Did me Ma meet Oskar Schindler? Part 2

To recap, Part 1 of this extended post found the newly-qualified Ingelore Hartmann, fresh out of Vocational College, stationed (for want of a more accurate term) in Kraków in the latter part of the war and engaged in servicing the secretarial needs of her Direktor. His role, as far as is known, concerned the redeployment of manufacturing capacity to the production of war materials. Enter Oskar Schindler, whose enamelware factory in Kraków was repurposed to the manufacturing of, you guessed it, war materials.

At this point, we need to flashforward 40-odd years. I am 25 years old and working in a print factory, terminally bored and quickly realising that my employment – and indeed life – options are now being hampered by my lack of qualifications. I enrol in night school to study English Language and Literature at A level. It’s a subject I feel comfortable about being able to manage without too much mental exertion. Among the set texts is Thomas Keneally’s Schindler’s Ark, the 1982 Booker Prize winner and later to be made into the film of almost the same name. I read the book. It’s familiar territory for me. I have always been ‘the Germans’ in childhood play. My first language was, arguably, German. I feel a bit German. I feel uncomfortable about what some Germans have done. The story has restorative power and resonance. Whatever Schindler’s motives, he created a small light in the darkest of times and places.

“Oh yes, he saved people,” Mum says, looking a bit shifty.

A year or two later, but still significantly before the release and publicity surrounding the film, I’m having a conversation with Mum. It’s a tetchy one, as they sometimes are. The conversations usually hinge on me saying ‘you don’t know me very well at all, really’ and her responding with ‘well, you never tell me anything.’ I’m at university at this point, my A level success being the last piece of the jigsaw I needed to make the jump back into full-time education. We’re discussing the texts I studied for the A level and I mention Schindler’s Ark. It’s the first time we have talked about it. I’m not sure I knew about her time in Kraków at thispoint. When I mention Schindler, the temperature drops. “Oh yes, he saved people,” Mum says, looking a bit shifty.

It’s only years later, after the film has won everything going that I make the connection. Did she come into contact with Oskar Schindler? We will now never know.

If you like fiction about this era, and how events in the past ripple through to the present, try my novel Pernkopf’s Atlas. You can find all the purchase links here.

This one’s about typewriter 216761

Rheinmetall AG is a German automotive and arms manufacturer. In 1933, it acquired A. Borsig GmbH, which manufactured locomotives. The new company, oddly, also made typewriters, such as portable 216761 which was manufactured in 1938. Yes, there is a German typewriter serial number archive. I wasn’t surprised to discover this. 216761 was my mother’s typewriter. It has been a fixture of our household all of my life and now lives in my study at home.

Mum started vocational college in Berlin on 1st April 1939 and graduated on the 17th January 1941, certificated as competent in all aspects of a commercial secretary’s life. It’s not much of a stretch to surmise that 216761 was bought for her to take with her to college as part of her required equipment, the same way we send our kids off today with calculators, gel pens and highlighters.

216761, with its hard case and satisfying hard ‘clack’ as the hammers hit the paper when the keys are struck has a bit of mystery to it. On the upper row, the 3 key has an additional layer, a half-key glued on with the £ symbol on it. My admittedly shallow internet research into the inclusion of the £ symbol has yielded ambiguous results. We can say with some certainty that some wartime German typewriters had the £ as standard and some did not. What some wartime German typewriters had as standard was a special key/hammer combination that planted the typographic equivalent of Walter Heck’s double lighting bolt SS symbol. Where was this dreadful symbol? It was often on the 3 key. This discovery led me to have a look at the corresponding hammer on 216761 and, lo and behold, there has been a carefully applied metal overlay.

What lies beneath will never be revealed, but it seems vaguely possible that 216761 left the Rheinmetall-Borsig factory in 1938 fully specced with the 3/SS key in place. It might also have been some different, harmlessGermanic symbol not necessary in the world of British business. Who re-engineered the key and hammer, and when, we will now never know.

If you like fiction about this era, and how events in the past ripple through to the present, try my novel Pernkopf’s Atlas. You can find all the purchase links here.

Did me Ma meet Oskar Schindler? Part 1

Packed away in a plastic tub in an attic, there are two small wooden boxes, the kind you might keep rings or trinkets in. Both are exquisitely crafted, both were purchased from artisans in the Cloth Hall in Rynek Główny, the main square of Kraków’s Old Town. One was bought by my mother, Ingelore Hartmann, in the mid-1940s. One was bought by me in 2007. That’s a lovely little family story isn’t it? A nice thread connecting mother and son through time and travel. Except it wasn’t tourism that brought the young Berliner to Kraków.

