Sunday, November 09, 2008

HISTORY LESSONS WITH CRIME FICTION



The 9th of November is not only Remembrance Sunday in the UK but it is also the 70th Anniversary of Kristallnacht. This pogrom, as it happened in Vienna, was brilliantly described in John Lawton's crime thriller Second Violin which I reviewed here. 

I am reading Riptide, another in the Troy series, at the moment and for anyone interested in the history of the period this is another excellent book. The expert on John Lawton's books is crimeficreader and there is a stimulating article on the Troy series here.


13 Comments:

Blogger Philip said...

I am always grateful for your posts, Norman, but particularly for this one -- it would be good if people could spare a moment to think of Kristallnacht and its victims this day. My mentor in my very musical early years was a Polish Jew, Emil Spira, who in the thirties was one of just eight young composers who studied with Anton Webern, the great twelve-one composer, in Vienna. The other seven, four of them also Jewish, left over the course of those years until only Spira was left, and he stayed, living with Webern and his family, until Kristallnacht, when he fled to England and in time settled at Dartington. His entire family in Poland perished, some in the camps, but most at the hands of the Einstatzgruppen. I think of him and of them this day.

Anton Webern's fate offers two lessons in the role of contingency, that most overlooked of all historical factors, and also war and its victims. He went to live with his daughter near Salzburg. After the occupation by the Allies, a curfew was imposed, and Webern was shot dead by a GI on the porch of the house when he went out for a cigarette before retiring. The GI, Raymond Bell, was an army cook who had before enlistment been a composition student at a music conservatory in the States. When he found out he had killed Anton Webern, he had a complete breakdown and was institutionalized. Released two years later, he never properly recovered and drank himself into an early death in 1955. And so at this time one thinks of such collateral victims as well.

11:56 AM  
Blogger Uriah Robinson said...

Philip thanks once again for your interesting comments and stories.
Dartington is a musical and cultural centre, but I have to admit I am ashamed that the only time we visited we went to see LA Confidential in the Barn cinema.

12:50 PM  
Blogger Philip said...

Well, Dartington College of Arts has now merged with University College Falmouth -- not a happy thing in my view -- but, thank God, the wonderful International Summer School is still intact. But to return at one and the same time to crime fiction and to war, if you go to Dartington again, for cinematic or other reasons, you might take a stroll to Week and see if you can spot a conspicuously large house, at least I think it would still seem large in that setting. The composer Bruce Montgomery, far better known as Edmund Crispin, had a house built there in 1962, and he had built into it a nuclear fallout shelter. He may have had the Cuban Missile Crisis still in mind, or the idea may have come to him when he was not of the soberist, which was more often than not by that time.

1:37 PM  
Blogger Uriah Robinson said...

Philip, thanks for the information we will have a look next time we are down near Totnes. The weather today is absolutely Devonian not suitable for going outside the door.
We have been a couple of times to the modernist house High Cross designed by the Swiss American William Lescaze, which is well worth a visit.

2:10 AM  
Blogger Lauren said...

The conductor of the Berlin Philharmonic in the immediate aftermath of WW2, Leo Borchard, was likewise the victim of an accidental (and fatal) shooting at a Berlin checkpoint. Borchard himself was an interesting character who had been involved with the resistance but was often viewed with suspicion due to his close ties to the Soviet Union.

I also appreciate those who remember Kristallnacht, since I'm the granddaughter of refugees who lost the rest of their families in the camps. My grandfather in particular was sponsored to travel to Australia as a farm worker (alone, at the age of 14) just before war broke out. He only started talking about his experiences a couple of years before he died in 1992. In a nod to the other anniversary on the 9th, Grandpa went on to serve with the Australian army in the Pacific.

On a slightly different note, the official Kristallnacht anniversary is now a rather awkward occasion in Germany, since it coincides with the fall of the Berlin Wall. Understandably, it's tricky to balance the simultaneous remembrance of tragedy and triumph

4:13 AM  
Blogger Philip said...

The fact that Borchard, a fine conductor, had been just two months earlier appointed to the podium of the BPO tempts one to indulge in counterfactual speculation where the history of the BPO is concerned, but this is not the place. But his death is another example of contingency, collateral victimization and, I suppose, a certain dark irony -- he was born in Russia, his parents were German, he was indeed involved in the resistance -- in Berlin during the war years, he spied for the Allies and did what he could to aid Jews in hiding -- and then was killed by American bullets while being driven home by a British military driver who either didn't know there was a curfew, didn't know the time, and/or misunderstood a signal to halt. I've read five different accounts of that. He is almost forgotten now, though there is a music school for talented youngsters named for him in Berlin, and he deserves better. But then millions in the last century deserved better.

8:25 AM  
Blogger Lauren said...

I'm amazed anyone else has even heard of Borchard! (There's one very good biography of him in German, and he rates a mention in most general histories of the BPO, but is indeed largely forgotten, alongside many other fine musicians whose fates were defined by war.)

I suspect that even had Borchard lived, political developments being what they were (and indeed the German public's slightly underwhelming impression of him as a conductor) would probably have prevented him getting the job. My own counterfactual musings over the post-war Berlin Phil would probably start with "had Celibidache been slightly less divisive..."

I realise this is increasingly tangential to the original post, despite the Lawton title being Second Violin. I'd best stop here, especially since this relates very directly to my PhD research and I could go on for days!

2:16 PM  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Based in part on your recommendation, I bought "Second Violin," of which I have read about half. The "Until Goebbels Calls Halt" in the accompanying headline thus has special resonance for me.

I've also just returned fron hearing Lawton read from the novel and from the Troy novel on which he is working now. The man had much of interest to say about England, Churchill and crime fiction.
===================
Detectives Beyond Borders
"Because Murder Is More Fun Away From Home"
http://detectivesbeyondborders.blogspot.com/

9:35 PM  
Blogger Uriah Robinson said...

Lauren, I am always amazed at the vast store of knowledge contained in the brains of some of our crime fiction bloggers and commenters.
Good luck with your PhD research or you could write a successful crime fiction series like Carlo Lucarelli and David Liss and never write the thesis. ;0)

11:32 AM  
Blogger Lauren said...

Thanks for the compliment! (Mind you, having a store of that sort of knowledge didn't exactly make for fun teenage years...)

I've made it into my third year, so I suspect I should be able to finish my PhD now. But amusingly, my university has its own example of a research student who started writing a crime fiction series and never quite wrote the thesis - Ian Rankin. (His PhD was supposed to be on Muriel Sparks.)

3:00 AM  
Blogger Uriah Robinson said...

I had forgotten Ian Rankin's Muriel Sparks thesis. Thanks for reminding me, I must be getting old as I have heard Rankin mention it on TV a few times and possibly at Crime Fest as well.

4:14 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Philip I'm the granddaughter of Emil Spira. I would like to hear about him from you. My email is cohen_maayan@hotmail.com

9:41 AM  
Blogger Joanne said...

I've been googling Edmund Crispin (Bruce Montgomery) because I recently moved into his house in Week, Dartington, and it does indeed have a nuclear shelter. I'm really intrigued by him now and want to try one of his books. Which do you think is the best?

1:05 PM  

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