

Aron also got involved in the Jewish help organisation B’nai B’rith. I would have liked to have known more about it and not just that it helps Jews and fight anti-Semitism. Aron says that the Jewish leader of it, in Germany, was a man who saw no problems at all between the orthodox, conservative and liberals. That all three should be strengthened so they will survive, that it is only good with variety as long as there is also unity. Thing is, is there really? In a book I read about the ultra-orthodox in Israel, they count themselves as the only Jews in the world. That everyone else are gentiles and unrighteous. In their world, conservative, orthodox and liberal Jews are not Jews at all and they are absolutely not counted as righteous.

After the war, Aron spent most of his time, trying to help the fledgling Israel. Working as an accountant for organisations like the one planting trees in Israel, the one helping Polish Jews and many others. He doesn’t say anything about them and what they really did and why, only listed them. He never seriously thought about emigrating there though, even though he was bitter about how some people had treated him in the military, during the war, with snide remarks.

In 1987 he helped founding the Jewish museum in Stockholm, a museum I actually visited the year after that. I had no idea it was that new. And I am sure that it has grown a lot since then, with more items, but also with more high-tech, which seems to be the thing at most museums nowadays. Having studied museum science at the University, I do concur though. Noone is interested in watching ten combs, ten mugs… in glass stands anymore. It is plain boring. To make a museum worth visiting, there needs to be hands on experiences, films to watch, scenes showing how things were used etc. London in particular, is a master in this. That is why I avoid British Museum and love going to places like Imperial War Museum and others like it. British Museum is still stuck in the 1800s, except when they have a special exhibition.

In a way, that second to last chapter, was the most interesting, since it brought up books which have been published and exhibitions which have been shown at the museum. Exhibitions always mean books! And in other books, I might find the information which Aron’s book lacks. I have already created a modest wish list and am sending my husband to pick up two books in particular, when he goes to the capital for a conference. (On computers, not Judaism!) An exhibition I would have loved to have gone to, was the one called “Jesus the Jew”. THAT would have been SO interesting! And another one I would have loved to have attended, was the one about peddlers. Here Sweden met with a new kind of Jew, one who was orthodox, one who knew no Swedish, one who did not understand Swedish traditions and who desperately tried to eat kosher and teach their children to stay orthodox, by teaching them to read and write Hebrew. I doubt they succeeded particularly well, since we do not have any odd-looking Jews in Sweden anymore, with side curls and religious garments. The Ultra Orthodox as we call them today, are not present at all in Swedish society, like they are in other countries.

Selman Neijman & Eva Fridman, married in 1900

Selman Neijman & Eva Fridman, married in 1900

I would like to end this post with saying, that “Aron’s Bok” was not worth even the sale price I paid for it. It lacked everything I had anticipated and proved to me, that not everyone is a writer and not everyone should attempt to write their own memoirs but should leave it to a proper biographer, who can give people and dates, some meat on the bones.

At the same time, the book did something for me and that was strengthen the determination to continue my research. And also, to return to my own family and my genealogy. Even if it is more than frustrating at this point when the archives have less good opening times and ancestry.com/ancestry.se charges an arm and a leg, for you to look at “their” records, which should be open to the public for nothing, in my view. Those are public records and the micro films posted to the internet, were made by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints and given to Sweden for free. So why is there a fee to look at them?

The photo of Selman Neijman and his beautiful young bride, makes me sad. Because according to Aron, they were poor immigrants who lived in the slum of Nöden in Lund,yet they could afford beautiful clothes, a big wedding and more over, to be photographed. My grandfather’s parents, married that same year, and there are no photos of that poor couple. The church where they married in 1900, in Hardeberga, outside Lund, doesn’t even look like it did back then. It seems like all Jews writing their memoirs, have a lot of photos, and that is something I have always felt saddened by. The lack of everything in my family. Photos, diaries… I guess they were too busy trying to stay alive?

So, I should say thank you to Aron, for showing me once again, how important our family history is. I have started trying to find out the truth about my mother’s mother’s father’s father’s parentage. Ancestry.se will not let me get in to the records even though I have signed up for a trial subscription, and the days keep ticking by, when it is for free. In 1987, a priest, said some awful things about this man’s mother’s morals, so that family name was sure talked of still, 134 years after the fact! Will I ever find out what the priest wrote in the records 1853? The priest who kept the records at home, in 1987, sure did not want to read them off to me. I need to know the truth, to get a peace of mind. I do not want to have the serious big gaps in my family history, which Aron has. Till I can fill them, I will never write a book on my family!

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Farmville 2: Country Escape or How to get really angry!

9th of May, to be precise, I had to sign up for a new mobile since D.’s mobile was dead to the world. I handed my beloved iPhone to him, while I myself had to learn the Samsung A5’s way of doing things. I decided that since Android phones offer free games, I was going to install something to have fun with, when bored. I had enjoyed “Tap the Frog” on the children’s tablet, hating it on this iPad, for the cost it entailed but also for its chewing gum reactions. I tried a lot of games on my Samsung but nothing was really funny. I want to play when I want to play, not when the game allows me to. This thing with so many minutes till you have another life, is not my thing.

Then I found Farmville 2: Country Escape and since it had so many stars and people liking it, I decided to give it a go. This was my sort of game, I thought. Getting to play when you want. Noone stressing you with so many seconds to think or act. Planning actions hours ahead, saving money to purchase things and adding to a farm, making it more and more complete looking. At least it was fun from the start. Till all the problems started to arise and I started to read the reviews, which told the backside of the game.

Many people complain that they hate the game, but can not leave, because they have invested too much money in it. No, you do not uninstall a game where you have spent real hard cash. But you play it less and less, when you encounter problems every time you play it.

As you can tell, I am in need of expanding my barn but for two weeks now, I have waited for another nail. Soon need for throwing away things. Champagne takes 8 hours to make, but perhaps it will have to go. Noone buying my Ocean things in road shop.

As you can tell, I am in need of expanding my barn but for two weeks now, I have waited for another nail. Soon I will need to throw away things. Champagne takes 8 hours to make, but perhaps it will have to go. Noone buying my Ocean things in road shop lika anchors, canvas etc.

I decided on an early stage that I was not going to spend any cash. But one day, when I went in to look at how many more items I needed in order to expand my barn, “Gubby” sitting breathing down my neck, wanting to push something and anything on the screen, I did a thing which brought me to tears. To expand one’s barn takes months or weeks of work. You have to have so and so many nails, so and so many locks and so and so many shovels to do so. You can pay game money every day and make a shovel in your tool shed. Takes a day. But locks and nails are pure luck acquisitions. Those you get only now and then, when you fish in the pond, work in the mine, go to grandmother’s glen, fish in the ocean or go to mallard mill,  but with a reservation. You have to buy yourself in to the mine, mallard mill and the ocean first, by buying all the surrounding land at set levels.By mistake, because I was distracted by “Gubby”, I accidentally expanded the silo instead of the barn. Gone were all my nails and locks.

Why do you need to expand your barn or silo? Well, the more production things you get on your farm, in the shape of animals, planting fields and buildings/work stations, the more items you will produce. And you will have to put them somewhere. To feed your cow, you have to harvest a field of wheat and there has to be room in the silo, for it to go in there first, before you give it to the cow. Well, what is the point of producing things, you might ask. Just for the fun of it? Hardly! First of all there is the farm order board. There will come in orders, for all sorts of things. The problem is that, the higher you get up in the levels, the less you imagecan use the board, for dumping your items. Look at me for example. I am on level 44 and one order can be for 6 peach yoghurts. The only problem is that I only have four peach trees. So make four first and then two more, you will tell yourself. Not that easy. First of all, I would not mind having six peach trees, because they ripen so slowly, in other words, hours and hours of wait, but the peaches also sell expensively. The fruit themselves but also when you have made them in to peach yoghurts. But you can only buy so many trees with game money. Same goes for the planting fields and the animals. Then you have to start using your keys. But back to the barn problem. It is always full. At all levels. Because you produce more and more. I can never store four peach yoghurts for hours till I can produce two more, when the new peaches have ripened.

I who had sworn to never ever spend real cash in a game, sat there and wept like a baby, because I had wasted all my hard to get items, and now could under no condition expand that barn. And it meant not being able to play anymore. So what did I do? I spent real cash and bought the keys needed to expand my barn, but my hatred for the game started, since it was too easy to press the button to use the keys. It should have asked, are you sure, like in the shop.

This is a major problem with the game. The keys. Early on in the game, I read the reviews and lots of people complained about

It is like this with everything, you have to buy with keys, keys I do not have.

It is like this with everything, you have to buy with keys, keys I do not have. I am not getting rid of my 247 ones lightly!

not being able to purchase things for their farms, unless they did so with keys. Keys are hard to get, unless you buy them with real cash. And yet, you need them for everything. To buy more plots to cultivate, to add extra animals and even worse, at every event, they try to make you spend a fortune in keys, on getting temporary animals or farm hands, who are supposed to help you find rare items. After the event, they leave your farm for good, and your keys/cash is gone.

I have told my children that I am a multi millionaire.  Which is true. I own over 9 million game coins. (Actually I was just allowed to purchase a plot on the other side of the river. Nothing to put there though!) But there is nothing to spend it on. At certain levels, you can buy plots of land, but when that is done, you have nothing more to use the money on. You can’t buy any machines, animals, cultivating plots, trees etc. beyond a certain low level. This makes the game really, really boring at level 44. You are not motivated to play at all. You have nothing to gain from playing.

Yes, you can sell things you produce, at the road side shop, but mine never works when an event is taking place. Which makes it impossible to play, because the barn gets full and when you can’t sell items, you have to throw them away. So why create the items in the first place? Also, when you put up items you have made in that road side shop, they can sit there for days till the game finally buys them. Because people are not really that interested in buying certain things. If you have grapes, throw them away. If you have blackberries, throw them away. Right now, there is an event on, where you get coffee beans every time you harvest wheat. Throw them away. Noone wants coffee beans. Throw away pears, noone wants them. Actually, do not water your pear tree at all, unless a quest asks for pear products, which almost never happens. Do not try to sell peppers, noone wants them. I could go on like this forever. There are more things people do not want to buy, than they want to buy.