Mum had plenty to say about her life in Germany before and during the War, usually as asides during unrelated conversations. One particularly intriguing story, repeated often, was that she used to watch Ernst Udet (right), who went on to become a Generaloberst (Colonel General) in the Luftwaffe, and was a former WW1 fighter ace and friend of the Red Baron, von Richthofen, performing aerial stunts over Tempelhof Aerodrome in what she called a ‘little silver aeroplane’. Given that Udet had been a stunt pilot between the wars and that the Hartmanns lived within 100m of the end of the Tempelhof runway, this detail was too rich for Mum to have acquired elsewhere or made up. I have no cause to doubt the truth of it. In fact, this might have been the plane in question (note the Berlin Olympics livery – Mum was there too, but that’s another story).

Mum graduated from Secretarial College in Berlin and appears to have found gainful employment straight away. This is where the waters begin to get murky. She never actually let slip who her employers were, but she did say that the business she was involved in related to the redeployment of manufacturing capacity in the greater Reich to war production. That’s government business, isn’t it? This was the capacity in which she found herself posted to Kraków.

At this point, it’s pertinent to take a quick diversion through the ‘nature or nurture’ debate. In herself, Mum was a paradox. A German national who eventually married an Anglo-Indian (my stepfather) and embraced multiculturalism, she also harboured some grossly unacceptable racist views. Based on her time in Kraków, she would assert lifelong that ‘the Poles are all thieves’. She was not able to accept that the particular Poles she came into contact with there, all those years ago, might have had a specific reason for helping themselves to the occupiers’ toiletries. She could also not accept that Germany could field black football players (Antonio Rüdiger, specifically). ‘They’re not German,’ she would snort indignantly. To the end of her life, she called plastic carrier bags ‘Türkenkoffer’ (a Turkish suitcase). You can, of course, link all of these ideas directly back to her upbringing. Born in 1925, most of her formative years were spent immersed in pervasive Nazi ideology, something her nature subsequently struggled – and often failed – to overcome.

We know that Mum was in Kraków but that she finished her war in the Harz Mountains. Her story was that on reporting for work one morning in Berlin’s Postdamer Platz, all she found was a smouldering pile of rubble where her office had stood. She was redeployed to Wernigerode, a town in the Harz district of central Germany where she lived in a castle. But that too is another story. So her sojourn in Poland must have been the previous year (1943). She would have been 18 years old.

To be continued …

If you like fiction about this era, and how events in the past ripple through to the present, try my novel Pernkopf’s Atlas. You can find all the purchase links here.

Everybody loves my book

No, it’s true. It’s not mediocre or poorly written. The story and characters seem to be engaging and the narrative doesn’t play too fast and loose with historical accuracy. Every review has been a solid 5 stars. So thanks to my family and friends for that.

I know, I know – I need to get over my Imposter Syndrome. It’s a thing and I have it.

the persistent inability to believe that one’s success is deserved or has been legitimately achieved as a result of one’s own efforts or skills

The Oxford Dictionary

This leads neatly into the observation that nobody goes to Amazon or any other proprietary online book retailer with the thought ‘I really must find a new book to read’. If your self-published book is any good, it’s going to need a buzz that carries it beyond the narrow circle of your family, friends and associates. It’s going to need a bit of special sauce. Celebrity books can be all-sauce, no substance, and some of the greatest stories ever written by self-published authors will never be read. Somewhere along that continuum live the huge mass of self-published authors. Some of them should be discouraged (see this arbitrary list of 14 jaw-droppingly terrible self-published books). So how do ‘not terrible’ books get in front of people?

Fucked if I know. But if I find out, I’ll spread the word.

One about Tinnitus – Part 2

I’m not sure who was more nervous, me or the auditory healthcare professional who had tussled with the stubborn ear wax in round one. The prep had been assiduous. Oil had been dropped into both ears night and day for the full week leading up to the appointment. I was leaking extra virgin olive oil, my ears were bubbling and popping. I was optimistic of a positive outcome and – maybe – some mitigation of the tinnitus.

It was not to be. Not immediately anyway.

“This looks much softer,” she said and deployed the tiny hoover into orifice #1. After a few moments of suction, it was clear that nothing much had changed. The blockage was as resolute as it had been a week before. Out came the tiny spoon. And after some digging and scraping – some of it quite painful – the words I had been waiting to hear: “There you go.”

Put your finger next to it for scale

A healthcare professional

And there it was. An almost black stone-like meteorite of earwax from the dawn of time. It wasn’t long before the other ear was similarly liberated. I had to take a picture. Spoiler alert – it’s disgusting.

I know. You wish you could unsee that.

Regrettably, the tinnitus rages unabated, though I can hear background detail sound a lot more clearly now. I will be taking care of my ears properly from here on.

