Kiri English-Hawke is an Australian born author who grew up in Sydney hearing stories of WWII from differing perspectives. Her first novel, The Handkerchief Map, draws on her desire to portray the less explored perspectives and experiences of the Holocaust.
She currently lives in Northern Italy with her partner, where she is studying languages, and continues to write and immerse herself in foreign cultures and histories. She is a voracious reader and dedicated researcher who has been penning her thoughts since she learned to write.
Kiri currently works as a translator and English tutor. In her ‘spare time’, she excels at rowing at an international level and blogs about healthy foods.
Part One: Mother
Obergebiete Training Camp (Germany)
November 27, 1943
There are lots of men here, young men mostly. There is a group of us in a room, about eight or so. Four of us get along well. We are at one end of the room. I bunk with Heinrich, and Johann and Stein are together. Each of the boys is very different. They are not all blonde and blue-eyed as it was in the Hitler Youth.
Heinrich is the oldest and he seems very backwards about the war, no pride at all. He has a wife and children back home in Berlin, whom he’s constantly writing to and worrying about.
Johann is 24 and I’m fairly sure he’s just in it for the glamour and the uniform, not that any of us really had a choice, or needed one. He’s always talking about the girls we’ll meet on leave. Personally I don’t have a lot of time for him. I can only take so much, and then he begins to drive me mad.
Stein is a quiet sort. He walks with us but isn’t as conversational as the others. I’m not entirely sure what his views on the war are, and I’m not likely to find out. I can’t help my curiosity, but in the middle of a war people are careful about what they hear and what they say for fear of saying the wrong thing to the wrong person. Or making the wrong face … unless the truth is written all over the face like Johann!
Your loving son
December 14, 1943
How are you Mother? I wonder are the shops still open, can you still buy Strasbourg and sausage? There is none of that here, although there is enough food. We have another week or two until training is finished, then it’s the real thing. No more tests, no more excusable mistakes; a single shot and that could be it. It all sounds very serious, doesn’t it?
Mail deliveries are erratic, but do please write when you can get stamps. We all wish for letters.
Your loving son
December 25, 1943
Well, Mother, it will be a lonely Christmas this year, for all of us.
Do you remember the Christmas of 1941? We were sure it would all be over by now. We gave it a year at the most, but it’s still going on.
Training finished some days ago and we have been thrust unceremoniously into the wide open war. Days pass, nights pass and still this dreadful thing continues. Everywhere shots are fired, still people are crying, still cities are being destroyed, still we’re waiting for the end, but even when the end arrives, there will still be tears, still people will suffer, still there will be sadness. The struggle will not end when the last shot is fired. Sorry to be bleak, Mother, but I am seeing things that shock me now.
So, Merry Christmas, Mother, and a peaceful New Year – I hope. Make it as happy as possible. Sorry I’m not there and father too. I hope you get some good meat for Christmas dinner.
Your loving son
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