So, what can you use your money on? Well, you can buy things from other people around the globe. But the good things, they have reserved for their co-ops. Which is another thing which does not really have any function. There is no communication between members. There is no way to see which co-ops are active. To me, its been pointless to belong to a co-op. The only purpose being that you sell items exclusively to members.

The crime scene where yo mostly get just eggs or points.

The crime scene where you mostly get just eggs or points.

The worse thing of the entire game, I think, is the events. There is only a couple of days between events. What is an event? How about I tell you about the ongoing event. It is a mystery event. In the corner of your farm, a crime scene has been set up. You are supposed to send anything from 1-4 farm hands in to this place, to get special event items. In phase 3, you are supposed to receive a two  tea-cups. To go in to the crime scene, you have to create a special item on the stovetop. A strange strawberry drink. I have received items in the crime scene area, at this phase. Believe it or not! (I did not in phase 1 and 2.) Pink tea cups. In the previous phases, all I got, every single time, were points or points and eggs. If this does not make you angry, what will? When you have your tea-cup, you are supposed to make coffee. You get the coffee beans every time you harvest the wheat, but too many beans! And you make the coffee. But then you are stumped. I sit with ten cups of coffee, presently, because I can not go on to the next item you are supposed to make. With the coffee and sugar and two special items, donut dough, you are supposed to make a detective’s breakfast. I sent farm hands in to grandmother’s glen ten times, and never received any dough. I sent them to the mill, the mine, the pond and the ocean, but only now and then have I received the dough. So far I have been able to make five breakfasts and what happens when you have made that? Well, most of us think that after all that frustrating “hard work”, you would automatically get the detective item, which is the goal to get in this phase. Like spy camera, disguise etc. But I have received money, money and money or rolling fog boosts, which is useless since it does not make you find the dough. You do not FIND anything, the game gives you, and it does not give me a diddly squat. Except frustrated feelings. But you got up to phase 3 girl, says someone out there. So something must be working. Not so. I BOUGHT the items needed, from people selling them off, who had just left the phase I am on. And that happens about once a day, if you’re lucky.

During the wedding event months ago, I made so many red dresses that I could have puked, and I never left the phase. Other players accused Zynga for cheating, that they do not want people to reach the goal and I totally agree. Zynga is a terrible game group, who are out to do only one thing. Earn real money on their games. When you complain to them, like I have done all summer, about my road shop not working during events, they just answer me “you have to sell what people want”. Well, I was selling things I knew people were dying to have, like event items and things which it takes hours to make. I had learned by then what items sell, but if noone sees what you have, then it doesn’t  matter what you sell.

This game is over when you have bought all your production machines. There is no more pleasure in the game after that. The only reason why I play it now and then, is to kill time when I am waiting for things to get done on Hay Day. My children saw my frustration with Farmville and told me to come over to Hay Day instead. And I did, in August 2015. First I wanted to catch up to

Part of my HayDay farm which is huge.

Part of my HayDay farm which is huge.

them and now I am a level 55 farmer. Every week there is the challenge to win the Derby with our neighbourhood. Boats arrive daily that ask for lots of items to be made. And when you can’t make them yourself, you can ask for help. And there is ALWAYS someone out there helping you! You can go in to look at the helper’s farm, buy things from the farmer, follow that farmer, help them with their boats or liven up their trees and bushes. When you help, you get rewards in the way of plants, decorations, diamonds, saws and axes. Plus the money and the points of course. In other words, there is interaction with not just your neighbourhood friends but also with other players. In the town, visitors arrive all the time, and want items. Visitors arrive to your farm and want items as well as the farm board asking for things. There is no way to get bored with this game. At every other level or so, you can buy animals, decorations and production buildings, with money, tickets or diamonds. And you can expand your farm as soon as you have the required items. But best of all, you can sell everything in your road shop. It always works! And your things usually sells within the hour if not at once. Set the right price on items not so very popular, like wheat and corn, and that get sold as well. You are never stuck but can always play.

The only complaints I have about Hay Day, are the long production times that are unreasonable, like making pop corn taking 30 minutes, chocolate bar taking 20 hours etc. A second complaint is that trees and bushes die after four harvests and then they have

Bad image from internet but I would quit the game if I had this many dead trees. It is ghastly looking!

Bad image from internet but I would quit the game if I had this many dead trees. It is ghastly looking!

to be sawed or chopped down. Only problem being, that if you do not have any more axes or saws, you get stuck with ugly dead trees and bushes on your farm, which you have tried to make pretty. The OCD in me, can not live with dead things on my farm, so I keep as few trees and bushes, as I can, in order to keep up with the supply of destruction tools. You getting the tools sporadically as rewards when feeding pets, harvesting and when you have fully served people in the town. My third complaint is about the so-called randomness of items given to you and also who gets to watch commercials for free diamonds and tools. I NEVER get to watch commercials, which I find unfair. So when I have used up my diamonds by accident, I have had to buy new ones with real cash. THAT is not fair. I play my “Boo’s” farm during the week, so we get more points in the derby, and he gets to see up to five commercials a day. Same goes with E. and F. who also play the game, so I am the only one in the family who do not get to earn free things like this. And things are not given as random as the owners of the game think. To expand your barn, you need bolts, planks and duct tape. I have to buy planks off “Boo” and E., since I do not receive them. And E. has to buy bolts from me since she does not get them. To expand the silo you need nails, screws and wood panel. I do not get screws, but “Boo” and E. do, so they have to supply me with them. This is not right and a major complaint from ALL players. I do not get maps in town, to expand my town. And for the most part, “Boo’s” newspaper has better things for sale, than mine, which usually just have wheat, eggs and corn. So I buy things to his farm and sell them on to myself. But what about people who can not do this? They feel very frustrated with the game!

All in all, I doubt any game is perfect and without major complaints. But if you want an honest opinion, do  not bother with Farmville. It is not even funny to kill time with, when you wait your 20 minutes on Hay Day to fetch eggs or the hour it takes for the cows to produce milk. The game should be closed down because it could lead to insanity. You don’t want to spend an entire day creating one event item, only to get 5000 game coins out of it! Personally I am going to sit down and work on my points on Hay Day. On Hay Day you get points when you buy things, you get points when you harvest things, you get points when you have produced things and when you sell it to anyone but the road shop. There are so many ways of earning points that you are never stuck on one level for long, like in Farmville, where you hardly ever get any points to bring you to a new level. Next level on  Hay Day,  I can buy a little Calico kitten, which gives 40 points at every feed and I can buy a Sushi bar, grow rice and make Sushi rolls. That will be fun! And FUN is what a phone/computer game is supposed to be!!!

Just had to show off my town. Simple but cute!

Just had to show off my town. Simple but cute!

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My finds at the “big Swedish book sale” 2016

I think I could start each year’s post with: “I did not intend to buy any books at this year’s sale…” but as usual, it is too tempting to go to the actual sale and it is way too tempting,  to check out the online shops. Just to see what they are selling this year? Just to see if there are some real bargains to be had? And of course, this year was not different from any other year. There were lots of bargains on-line as well as in the physical shops. And I managed to find things which I like, and the family will enjoy.

Usually I feel ashamed about writing this post, because I would rather not people know exactly how many books I have and what a book fanatic I am. But on the other hand, it is fun to share what finds one has bought, with perhaps fellow book lovers. So, fearing criticism from my enemies, I am giving away the secret, that I have added to my library with plenty of books.

This year, I will include books I selected long before the sale. Yes, if you order on-line, from the bookshops Bokus and Adlibris, you for one, assure yourself, of getting exactly what you want. If you act the same day, the newsletter arrives in your inbox, that is. And of course, the books are about 20:- cheaper on an average, to what they are in the physical shops. These were posted to me on the 23rd and arrived here a day after the sale started, since I chose the free shipping option. Cheap as I am. And to my joy, this year they did not mess up my order, like last year, when they had forgotten two books. That time, I had a difficult time with customer service not believing me, when I phoned them and told them, that I had paid for so many books and two were missing. There was no way to prove that the books were not there and when they finally gave in and decided to trust me, they had no more in stock to sell me. So I had to receive a refund and wait for the books to get in to stock again. But when they did, they were full price, so I never did purchase them and they were not in this year’s sale!

I found nothing worth spending my money on, at Adlibris, strangely enough, since I prefer that on-line shop. What did I buy from Bokus? First of all, I bought the book I knew everyone else would be buying:

This Day, A life

“This Day, A life”

Astrid Lindgren, was and still is, an integral part of growing up in Sweden. I was lucky, since when I grew up, all the films, based on the books, were made and showed in the cinemas and later on TV. So not only did I read all of her books about “Emil in Lönneberga”, “Pippi Longstocking”, “Ronja” etc. I also got faces to all the characters. And like everyone else of my generation, I grew up with the songs from the films, knowing them by heart, to this day. When I had children of my own, I made sure to invest in the books and little by little, in the films on DVD. So, my children have grown up with the same things, as I did. And this is basically what goes on in every Swedish home.

But what children do not know, is that Astrid was so much more than the old lady in gigantic owl glasses, who read her stories in a way that noone else can. Last year, a much talked about documentary, about her life, was shown on TV. There was three parts to it and for me it was an eye opener. The entire documentary was built on her newly published war diaries and the biography, sold at the book sale this year. I can not say that the documentary put Astrid in the best of lights, but I guess it depends on how you feel about things. I for one, have a very difficult time with how she carried on an affair with an older married man, without ever feeling any remorse about it. She was basically about 20 years old, so she very much knew what she was doing and I wonder if she did it, to further her career? She came from a good family, so I don’t understand this aspect of her character.

During the war, she worked for the censorship department and censured soldier’s letters as well as private people’s. It was during the war, that she decided to keep a diary to record the world events. I received the diary for my Birthday last year, from friends, but have not yet read it, and of course have not read this biography. But it is something I am looking forward to, with a little bit of hesitation. This biography has been said to be biased. We will have to see! One thing which will be interesting, is how all her children’s books were inspired by world events. And when she said that she had no more books in her, which I thought was a horrible thing, back in the 1980s, she really did not. She had protested against everything she felt was wrong in the world!