The quest for relief from the whistling in my head, however, continues.

One about Tinnitus – Part 1

I must have been to hundreds of gigs since that my first exposure to Showaddywaddy in Oxford’s New Theatre in the mid-70s. Hundreds. And then there were the school discos. Ringing in my ears is something I had become accustomed to. However, about four years ago I went to see some bands in Belfast’s Limelight and afterwards, the ringing did not stop. I say ringing – this was not the dulled hearing, the vague sense of discomfort after a loud gig. This became – and has been since – the whine of a taxiing 737. And it’s not in my ears. It’s in my head. All the time. ALL THE TIME. This, gentle reader, is tinnitus.

Tinnitus is the name for hearing noises that do not come from an outside source. It’s not usually a sign of anything serious and may get better by itself.


Vaguely reassuring as this opening statement is, it’s not particularly accurate. There are only two things you should be told if you have reached the point of searching for information about tinnitus:

  • Seek professional help; and
  • it probably won’t get better by itself. If at all.

A digression. It’s not a man thing to be resistant to the idea of seeking medical attention. It’s a person thing. My wife has been at me to get checked out for years. Yes, there are the ghosts of those in the family who have dropped dead unexpectedly. And yes, tinnitus can be a result of hypertension.And no, I didn’t go to the doctor because, well, I didn’t want to. So when Sarah made an appointment for me (I didn’t think she’d actually do it), I had to go.

170/115. That’s Level 2 hypertension. I’m putting you on immediate medication and we’re going to make an appointment for you to carry the 24-hr monitoring.

The GP

And my ears are also full of years of compacted wax, to the point where the doctor could not even see my eardrums. More about that in Part 2.

In the meantime, I’m medicated and due for monitoring. I bought a cheap smart watch to have some sort of way of checking in a probably-not-medically-accurate fashion what my blood pressure is. I’m to avoid stress.

The ghosts of the suddenly dead were right to be hovering on the margins. This will be an ongoing trek. Stay tuned.

‘The End’ is only the end of the beginning

Reviews = 5
Sales = 9

Kindle Store Best Sellers Rank: 117,938, 16,905 in Contemporary Romance (Kindle Store) and 24,137 in Contemporary Romance (Books)

Amazon Paperback Best Sellers Rank: 489,656 in Books, 10,190 in War Story Fiction, 12,449 in Military Romance, 29,712 in Travel & Tourism (?)

When you type The End at the end of your manuscript, there’s a profound feeling of ‘Phew, what’s next?‘ DO NOT BE FOOLED BY THIS. Writing your story, as I am finding out, is the first and probably easiest part. Once you start down the road of trying to bring a self-published book to market, you’ll be inundated with ads trying to sell you promotional services, many of them guaranteeing sales and other bounty. It can be disheartening. Did you really spend the best part of three years unburdening yourself of a story, only to have to spend another three years bringing it to people’s attention?

Well, no – you could get an agent, who could hook you up with a publisher who has people to do all that.

This is where we came in, no? No one has a God-given right to representation. Also, literary agents may love books and have a real passion for finding new authors, but they also need to eat. 10% or 20% of nothing remains nothing after all.

It’s all going swimmingly

Reviews = 4
Sales = 8

Kindle Store Best Sellers Rank: 342,312, 26,499 in Historical Romance (Books),111,870 in Romance (Kindle Store) Amazon Paperback Best Sellers Rank: 212,220 in Books, 6,092 in War Story Fiction, 14,325 in Travel & Tourism (?)

It’s humbling to imagine that without any marketing effort at all, there are only 342,311 books outselling Pernkopf’s Atlas in the Kindle store. I say no marketing – I did dip my toe into Amazon advertising. Spent about 11p and, astonishingly, no sales resulting. Facebook next?

Family & friends

Reviews = 3
Sales = 6

Kindle Store Best Sellers Rank: 379,757, 27,869 in Historical Romance (Books),121,131 in Romance (Kindle Store) Amazon Paperback Best Sellers Rank: 211,369 in Books, 5,413 in War Story Fiction, 13,389 in Travel & Tourism (?)

Travel & Tourism? Going to have to look at that SEO, methinks. Still, three times as many sales as the last report and things are on the up. It won’t be long until I have forced all my family to buy one. Ansd then it’s you, friends.

It’s alive!

Reviews = 3
Sales = 2

Well, it’s out there. After five or six editorial passes I was still picking up grammatical things and ideally somebody else would have done those passes but I’m a struggling author self-publishing. I also have an over-inflated sense of my own editorial skill. I’m sure more gremlins will come to light.

Reviews have been 100% positive so far. All three of them. Early days though.