I might add, that the biography was also in many people’s baskets, at 06:00 Wednesday the 24th! As a MedMera customer, I got this book really cheap at Bokus though, way cheaper than in a physical shop. It was a book I expected to be in at least next year’s sale, but they decided to not wait that long. A book I also expected to be in this year’s sale, was the second part to Bengt Liljegren’simage biography about Winston Churchill. The first part was on sale, last year, so it was only reasonable for them to put this part on sale this year. I do not have too high expectations about the book, because can a Swedish high school teacher make Sir Winston justice? I don’t know, and I strongly  doubt it, but I do want to find out. Because I am one of Churchill’s most avid fans. I doubt that one can write a good book about a person, when all records and physical evidence is in another country, from where one lives oneself and one has a day job which does not include writing! But we will see.

The second book will be very, very interesting. A book devoted to the soldier at the front, 1939-1945. Yes, there are people who have written memoirs about their experiences, but sometimes, that is too close. Selective memory being the main problem, when the memoirs are written 50-60 years after the fact. Which might be this book’s problem as well. But what this book wants to do, is answer specific questions, which a memoir does not do. Women’s memoirs from the war, tend to talk less about what they actually did for work and more about all the dances they went to and the romances they had, which led to marriage. Nothing irritates me more! The men’s often describe battles in detail, which leave me clueless, since I can’t see what they see in their minds. They have the picture, I do not. This book will touch topics like casualties, diseases, battle morale, discipline, attitudes, lots of interesting aspects about war, in other words.

imageFor a clearly anti-semitic country like Sweden, it is always nice to see that there always are a couple of books about Jews, in the book sale. So also this year! For new readers: No, I am not a Jewess but have a deep interest in their history, religion and right to exist!

Finally, a book I have been wanting for years, was at the sale: “Jewish Life in Europe 1786-1933 A prevented integration process”. The book covers why the Jewish emancipation failed in lots of countries. And why Jews remained Jews in the eyes of society, as well as in their own eyes,even though they often tried so hard to assimilate, that they almost extinguished themselves. They fought for the right to be socially and politically equal, with their fellow citizens, at the same time as countries grew more and more nationalistic and autocratic. At the same time, they left cultural stamps all over European cultures, which of course those same countries today, deny. Cant wait to read this book.

Nor can I wait to read Joseph Roth’s book “The Wandering Jews” which is a book full of essays, written in 1927, describing a world which no longer exists. The travelling merchants, the piety, the dreams, the poverty, the pogroms and the ones who left for America. Joseph Roth died in Paris, 1939. This will be a good book, I just know it. It is also part of the World Literature.

Did I not get anything for my poor children? Sure I did. But there was only one single book which held my attention at Bokus. It is a book I like, but I am not sure how much “Gubby” liked it, when I borrowed it from the library.

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How could one even translate the book’s name? “A small pink & and other rowdy variegated”. I know, the title make no sense in English, but to be honest, it makes no sense in Swedish either. Some pictures are a little bit scary, but these little characters are funny and there is a book on how to sew your own “variegated”. I asked “Gubby” last year if he wanted one, and he said “NO”. He might have thought them too scary. Why does the librarians and bookshop sellers love it so much? I don’t know. I don’t know why I like it, except it has funny text in it.

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Things rhyme in the book, which is something autistic children really love. I guess it is because they can guess the word coming? (My three youngest sons, “Kitty”, “Boo” and “Gubby” are all autistic.) The first chapter, is a story about a candy thief at a Birthday party. The second chapter is about numbers. Like here “4 Four brunettes baking baguettes”. Hello, that worked in English too. Then comes shapes.

 

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This one works less well in English, “Eating Food in a Square”.  Then comes letters, moods, can you do this (“Of course you can if you want to!”), opposites, scary variegated, Little Pink is in love, more moods, magic tricks and prepositions.

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“Above a vase, between two glasses”. Not rhyming in English. It’s a funny book, except the chapter on little Pink is in love. I guess the authors are lesbian, because little pink is a girl being in love with a girl. I am not a homophobe,  but I believe in God’s plan and why he created man and woman, which means I am never going to teach my children that homosexuality is an option or alright. So I read he when it says she, and there is no problem, since the girl in question looks like a boy with a tie on.

Now, what about the physical shops’ book sales? Since I am a member of Akademibokhandeln, I was invited to be there already at 06:00, when the regular sale did not start until 07:00. It was nice, because there were not that many VIPs there, and one could easily walk around looking at everything. I was not too impressed with the selection of children’s books. I guess it is because my children tire of a book pretty quickly. They want variation and then you might ask yourself, if it is not better to borrow at the library. At the same time, if there is a book they really do like, and you have to borrow it all the time, it might be worth it, to purchase it for keeps. Especially since, I have had to experience the loss of a library book, which could not be replaced and I ended up having to pay 350:- for it! F. “cleaned it away” and refused to even help, trying to locate it. Unfortunately, it was counted as an adult book, even though it was a book about ADHD, trying to explain it to children! Silly pictures and only one sentence on each page. Even the librarian wondered at it being classified as an adult book!

But I have strayed from the topic. I only bought three children’s books at Akademibokhandeln and two youth ones. The oneimage children’s book, I just had to buy. It being “Five ants are more than four elephants The Song Book”. I grew up with that children’s program and sat there singing along with the songs, all the time. My sister received the songs on cassette tape, one year for Christmas, from our nan. Then I grew up and thought it so sad that my children would not get to see this program, which teaches counting, letters, prepositions and all sorts of things. One has to have been there to see it, to understand how good it was. They were a trio of actors, who did the program, and they had a marvellous chemistry between them. Pretty Eva Remaus, who died only 42 years old from a brain tumour, comedian Magnus Härenstam, who died last year in cancer and

From left to right, Brasse, Ewa, Magnus

From left to right, Brasse, Eva and Magnus

comedian Brasse Brännström, who died suddenly in 2014, of not published reasons. They created history and culture! Good thing, that my husband’s workplace had a DVD library, so my children could grow up with the program too. The DVDs being too expensive for me to buy myself. And through the years, books have come out with the well-known illustrations, games, clothing… Lately, they have tried to recreate the idea with other actors, but it is really, really bad! When I saw this book on the shelf, I grabbed it at once, and did not notice until I got home, that it comes with a CD. I was overjoyed. We will sing the songs, when the children get over their stomach flu!

The second children’s book, has all sorts of fairy tales in it, and I thought that perhaps “Boo” could struggle through them? (Theyimage suspect he has dyslexia with his autism.) Or that they would not be too long for “Gubby” to listen to? I just thought it had pretty illustrations and nice stories: Sleeping Beauty, The Nightingale, The Beauty and the Beast, The Dragon Painter, The Frog King, The Helping Gnomes, Red Riding Hood, Cinderella, The Wild Swans, The Emperor’s New Clothes.

It is difficult to get “Kitty” to sit down and read. His ADHD has no patience for it, nor his autism. But, I did find a book which was funny for him. My husband did not agree. He came with me at 06:00 and looked at books himself and then left at 06:30 to take the train to work. He minded the next book, since it demands a LOT of Lego, if one wants to make imagethe items described in the book. Personally, I know that “Kitty” enjoys looking at pictures of how things are made, as much as making them himself. And for every wonder, there is a page of facts. So, a little bit of reading is required, but it is the sort of reading he doesn’t mind. As a matter of fact, I am starting to suspect that autistic children, at least at that age, prefers books about facts, more than stories. This book, is all about the wonders of the world, made in Lego.

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If one wants to build, there are descriptions for some things, like this little mini sphinx. But not for everything. He liked it when I came home with it, so daddy was wrong.

For the teenagers in the house, I had to buy something as well, of course. Or should I say, E. F. does not speak to me anymore, so I have no idea what and if she was interested in anything. But the two books I bought for E., were the ones she had marked out in the catalogue. I am not going to say anything about them, since I have no idea what they are all about. It is not my kind of books!

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The two books before “Allegiant”, were bought at previous years’ book sales. But over to what I bought, which of course can be read by anyone in my family, but the only one who probably would have had an interest, is serving a mission in England for the next two years, so I will be the sole reader of them.

In the catalogue, there were two pages with limited books. So limited that only a couple of book shops in Sweden, were going toimage have them. Lund was one of them. And there was one I absolutely wanted of them, which is why I got up at the unchristian hour of 05:00, to be at the shop in time for the opening at 06:00. The biography on Goebbels, really belongs in a historian’s library on WWII. I have biographies of everyone else of the monsters, so why not him? This book is a real brick stone, so I guess there was a lot to tell about this man, who made Hitler’s plans possible to carry out, by carefully preparing the minds of the German people. While I was at it, I also bought the book about the monster women, who happily served in concentrations camps and other places in the East, making the holocaust possible. They very much had active roles, and no doubt you will later be able to read an entire post about that book. It promises on the backside, to be entirely shocking. Not that I love to read shocking things, but I do want to know the truth about things.

imageShocking as well, is the effect propaganda has. Especially during war-time. Some people I guess, feel that it can turn the tidal wave. I guess, it depends on how critical a person is to whatever comes from “above”. If one uses one’s own brain to think with or let others do the thinking for one. Journalists today, are in many ways, the propagandists. I have little faith in what is reported and see how Swedish reporters break the first law of journalism, daily, by not staying objective nor reporting on events in an objective manner. Even of the selection of news is subjective. Propaganda is interesting though, which is why I invested in this book. Most people might shy away from it, because for the money you have to pay for it, you only get a very small and skinny book. But sometimes that is all that is needed, to explain a topic and show examples of what has been discussed. This book talks about all sorts of things. Like the propaganda that made eligible young men flood to the recruiting offices in England, when war broke out in 1914, and how young men rarely could escape being made to enlist. It also talks about Goebbels of course, the master of all times, as pertaining to propaganda. How it was used to change people’s opinions and worse of all, target one scapegoat in society, the Jews. The book also covers Japanese propaganda and even a little bit about Sweden’s WWII one, Stalin’s and the Gulf War’s. A really good little book, from the looks of it.

Propaganda pictures like these, made the German people ready to kill all Jews without qualms

Propaganda pictures like these, made the German people ready to kill all Jews without qualms.

 

One of the most famous propaganda posters from WWI, Lord Kitchener always wanting more men for cannon fodder.

One of the most famous propaganda posters from WWI, Lord Kitchener always wanting more men for cannon fodder.

A book, I was not certain about, was this journalist’s book about his mother, who survived Auschwitz against all odds. “Why have you drawn numbers on your arm, nan?” It is not veryimage common, that survivors, who settled in Sweden after the war, write books about their lives before, during and after the holocaust. It is dangerous to show that you are a Jew, in today’s Sweden. Most of them have not dared to tell their stories, even to their own families. The author of this book, is the son of a survivor, and he was 33 when she finally told him her story. A story about France and living under the Vichy government, in other words, basically under Nazi rule. But it also tells the shameful story of relatives living in Sweden, pleading with politicians and authorities, trying to help the family to safety. I say shameful, because Sweden could not have cared less and did not let people in. We made sure that a J was stamped in all passports in Europe, to indicate the holder being a Jew. So we more easily could turn them away at the border and deny them entrance papers at the different embassies. I bought the book, even though I probably have read one hundred books like it, in order to read about yet one more fate, and to encourage more surviving Jews to tell their story, before it is too late. It is the only way to prevent the holocaust from being denied.

When I looked in other people’s baskets though, I did not really see the sort of books that I bought. For most people this is a feast, when you can get novels cheaply. I am divided when it comes to this. You can borrow a novel at the library, since you are not likely to re-read it ever. And why have your book cases full of books, which you will never read again? With books like the ones mentioned above, I highlight everything important and I go back to them. So, what to do with the tempting novels, which everyone else put in their baskets? I did succumb to TWO.

imageOne, I thought I could get E. to read. And it is not “Wolf among wolves”. I thought that “Longbourn” might be a fun read and a little bit of pure escapism. It says that every true Janeite should read it, and since that I am, I must read it of course. The servants view of Mr. Darcy and the Bennet family. Or a world so far apart from Pride and Prejudice, as it can be. It could be nice and it could be really, really bad.

The Swedish publishing house of Lind&Co continues their publication of Hans Fallada’s novels. One each year, for the sale (?), and how can I stop now, when I have bought them previous years? This book, E. will not touch. I can assure you. It has 979 pages!!!!  Some say this Fallada novel was his best. He stayed in Hitler Germany and protested best he could, against the Nazis. This book, about the returned soldier Wolf, with his gambling habits, and the ex-prostitute Petra, might be very depressing. But the backside promises a rich gallery of characters, from all layers of society, a society full of fanatics on both the left side and the right, a crumbling Weimar and the Nazis on the rise, corruption, decadence, inflation and unemployment. The sort of book you start on the first day of the summer holidays!

On the way home, I stopped at the local supermarket. Usually I do not get to their sale until later in the day, when hardly imageanything is left. But today I got there at 08:15, so there were still a couple of books left. Like the first in the “Mazerunner” series. They had the second book in the series, at the book sale in town, but I felt, why get that one when we do not have the first one? Now, we have the first one, but it would have been cheaper to have ordered it from Bokus, with the  other books, since ICA unfortunately sold it for 30:- more. But you have to pay shipping if you order under 99:-, so a new order would have come out at the same price as ICA. No, what I did find at ICA were these three books about “Greg”, and I have high hopes for getting “Kitty” to read them. E. and I looked through the do-it-yourself book and it is really funny. Should “speak to” “Kitty”. And the other two must be as funny as that one, albeit they are novels. They are easy reads, so he just can’t object. Can he? I have heard from other mothers that their children love these, so here is hoping. And these, were actually 30:- cheaper, than at Akademibokhandeln, which meant 90:- imagesaved! We love that! I also found  a cute book about space for 29:-, all explained by my favourite bear, “Bamse”. I read it to “Gubby” though, and it was far too difficult. True, he is 7 years old, but he has autism and severe language problems. So, that book might have to wait, or I will have to put my own words to everything pictured. Leaving out boring details and explain simply, because this was not really that simple of a book, despite its look.

All in all, I thought it was a good book sale because I did not spend too much money. I opted out on a couple of books and feel fine about that decision. And I do not feel that I made any stupid rash decisions, but got books which I will truly enjoy. Hopefully this post has been helpful, if you were undecided on some books or undecided whether to bother with the sale this year. Good luck shopping, I am sure they still have a lot of good books left in stock!

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A WWII dollhouse: My woes about an umbrella stand

The last couple of weeks, I have once again tried to move forward to have a WWII dollhouse, or should I say a dollhouse with the theme of a WWII house in London, during the Blitz. To create such, is no laughing matter. It demands oodles of money, which I do not have. So the first step is to realize, that this will have to be done in steps, tiny steps, over years and years to come. My daughter E. says I am an idiot, that I have talked about it now for years, and yet, I do not have a physical house even. Mmmm. To be called an idiot is not fun at all, and what she doesn’t understand is, that part of the fun, is the careful planning.

I did actually make an effort last Christmas and wished for the house of my dreams. No, not the house of my dreams. That can not be had, since it would demand custom carpentry. Who knows where that bill would land? No, that dream house was sold on eBay years ago, was custom-made and was pick up only, in Britain, for the sum of £300. I just have to show it right here, because it WAS perfect!

dreamhouse

Very simple front, but a typical Victorian house from the East End. Custom made by the seller’s husband and was an exact copy of the house the seller grew up in.

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Entering the house, the typical narrow stairwell and sitting room on the side. Master bedroom on the first floor.

kitchenofdrreamhouse

The unique part of this wonderful dollhouse was, that it was not made in the usual square way, but was built-in the way houses really looked and look. Rooms behind other rooms. Like this angle of the dollhouse, which shows the beautiful 30s kitchen with tiled floor and the smaller bedroom behind the master bedroom, on the first floor. And check out the garden with the outdoor loo door open and the Anderson shelter. Can it get more perfect than this?

sideofdreamhouse

The final view shown on eBay was this, where you once again see the kitchen door, tiny window and the open door to the outdoor loo. How I wish dollhouses were always built this way or that I had a handy father alive still, who could have built one for me. Or my grandfather, another true artisan.

No, I have had to lower my dreams to a pre-fabricated Georgian house, which will house the rooms I desire, but which might or might not be totally historically correct, for my Blitz”family”. But I will return to houses, in a later post. Especially since my husband was not at all interested in getting me a dollhouse for Christmas, saying we have no room for one. Like most women, I will have to go behind his back instead, one day, and buy it by myself, when I have got the money together. Sad, but when your husband do not agree with your plans, then you have to fulfill them yourself. Reality after 28 years of marriage!

No, this post is about something else. While I do not recommend panic buys or spur of the moment buys, there is something called waiting too long to act. And I have become the victim of this twice now, in a most disappointing way.

It is about two years or more now, since I decided that I finally want to fulfill this life long dream of mine. I started to research as much as I could. And that is an ongoing thing. Because if you say you are making a Blitz house, you can’t put the wrong items in to your house. You can’t put in things which were not invented yet, 1940. You can’t put in designs and materials not existing then. A Blitz house can’t have a cupcake on a table, nor any cake at all really, since sugar was rationed. It can’t have a wash machine or a modern looking closet or modern patterned wallpapers. You have to find out how things were done and look for the items used. Like how washing was done, cooking, etc. What was used to accomplish what we today do in a fast and maybe not so painstakingly difficult way. But, there are not that many things out there, which will  suit a Blitz house in particular.

What I have discovered during these two years, is the fact that Europe seems besotted with Shabby Chic. Cute houses in pink and scratched off paint, is all over Etsy, for instance. And while I love it, that is not the look you are trying to create in a Blitz house. Another thing I have discovered, is that the market, otherwise, pretty much gears towards “Downton Abbey” houses. You see it in houses available, everything from almost Downton itself, if not Mr. Darcy’s “Pemberley”, to smaller mansions. And the separate items are disproportionally Victorian. While I do not object to having Victorian items in my Blitz house, an ordinary family would not have had the same items as the “Earl of Grantham” and his descendents! There is a hopeless lack of ordinary people’s items, needed for a Blitz house.

How can I say that I do not mind Victorian items, in a Blitz house,  when Victoria died in 1901? Because when I grew up, I saw items in my grandmother’s house from previous generations. If the items still had a function and worked, they survived and were passed down from generation to generation. Why throw away something which works? The 1939-1945 house would have contained things from both the Victorian era, Edwardian era and Art Deco, which came after that. They mixed and matched, if they were ordinary people. And that is what I want to create, a pretty typical house in 1940-1941, which has not been bombed.

Art Deco is a wonderful period in my opinion. But from everything I have read, only the most brave in Britain went for it. And they usually had money. And money, is what you must have today, if you want to buy Art Deco things for your dollhouse. The items available are rare and hard to find. And they cost an arm and a leg. I would suggest perhaps a picture frame and a clock for your house, but I would not stretch much further than that. Most people did purchase little things like that, for their homes back then, but they did not go for any big things. It was too risky for a fad! They liked the old and traditional things!

But this brings me over to the real topic of this post. While looking for the perfect items for your period house, you need to be aware of that the item that you put in your note-book for future purchase, might not be there forever. Big shops like Doll House Emporium, will have mass produced items from China, which can be had for years no doubt. But the little perfect gems for your house, which will make all the difference, are not from China. They are handmade by artisans. And they might stop making the items that you are in love with.

Come to the point woman, is probably your thoughts by now. I will, soon…

Alongside, my historical research, I started to drool over things available on the internet. I got myself a big notebook, hardcover, and started writing down shops I am interested in. And I spent hours and hours going through all their categories and items. Painstakingly I wrote up all items I fell in love with, could imagine in my dollhouse, and their prices. Because it only took two-three shops, before I realized that there is a price war going on, when it comes to in particular houses, but also on other items like WWII packages of food etc. Did I buy a single thing? No! Because the sad fact is, that wherever you shop, you can’t just buy a small thing here and a small thing there. You have to make a large order with EVERYTHING you want out of a particular shop, at one time. Or most of your money will be eaten up by postage. Now, it might be easier if you live in Britain and shop from British shops, but the fact is that I, who live in Sweden, will be robbed every time I shop, thanks to hideous postage. Etsy sellers ask for the most outrageous postage of all. You have to remember that these items weigh absolutely nothing, so it is ridiculous to charge an arm and a leg for the items to be shipped. They certainly loose business from me, for sure, because of it.

But the same goes for British and Swedish internet shops. They make postage so expensive, that you are forced to make large orders. So most of the items I want, are written in those long wish lists, page after page, shop after shop. Waiting for me to have the extra cash, to buy some dollhouse items for a non-existing dollhouse.

All this said, two items in particular have been on my mind for the past year. The first one, is a Victorian umbrella stand. About a year and a half ago, I went to Miniatura. The dollhouse fair in Birmingham’s NEC, in Britain. I felt that before I made silly mistakes, I needed to go to a fair and see what is available out there. I wanted to HOLD the items seen on the internet and see what they looked like. To look at quality from different places but also get inspiration. I did spend money on little knickknacks, learned a little bit what to stay away from and what to aim for. It was a marvellous day which ended way too quickly. I learned that miniature people are a certain breed and most sellers were very talkative and very sweet. But not all!

My greatest disappointment was with a man hosting the stall for Phoenix and Warwick Pewter items. I LOVE those. The problem is, that they come unpainted. And paint is hard to locate in Sweden, as well as expensive. Add to that, my poor eyesight and you have a real problem. All the same, I was excited to go there and buy items. Only, they had hardly brought anything I was interested in. And the man was cold and rude, contrary to most other sellers.  I did not dare to walk up to the stall, to be honest, till he had walked off on an errand and his wife had taken his place. I managed to get hold of two of my most beloved wish list items, an ARP helmet and stirrup pump. But they are still to this day, unpainted, since I am petrified of ruining them with painting wrong/ugly.

umbrellastandphoenix

In another stall, I found their umbrella stand, beautifully painted, I thought, in petrol colour (see above). But of course, that seller wanted more than what Phoenix themselves charges. And I did not consider, in my amateurishness, that if you count all the work and paint required, and left over paint, good for nothing else perhaps, it might actually have been a tolerable price. It did not help that the lady selling, was also a rude person, sitting looking angry. I fled her table. Eight months ago, I could still not forget that umbrella stand. I got the floor plan out, for the shops at the fair, trying to figure out, what shop it was which had sold the ready painted umbrella stand. But to no avail. I could not find it on the internet.

So I started searching all shops for umbrella stands and nothing measured up. And the ones who sold painted Phoenix model developments’ umbrella stands, had all painted them black. Well, I can paint black thank you, perfectly, myself. And save half the price. Finally I contacted Phoenix themselves and had my heart-broken. While they had had a picture on the internet (the one above), which I long ago put on pinterest, as a thing I want for my dollhouse, with the petrol colour, they had taken it away. And the reason was, that they no longer have the painted version. And it was not paint but a manufacturing process, that created the colour I love so much. How angry did I get at myself, for not having bought the umbrella stand when I stood with it in my hand at Miniatura? Can’t describe it.

So I searched for similarly coloured paints, with no luck. And then I searched for a seller, I had seen on Etsy, which I thought I had seen selling that same colour umbrella stand, over two years ago. But I could not even find the seller again. Till about a month ago. Through some old tabs and I don’t know how, I finally found her again. A woman from Malta who paints a LOT of Phoenix things. And when you think about the added price, do consider the hassle, all the things you have to buy in order to paint, and with poor eyes, you might create nothing but a mess. That is how I ended up thinking. Unfortunately, she no longer had that petrol umbrella stand, if she ever did. I might have remembered wrong. I did contact her and ask her about it, and she just returned an answer that it was the factory which had created that look, not paint. After a lot of correspondence, back and forth, I have now made a special order from Rebecca, to have a Phoenix umbrella stand painted as closely to the original as possible. I am sure that she will be able to do a much, much better job than I ever could. And she sits with ALL colours at home. Add to that, all the experience of having painted these items for years, having mixed colours and so forth, to get the right effect. I totally trust her. I had to, since it was pre-payment only.  But this is just a sad example that one can wait too long to act.

My second example, is from dealings with a wonderful shop called Small Wonders Miniatures. Amazing shop with even a separate category of items, called Wartime. Two years ago, I found the site via a dollhouse magazine and my wishlist soon became endless. I fell in love and when I say in love, I mean it VERY strongly, with some items in particular. Like a gasmask and box for it. Now you must realize that I have scoured all internet shops for wartime things and NOONE sells a gasmask, only an empty box. No problem finding that! But I never ordered the gasmask, the waste bin for food disposal meant for pigs in the country, the black out curtain kit for a sewing corner, the Kodak camera, dried eggs can… Because it all cost a fortune together and shipping starts at £6 for items up to £20, even if they weigh absolutely nothing. The next £10 you spend, will make the postage to £10 all in all. And however I did my math, I was always forced to take things out of the shopping bag, to end up below £20 and I still thought the £6 shipping bad.

After I paid for my umbrella stand, which will not be with me for a long time, first having to be made and then shipped from Malta, I felt that it was time to buy one more thing. The gasmask and box. Happily I found the shop, even without my misplaced notebook, and to my horror I went over the five wartime pages over and over again, without finding the gasmask and box. Gone was also the Kodak camera and the waste bin is sold out. I contacted the owner and she had nothing but sad news. There was a lady, who made the gasmasks and other quality items. But before Christmas she announced that she was quitting making dollhouse items. The owner of Small Wonders…, bought all her items, but the gasmasks sold out right away. Now I almost hit the roof. I wanted to rip out my hair because this item is a MUST in a Blitz house. In my mind I have the perfect  picture of my hallway. You go in through the doors, and on the wall is a coat rack. On that one hangs an ARP helmet and the gasmask!!! No way I can go without that!

So, I swallowed my pride. And wrote back. I asked if I could have the lady’s address because if a lonely Swedish mum writes and says what her plans are, well, can one really be that callous and say no to making ONE more gasmask? I did not put it quite like that though, but the answer would not have changed. No name, no address. Just a message saying that the owner of the shop had asked the lady if she would be willing to make just for her, a couple of items for her personal use. And the lady had answered that she was getting rid of all her supplies. So end of story. But not so for me. My daughter, who claims that I am an idiot, said “just make one yourself”. I told her that I do not have the eye sight for it, nor do I know where one could find the proper supplies for it. I also informed her, that years ago, I bought a Jane Harrop book about the 1930s and 1940s, and sure, she shows how to do things, but I have no way of getting the supplies at all. So nice book to drool over, but it can’t help me practically.

The first thing I did, after buying that book, was going to her page to see what it was about. She had kits, but more for furniture than things like a GASMASK! Now, in my sorrow about the gasmask and box being gone forever, I headed over to Jane Harrop’s site, just to drool over pretty things available to make, for the handy person. And lo and behold: SHE HAS MADE A GASMASK imageKIT! Yes, yes, yes. I could almost have kissed her. I was jumping for joy and ordered it right away. I have never seen Jane Harrop’s kits, but I love her book and I love the fact that she has reasonable postage, contrary to all the other shops, so I will recommend her any day, even if I can never assemble the gasmask kit. But, we are plenty of hands here at home. If I can not do it, maybe someone else can? If nothing else, I guess I have to send it over to my missionary son in England, and have him do it, since he used to paint Warhammer figurines from Lord of the Rings.

So, if I can say one thing today, it is: Hurry slowly when it comes to dollhouse things and having a themed house. You need to do a lot of research to create the real thing. BUT when you see things which are evidently scarce, go for it. If nothing else, sell it on eBay or Etsy, if it does not fit in to your scene. There will always be other happy recipients of the items.

 

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My Friday Book: “The Fourth Reich” by Maria Nygren

imageHave you ever heard of a book, which you just know that you ought to read, but you drag your heels because you know it is not going to be a pleasant read? Yes? No? Sometimes, it is a film, which makes you feel the same way. The book “Fjärde Riket” or “The Fourth Reich” in my own translation, is such a book. I waited purchasing it, till I found it dirt cheap in a shop remodeling, and I still put off reading it. Then, three weeks ago, I felt, time to bite the bullet and started. But it took me over two weeks to read this book, which is bad when you are a fast reader like myself. And why did it take so long? Because it leaves a bad taste in the mouth. It gives you nightmares, if you read it before going to bed and it leaves you angry. Some of you will say, wow, then it is a good book, because the author has accomplished what she probably set out to do. Shake the reader around. But yet, I can not agree with this, since there is only one lesson to be learned in this book, and I do not think that the author intended that one. But more about that towards the end of the post.

Because as usual, I have no idea, if this book will ever be translated? It is so clearly Swedish and yet, does not bullying and being an outsider, exist in every country, one way or another? There are so many books translated out there, less worthy of being so, which makes me wonder why this one should not become so. But till then, for all my English readers, here follows a summary. And for you who can battle Swedish, I will tell you when to skip some paragraphs, in order to not spoil the “pleasure”. Like I always do. “Enjoy”:

Blenda Warg’s parents, have just gone through a messy divorce. It has forced Blenda to move to a new town with her mum and 9-year-old brother Bastian, while her father has moved to London, where he has found a new woman. A woman whom has caused his interest in his children, to become lukewarm to say the least. Going to school for the first time in the new town is scary, for Blenda, since her old school only had 100 pupils while this one has 400. Not having unpacked her things yet, Blenda grabs an old unfashionable anorak of her mother’s and heads to school, where she very soon notices that things are not particularly “healthy”. The headmaster is sleazy and weak. He assigns her a big locker, on the most popular row of lockers, in the school, and walks her to class. It is French.

No sooner has she sat down to listen, when Hedvig walks in. She displays her power by interrupting  the French lesson, walking up to her boyfriend Noa, who sits in the very back, and French kissing him, like there is not an entire class and teacher present. Penny, her minion in tow, is asked what is for lunch, by her,  and this starts a chain reaction. Yvonne, the poor teacher, tells Hedvig that she needs to speak in French and that she is trying to hold a lesson. Whereupon Hedvig walks out, Penny next, Noa soon in suit and then the rest of the class. Finally there is only Blenda left and a typically bullied girl, who walks up to comfort the distraught teacher. Blenda is amazed and impressed by Hedvig’s power. But telling Hedvig so, is a big mistake. Now she is on the outside, just like LSD, the bullied girl Lena-Stina Dahl.

In the school canteen, Blenda notices the queen in the middle, right away, and would have loved to have sat down opposite her. But to her surprise, LSD (Lena-Stina Dahl) is invited instead, so that Hedvig can sit and copy off homework, right in front of the teachers who are sitting at the next table. Blenda can not make any sense out of her new school. And why does Noa look at LSD with tenderness in his eyes, but gives Blenda an ice-cold look, as he holds his nose?

Who is LSD? A smart, studious girl, with parents who have no time for her, and with strange ideas that one should not have doors inside the house. LSD has two big secrets. That the family is Jewish and that her grandmother survived the holocaust but the rest of the family did not. And the fact that she constantly thinks about suicide and writes notes every day, which she ends up washing in the wash machine, to get rid of the evidence. What is not a secret, is that she cares about everyone.

Like all bullies, Hedvig has her problems. She is smart, which she does everything to hide. But most of all, her main fight is with blemishes. Big spots all over her face with yellow heads and she spends ALL her time, covering them over with expensive concealer, so noone will ever find out. The concealer is her constant companion and she applies it several times a day, even before leaving her room in the morning, to take a shower.  She is convinced that Noa will throw her over, if he sees one of the spots. Beauty is everything to this girl. But as many overly clever people, she is bored to tears and can’t wait to leave Sweden behind for the exciting world, where things happen. The author gives this as an excuse for everything bad she does.

Her minion Penny, with a Spanish father, has been unhappily in love with Noa, almost since she met him, years earlier. But Hedvig barged in and snapped him away from her.  The one thing she can’t understand about her “friend’s” relationship, is why Hedvig pushes him away, every time he strokes her face. Not even Penny knows that Hedvig is petrified of the concealer coming off and revealing the truth. And then Penny has  been Hedvig’s friend since fifth grade and now they are in their final year, grade nine.

This is almost where the book starts, after giving background information. After  school, Penny and the others hang out at Noa’s band rehearsal. Everyone is drinking, even though it is a Monday and when Noa sits down beside the drunk Penny, she kisses him. Hedvig walking in right at that moment, after checking her concealer, does like all divas do, discards Penny as a friend, on the spot.

Second day of school, starts with history.  But not until Blenda has discovered that Hedvig has stolen her big locker, assigned to her the day before, by the headmaster. Fruitlessly, she tries to take it back. But things get worse. During the history lesson, the religion teacher enters the classroom and wants to know why Hedvig’s and LSD’s papers  are identical. LSD is accused of plagiarism by a so-called witness and noone stands up to her defense, not even herself. No teacher or student dare to stand up to Hedvig. Who gets off of course.

The history teacher has decided that it is going to be a day about democracy and all the students are to divide in to groups and work on a topic, pertaining to either democracy or dictatorship.  At the end of the day, they will present their findings and the winning group, will receive a prize. A copy of the Swedish Law book. Everyone form groups, except Penny, LSD and Blenda. The teacher tells them to be a group and to study how Hitler came to power, the only subjct left. While LSD and Blenda do all the work, Penny sits and watches how all her friends disappear, one by one, from Facebook and Instagram, thanks to her having kissed Noa and Hedvig having decided to dump her as a friend. Her entire world is coming apart.

Their group is the first to present the material they have found. They do alright, but there are two groups who really stand out. Hedvig’s group, which does an appalling job, presenting the US constitution, by reading straight from their papers and the text they have copied verbatim. And Kalle’s group, which puts on a fantastic performance with a guillotine and blood splattering all over, presenting the French Revolution in a theatrical way, with the help of Kalle’s theater group’s props. Blenda is smitten with both Kalle and the group’s presentation. So when Ulf, the teacher asks them all to vote for which group did the best job, Blenda votes for Kalle’s group, thinking everyone else will too. But they all vote for Hedvig’s group, except for three people. A perfect example of democracy not working, when people are afraid!

Hedvig could not care less about the prize though or having won. She feels that noone else deserved it, either. In her opinion, they are all stupid, even Noa. She cares about nothing. She is SO bored. On a computer test posted by Mensa, she tested IQ 133 and was invited to join their group. But she did not bother. In her mobile, she carries the phone number to a heroin dealer. Just in case she feels like using some, one day. The reason she copies all of LSD’s homework, is for the thrill of perhaps getting caught, or not. But when the impressed headmaster announces over the speaker system, that two candidates from their school, will be sent to Brussels, to see how real democracy works, she gets excited. New clothes, new people, in another country than boring Sweden. She must win! But she must show that she is for democracy. But is she really? Everyone, including the headmaster know that it will be Hedvig and Noa going. Because they rule the school. And the next morning they have put up posters all over the school, saying that they must be elected for the trip.

Blenda is in shock. How could people not have voted for Kalle’s group? She goes home, only to find that her mum is not there and Bastian has little boys over, screaming and running around with his beloved airplanes. Her only refuge is the bathroom, and in there she starts reading the books on Hitler, having nothing else to do. By the morning, she has decided that they must get rid of Hedvig, make the queen fall. She walks up to LSD and Penny in school, asking them, if they were the ones voting for Kalle too. Which they of course did. She tells them, what they must do to stop Hedvig’s dictatorship. She asks why Penny should not get to have a single thought of her own? Dress like she wants? And why Hedvig should get to cheat and LSD always getting the blame?

Blenda explains that Hitler was also a  nerd and then he got everyone to follow him. How? He spoke and made everyone want to belong to what he talked about. Now they only need to copy him. LSD, whose family after all died in the concentration camps, is not too eager. But after Blenda assures her that they are not copying his ideas, only the way he said things, LSD is in.

Their first action, is to record a speech about Hedvig cheating, from notes LSD has put together, detailing every time Hedvig has copied off her homework and how when LSD started to say no, Hedvig threatened  with telling everyone that LSD charges for the help. Penny and Blenda manage to sneak in to the custodian’s room and broadcast the speech, recorded on Penny’s mobile,  over the loud-speaker system. But LSD, who sits in the classroom, sees that it has no effect. First Hedvig starts laughing hysterically and then all the classmates are laughing so hard, that they don’t hear a word of the speech. And the headmaster catches Penny and Blenda, on their way back to their classroom. Not only are they scolded  for telling lies and being unfair towards Hedvig, LSD who is the real victim of Hedvig’s cheating, is also brought in and scolded. Like all frightened teachers, the headmaster tells them that it was not alright what they did and if they have problems with their classmates, they should talk to their head teacher. But what is the point? The teachers are afraid of Hedvig, so nothing will happen and all the pupils know that. Which is what they tell the headmaster, in vain.

Discouraged, Blenda goes back to the book on Hitler and reads that he failed his coup as well, since he thought everyone was with him and spoke too strong about things. It led to a prison sentence. He then decided to be part of the game, not go against the rules. After a while he was not regarded as dangerous anymore and was  allowed to speak. Blenda realizes that the recorded message was a mistake. She has to find a new strategy and get her two companions back, who are angry at her for the failure. She spends weeks on studying their every move, to find a way to get them back.

Penny is now being secretly bullied. Hedvig has a boy shove her in the food queue, so she gets sticky yellow pea soup on a white blouse, the next day her bus card goes missing and after gym class, her knickers are gone. LSD on the other hand, is totally ignored. Noone talks to her and they turn away their heads when she walks down the corridor. Blenda can feel the girls’ vexation grow and knows that they will soon belong to her again.

After two weeks, Blenda sticks notes in their lockers, notes which say that she is sorry and that they should meet that evening. Both Penny and LSD initially decide not to go, but over two hours late, they both arrive to hear what Blenda has to say for herself.

She starts working on Penny, saying that she could have been the queen and that is why Hedvig made Penny in to her friend, to pacify her and make her a Hedvig-copy. Blenda has studied Penny closely and knows that she is insecure and wants to be seen, but also wants someone to tell her, who she is. Blenda flatters her and says that Hedvig knows that Penny can take Noa away from her at any time, and that is why she now hates Penny. She says everything Penny has dreamt of hearing. Blenda knows that one must not flatter LSD though, only tell the truth, so she wins her over by telling her the truth, that it is obvious that LSD cares about the world and can change it. Penny backs Blenda up and this makes LSD believe them.

Blenda’s  new plan is to make sure that Hedvig and Noa do not get any votes for going to Brussels and that Kalle from the French Revolution group will be elected instead, with Anja who helped him, in the “play”. But first they need to do, what the Nazis did. Decide on a plan of action, that is, write a party program. Blenda has copied off everything “good” from the text books, she has read about Hitler. LSD, still a little bit uncomfortable about the entire thing, says she is in, if they work against intolerance and Penny says she is in, if they make everyone stop listening to Hedvig. This time the three will not split up, but stand together, no matter what.

We have to find something, which everyone hates, Penny says in an SMS, which all can unite behind. Hitler made the Jews the scapegoat. But what does everyone hate in their school? Orientation! Noone in school wants to go out running in the cold and mud, trying to read a map  they do not understand and finding the check points, that some ill-willed person has removed. Penny suddenly knows what will unite the students and tells everyone in school that there will be no orientation that Friday. But how to stop it? When Blenda gets home, her little brother tells her, how two girls in his class ran in to a flasher, in the forest. Blenda acts right away, phones her mum, who in turn reports it to the police. LSD’s mum is a judge and she contacts the headmaster and the next morning the headmaster announces on the speaker system,  that there will  be no orientation. Everyone look at  Penny, Blenda and LSD in surprise. They did what they promised, while Hedvig does not believe in a flasher at all.

Next step is to give everyone a dream. Penny gets her cousin, who is in advertising, to design a poster of Kalle and Anja, in Andy Warhol style and with a Flash going through their names, like the lock which Blenda has on her locker. Their new symbol. They print out the posters and put them up all over the school. Hedvig is not pleased, not at all, and Kalle and Anja, are embarrassed and perhaps a little bit scared. Their French teacher announces that the replacement activity for the cancelled orientation, is a speech forum. All candidates must tell why they deserve to go to Brussels. She, who is also bullied by Hedvig, is excited that someone else has also entered the competition.

Blenda announces to the others, that they are going to make the school love team Anja-Kalle, without the two having to give a speech. LSD and Penny are not excited at all about it, since they do not want to give a speech, so Blenda offers to do it on her own. She will speak, and this was her plan from the beginning. She studies Hitler on YouTube, when he speaks to youths, saying that they are the future, that there is no difference between them, that noone is better than the next. She sees how he pauses after each sentence, to let the audience think about what he has just said. Blenda tries to do the same thing even though it feels unnatural.

When the day arrives, Blenda is ready. She stands with Penny and LSD beside her and points out that they are at a good school since the pupils have high grades, but it is only good, because other schools are worse. With words not directly attacking Hedvig, she tells the audience that they have to dare to do their own thing, each and everyone,  without seeking approval. That their value does not sit in the clothes nor what friends or others think about them. She tells them that they have to get rid of racism, bullying,  hard words and everything which is ruining the school and that they are only strong, together. “We have to stop those who believe they are better and who think they can decide over the rest of us. We are all worth the same and our differences can make the school better”.  Then she moves over to another tactic, pointing out individual people, like the girl Rania, who is all for environment and Greenpeace, and Ebba who is an artist, and who also happens to be Hedvigs new minion. And at the end of the speech, she says that Kalle and Anja were the first who gave the idea, by their way of being and doing things. “Why?”, asks the school clown Ernesto. Blenda’s reply is quick. “Because Kalle dares to be just who he is, because he knows he is special. He wears ill-fitting trousers today, hand me downs, but noone dares to say anything to him about it, because they know he would not care.” Teachers applaud and the headmaster is delighted, at her speech. A new wind is blowing.

But Hedvig is not delighted. She is trying to fight back and her first port of call, is the headmaster. She must find dirt on Blenda. She tells him that Blenda is bullying her, by having taken her best friend away from her. The headmaster does not listen to her like he usually does, but tells her that they are in a sensitive age, that friends come and go, and that he has been there like everybody else have. She wants him to contact Blenda’s old school, to dig up dirt on her, since Blenda is creating chaos according to Hedvig, but he just answers that this is not possible and that chaos usually creates change, which can be for the better. Angry, she leaves the school and decides to hurt Penny via Noa.

The next day, is wonderful for all three girls. They get congratulations from teachers and pupils alike. Till it is time for Penny to go to her locker, in another corridor, than the other girls’, and the boys who always brag about who has the worse grades among them and who drink beer during recess, attacks Penny by said locker. Hedvig has spread around the school, that Penny made a pass at her, that she is lesbian, and now is sleeping with Blenda. That this is why Penny, no longer is her friend. When Blenda comes to her rescue, the boys attack Blenda and two of them, Ozzy and Robin, start dragging her towards the boys’ toilets, to rape her, cheered by all the others. The headmaster suddenly appears out of the blue and while Blenda could have turned the boys in, she tells him, that they just told her how much they appreciated the speech. The headmaster declares to the boys, that so did he. Guess where Hedvig was, during all this? Secretly watching all of it!

LSD takes the girls with her home and there they discuss what Hedvig’s weaknesses are. Penny and LSD say that she has none, and that is why people worship her. But on closer look, LSD has noticed that she is obsessed with concealer, that she applies layers of it on her face, several times a day. What they do not know of course, is that Hedvig is covered in spots with yellow heads and is convinced that Noa would throw her over if he knew. He is not allowed to ever touch her face, not even when they have sex. But they start discussing that one uses concealer to conceal something!

The next day, after gym class, Penny steals Hedvig’s make up bag, while the latter is showering. She finds two bottles of Clinique Advanced Concealer, and hides the entire bag, above the toilet ceiling. Blenda on the other hand, is showering opposite Hedvig and puts an entire shampoo bottle’s content in her own hair, while she notices that Hedvig showers very carefully, so the water will not touch her face. Suddenly Blenda screams that she has shampoo in her eyes, which is true, and she increases the water pressure, so that the water gets all over Hedvig’s face. All the concealer runs off and Hedvig runs out with her hands covering her face. Ebba is there though to help her, but when Blenda screams that she can’t see and Ebba sees her flaming red eyes, she helps Blenda instead of Hedvig, rinsing the red eyes.

LSD who arrives at this moment, is there to witness how Hedvig stands wiping her face and to see all the new spots filled with puss, as well as all the scars from the old ones. Hedvig searches for her make up bag and LSD realizes what has happened and is angry, that once again, Blenda and Penny excluded her from their plans. The first one being, when they saw to that she did not come with them to the custodian’s room, for the broadcast. They knew both times, that she would not approve of their plans, because she is a good person. When Penny appears in front of Hedvig and snaps one photo after the next with her mobile, LSD realizes why she was excluded. This is truly horrible, in her opinion. Penny disappears while the rest of the girls sees the queen fall. Hedvig runs out and while LSD feels sorry for her, she also knows that this was necessary. When Hedvig has left, laughter breaks out, laughter which has been held back out of fear, for years. When they see Blenda, they ask what has happened to her, and she says that she got shampoo in her eyes and accidentally got water on Hedvig. It dawns on them all, that this was a deliberate thing and that they now have a new leader, to be scared of, who will stop at nothing.

Blenda walks in to the school canteen that day and sits down at Hedvig’s table, on the queen’s chair. And Penny, who has posted Hedvig’s photos to be seen by all of cyber space, sits down on Noa’s chair. After lunch they go to the headmaster to talk to him about ordering paint for the lockers and are surprised to learn that not only has he already done so, but he has also talked to the art teachers. Hedvig’s minion Ebba, will be in charge of the project, where everyone paints their own lockers, just like Blenda suggested in her speech. On her way to Penny’s, after school, Blenda encounters Ernesto, the school clown, who objected to Kalle being sent to Brussels. He asks her if she is the leader now. Blenda informs him that they are all to decide from now on, but he feels lost, just like the people in Russia did after the communist fall. Blenda suggests that he thinks of something he likes to do and then he must go and suggest it to the teachers. He does not believe they will listen, but she assures him that they will.

Everyone in school is feeling well actually. They know that Blenda will back them up, if they come with own initiatives. The paint project is started and the teachers are amazed, since noone abuses anything, but let their imagination loose. Rania gets to start a compost, after the police arrests the flasher, and Kalle and Anja happily get involved building it. Penny’s parents fight and are getting a divorce, which is something that has to be kept a secret, from her Spanish Catholic grandparents coming for a visit. But she is happy anyway, because Hedvig has not been back to school. The seventh graders have started to dress the way they want to, in Manga clothes, in baggy clothes, in anything they have always dreamt of wearing in school. Some have even have put on anoraks, like the one Blenda wears, and little by little, Penny is becoming a Blenda copy, unbeknownst to herself.

Ozzy, the bad boy, comes to talk to Blenda. He tells her that everything about Penny’s accused homosexuality etc. was Hedvig’s orders and he says that he knows he is an idiot. She tells him that if he behaves like an idiot, then only idiots want to be around him. That maybe he should try to be something else. That she has been just like him, but that she decided to change. She knows that she has a bond with him now, he is an ally, because she said just what he wanted her to say. And from now on, he and his friend Robin, become her body guards. They have taken it upon themselves to keep an eye out for bullying and then reporting to her.

But things are going to turn from good to bad. One day in the canteen, Blenda goes to stand behind Kalle in the food queue, just to be close to him. In the canteen, Nettan works with serving the food, but she has a problem. She stinks. Really, really bad body odour, especially from under the arms. The two of them make fun over how bad she smells, while waiting for food. Out of the blue she asks Kalle out to the cinema, and he says that he will think about it. But Blenda knows that he will not, unless she does something which will make him like her. So she decides to have students sign a petition, that Nettan in the canteen, has to do something about her hygiene. She takes it to the headmaster, together with Penny, and after reading the law to him, he promises to do something about it. He confronts Nettan, who reacts in a bad way and storms in to the classroom of Blenda and her classmates’, having political science. When none of them defend her, she hands in her notice.

After school the headmaster wants to talk to Hedvig. He feels that things have gone too far and is willing to work with her. He has contacted Blenda’s previous school and found out that she has a difficult time adjusting to school rules. Hedvig feels that he must talk to the other teachers, but he does not tell her what they have already told him. That they were sick and tired of Hedvig ruling the school, that they are impressed with the new atmosphere at the school, where everyone is being nice to each other, and that they despise him running Hedvig’s errands. Hedvig suggests that he contact her parents. She does not tell him, that she knows everything about Blenda, that she is obsessed with her.

Ernst phones Blenda’s home and leaves a message on the answering machine. Bastian, her little brother, has listened to it when she gets home from school and is upset. But she distracts him and asks him why his friend Olle has not been to visit for weeks on end. He starts crying, because he had loaned a much-loved toy plane to Olle, and now Olle says that he gave it to him, refusing to give it back. Blenda wants to erase the message from the headmaster, but Bastian will not let her. She has promised to get his plane back, but now she says she will only do so, if he lets her erase the message. He lets her, but his trust in her is gone, she has hurt his feelings and the bond between sister and brother. Not something which she planned at all, but she must cover her back.  That evening, Ozzy delivers the plane to her. She sent him a message, he contacted Olle’s older brother and frightened him in to getting the plane for him. As a thank you, Ozzy and Robin want permission from Blenda, to do something, which she wants no further knowledge of. In other words, it is out of her control and she has no clue what this something is.

The next day in school, Hedvig has decided to find out what Blenda’s next move is. She goes in to the library and when the librarian leaves her desk, she goes up to see what Blenda has been reading, where she is getting her inspiration. On the way out, she decides to vote on herself and put the voting slip in the voting box, which the headmaster has hung on the wall. But before she gets that far, Ozzy and Robin drag her off to the boys’ toilets. Robin stands outside guarding, while Ozzy cuts off parts of Hedvig’s long beautiful hair with a shaver. He reminds her of them being in first grade together and when he asked if he could play with her. She answered him that why would she want to play with someone like him. She had made sure that he did not get any friends for eight years. In the middle of the shaving, Kalle bursts in to the scene and rescues her, but all she has to say, is that Blenda was behind all of it. She does not accept that she has built up all sorts of resentment in people for years, and that Blenda has just given everyone permission to stand up to her.

If you are Swedish and wants to read the book, this might be a good place to stop reading and jump to the sixth paragraph from the end!

Hedvig has been defeated, the compost is built, the lockers painted, and a nice smelling young woman has taken Nettan’s place in the canteen. But in the empty room that is left, now when all improvements have been made, people have started to feel fear. They do not want to anger Blenda, LSD or Penny, nor do they want to get in to trouble with Ozzy and Robin. Blenda is shocked at what Ozzy did. He had told her that he was going to get a little revenge, but Blenda feels that this went too far. She feels that she must come up with some new great idea, before more bad things start happening. Hitler got in to power, but when he had achieved all the “good” things, he started a war and killing Jews. This is sort of where Blenda and Hitler have to part ways, because while Blenda loves the limelight, she really does not want things to turn bad.

Penny also knows that things are going wrong. She feels guilty over what happened to Hedvig and she is horrified to see that she herself, has become a copy of Blenda. The evening when she does this discovery, she tries to find herself, her own movements, her own way of talking. While doing this, her dream comes true. Noa rings her door bell, enters and tells her that he and Hedvig has broken up, it being a mutual decision. But when he caresses Penny, she knows that he does this, because he is scared that he will be the next person, who will get hurt. When he tries to kiss her, she pushes him away and promises him that nothing bad will happen to him. He asks her to not say anything to LSD and finally she realizes, that he is in love with the girl who spreads love to everyone around her, love and care. Why did she not understand his looks before? He confesses that he has been in love with LSD for a while.

The next day in school Kalle tears down the posters of him and Anja and tells Blenda that he blames her for what happened to Hedvig, that he will never ever go out with Blenda and that he refuses to go to Brussels, if he wins the election. LSD feels uncomfortable about everything which has happened and looses it, when Ebba drags a screaming girl, named Bella, up to her, to report a thing which Bella has done. She has written with a magic marker on someone else’s locker. And it is a suicide message. LSD who always writes suicide notes and then puts them in the washing machine, but has not done so, since they started their campaign against Hedvig, screams at Bella and wonders why she did not just write on a paper instead and tells her to clean the locker. LSD is shocked though, at herself having changed. And is upset how she treated Bella. She goes to a meeting, where Penny questions Blenda being the leader, instead of listening to how Blenda thinks that Kalle should still be their candidate, it being the day before the election. Blenda gets angry and threatens Penny with telling Penny’s grandmother, that her parents are getting a divorce after adultery. LSD refuses to take sides, but Penny has decided to get away from Blenda, as soon as she can, and tells LSD in secret, that she has never really liked Blenda.

LSD gets back to her locker, where she finds a suicide note from Bella. Bella who got Borrelia the year before, during the orientation day in the forest. The medication she was put on, killed all good bacteria in her mouth, so that she got really bad stench coming out of her mouth. She got terribly bullied for it. LSD searches all over for Bella and finds her behind a locked toilet door, that she forces open. Bella has cut herself but confesses that she does this all the time and LSD tells her to not do that anymore, that both of them must stop having suicide thoughts. She then goes to talk to Penny. They must stop Blenda with the help of Hedvig, Noa and Kalle. She also shows Penny a photo her mother has shown her since she was a little girl:

image

The girls have decided that they must not become cold heartless people like Blenda is, who cares for noone. That they have to be like the man in the photo, stand up and say no the her.

But the book takes another ugly twist here. Hedvig has spent all her time doing research, on the White Rose and resistance in Hitler Germany. She tells Noa, Kalle, LSD and Penny,  that Blenda has got sucked in to her own power and will try to get rid of everyone she sees as her enemy. Penny and everyone else seems to forget, that if they get rid of Blenda, they will have Hedvig back, full force. She is now in charge of everything, when it comes to the revenge. Penny tells her that Blenda wanted a picture made with Ernst and Hedvig in a compromising situation. Hedvig tells Penny to phone her cousin, who made the election posters, and have it done, because Blenda will use the photo for sure. Hedvig is not yet 15, so the headmaster can go down for pedophilia.

When Blenda has put up all the torn down posters again at school, she returns home to write a speech for the election day. One which will say what she wants to do next. But when she arrives home, the headmaster is there and her mother crying in the bathroom. He leaves, saying that it is for the best. ? Right then, the arranged photo of Ernst in bed with Hedvig, arrives on her phone and she shows it to her mother, telling her that the headmaster is in love with Hedvig.

When LSD arrives home, her parents are in her room, holding the information papers Blenda gave her, when she wanted to explain what they had to do, to make the queen disappear. Her mother is livid, since her family was gassed in the Holocaust. But she tells LSD that the parents have been on the phones all evening and they are taking over from now on. And taking over they do. All of them standing outside the school building in the morning, when Blenda arrives. They hound her down like bloodthirsty dogs. That is when Penny steps in and speaks to all the parents. She says that it is easy to blame Blenda for everything, but that the school is equally to blame, which looks through its fingers and do not see everything that is wrong. How it is all about being accepted or not. And that this was going on long before Blenda arrived. All the parents leave, after their children has gone in to their classes. There will be no public hanging that day nor will there be any election results.

How does the book end? Blenda is being packed off to London and a new school. Even though her dad does not want her there.  Kalle and Hedvig become a couple, since he was in love with her all along and LSD and Noa, also become a couple. But Hedvig has not learned any lesson. She offers LSD to copy off all her assignments and when LSD declines, she says that she can help her with her homework at least.

Good book? No. Not really. It feels like a cheap copy of something which has already been done one way or another, in Hollywood. My daughter thinks it sounds like “Mean Girls”. Perhaps not, but in the same way, yes. That and “The Wave” experiment.

One of my major complaints about the book, is that a lot does not make sense. Part of the reason it took me so long to get through it, was that I had a difficult time to follow the reasoning. How Hitler’s ideas would work at a Swedish high school and how his way of doing things, could be done in that school. It was very far-fetched.

The main characters fell pretty flat as well. After reading the book, you still do not understand who they were and why they did what they did. Was Noa brainless? Did he have Hedvig for a girlfriend because he was scared that she otherwise would hurt him? What does that say about the most handsome boy in the school? And since when does the handsome popular boy fall for the scholar? It does not happen in real life! Sorry, been there, seen that! That is just one example. Another thing which does not make any sense is the spot problem and concealer which is such a BIG part of the book and the reason why Hedvig falls from her throne. Being a woman, who has dealt with spots, black heads and puss all my teenage years and beyond, I do know there is no way to hide them. If nothing else, all the bumps would have been seen in Hedvig’s face, because you can’t hide volcanoes. Concealer does not make a bumpy surface level and the heads of spots work themselves through it via their grease.

What really disgust me with the book and the end, is the fact that Blenda really becomes the scapegoat for everything. She gets punished, while all the rest get off. Even though they created Blenda. Because she was new to the school, she dared to do what noone else had dared to do for years. Stand up to Hedvig. And is it strange that she grabbed a method, which had proven successful, to get rid of Hedvig? As they say, power corrupts. And it corrupted Blenda, but in the same way, she had no control over what happened after all the good things came about. She and the others were only 15 years old and you are not ready for hero-worship at that age. Like Penny said, the school had for so long been corrupt, that when release came about, noone knew how to handle it. People moved their hero-worship over to Blenda, from Hedvig, because that was the only thing they knew how to do. Follow a leader. But all the injured parties, the ones who had really suffered by Hedvig’s atrocious rule, could not tame their thirst for revenge. Hedvig really asked for her secret to be revealed and she really asked for her hair to be shaved. She had hurt Penny and Ozzy terribly, but they were not the only ones.

The thing which makes this book so “horrible”, is the fact that this sort of thing can happen at most schools in Sweden. And probably in other countries too. As soon as you have a scared headmaster, who is a poor leader, things will happen straight under his nose and nothing will be done about it. The teachers who might  have been able to stand up and stop things, get their hands tied behind their backs, when working for such a person. Because he does not want the boat rocked. He will surround himself with teachers who will be like himself, scared. And when grown ups do not take charge, then people like Hedvig will do so and make school a hell for all students. Not just for the bullied ones. No child or teenager wants to be forced to dress in a certain way, to fear disapproval from the in crowd, noone wants to become the bullied one and noone wants to think about every word passing their lips being judged, to see if it is a correct one.

After reading this book, I only have one question for the author. Does she want to say with her book, that Hedvig’s methods were better than Blenda’s, just because they were not based on Hitler’s way of doing things? Because that is the only way I can interpret the book, at the end. I do not see that Hedvig has learned any lesson at all. Her minions came back to her, asking for her help, not trusting in themselves at all. She is no better than Blenda at all. She was fully prepared to play the same kind of game as Blenda was. And that should be a lesson to be learned. That all teachers must be on the lookout for things like this in their schools. That you can not have any student thinking she or he is better than the others. Because then everyone has to be protected against that person. If grown ups are not brave enough to stand up and do the right thing, like during the Nazi era, children for sure are not. When a child and a teenager, all that matters are friends and not being left out. You don’t want to stand out as being different because then you will be bullied. And there is nothing worse than being bullied. It breaks you down totally and you never truly heal from it. NEVER.

 

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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.

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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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