Flight of the Shearwater is the second book in the Sturmtaucher Trilogy: a powerful and compelling story of two families torn apart by evil.
‘With Poland divided between Hitler’s Germany and Stalin’s Union of Soviet Republics, the increasingly confident Third Reich flexes its military muscles northwards into Denmark and Norway, while the rest of Europe watches anxiously over its shoulders.
General Erich Kästner, in his key role in the Abwehr, is fast becoming aware of the mass expulsion of Jews and other minority groups from Germany and from northern Poland, to the new ghettos of the Generalgouverment area of southern Poland, and has an inkling of what the National Socialists’ have in mind for Europe’s Jews.
As Holland and Belgium fall, and the British are routed at Dunkirk, barely escaping across the channel, the seemingly impregnable France collapses under the Wehrmacht Blitzkrieg, sealing the fate of millions of Jews, now trapped under Hitler’s rule.
The Nussbaums, thwarted in their attempts to escape to Denmark, desperately seek other routes out of Germany but, one by one, they are closed off, and they realise they have left it all too late…’
What an incredible book!
For me this was less personal as by now my Jewish mother was safely in England, evacuated with her mother to Cheltenham for the foreseeable future. My Polish father was in a POW camp in Siberia, from which he would eventually escape to join RAF Polish Bomber Squadron 300 in England, so I have no experience of relatives left behind as far as I know.
Flight of the Shearwater continues the journey of the Kästners – the relationship between Erich and youngest daughter Antje and their mother Maria and sister Eva declining all the time. This disagreement revolves around the relationship with their lifelong friends and housekeepers – the Nussbaums who happen to be Jewish. While I do understand that Maria and Eva are afraid of repercussions – who can say if any of us would have been brave enough in the face of the SS or the Gestapo – I can’t help feeling that in their case it was more about their standing in society and Maria’s relationship with the Countess and finding Eva a well-connected husband.
In the meantime son Major Franz Kästner is hatching a plot with his father and sister Antje, to remove the Nussbaum’s two children Ruth and Manny from Nazi Germany to a place of safety eg England. By sheer (or should it be shear) coincidence, Franz and younger brother Johann are asked by a friend of their father’s if they would sail his boat The Shearwater to Norway. What an opportunity this presents! Just two problems – how to smuggle the children on board and keep them hidden, and how to involve Johann in the plot. Franz, like Erich, has seen first-hand the unbelievable cruelty dished out to the Jews in Germany, as they are systematically stripped of all their rights, their homes, their savings, are forbidden to travel or work and frequently shot, tortured and shipped to relocation ‘camps’ in Poland. And we all know what that meant. But Johann is still torn between helping Franz and remaining with his comrades in the army.
We knew in book one that Poland had been annexed, along with Austria, Czechoslovakia and the Sudetenland, but Holland and Belgium have also fallen, the British have been routed at Dunkirk, and France has collapsed under the Wehrmacht Blitzkrieg, sealing the fate of millions of Jews, now trapped under Hitler’s rule. But Hitler has set his sights even higher. He’s determined to invade the Soviet Union – this is not yet known publicly – but Erich has inroads into the Reich’s future plans through his friend Admiral Wilhelm Canaris, head of the Abwehr. **
Without saying too much more or giving anything away, Franz and Johann begin the journey to Norway, hoping to detour to England and get captured or ‘lost at sea’. This will mean being picked up as deserters by the Royal Navy and spending the rest of the war in a POW camp. But at least Ruth and Manny will be safe. Both Erich and Antje will help but Maria and Eva must never know the truth. Unfortunately, they encounter the worst storm in a decade and so the flight of the Shearwater begins in earnest.
But that’s not all! We are introduced to two of the most hateful characters I have ever encountered in literature – even worse than SS Officer Rudolph Mey who viciously beat and raped his wife Lise in book one. They are Gestapo Kriminalassistant Heinrich Güllich and his sidekick, the snivelling rat Carl Meyer. Obsessed with proving that Ruth and Manny were smuggled out of Kiel on the Shearwater, Güllich will go to any lengths to find some evidence. But even more so he is determined to bring down the ‘Jew-loving’ General Erich Kästner, because if there is one thing he hates more than Jews it’s over-privileged rich people with friends in high places who think they are untouchable. I just wanted someone to shoot them both.
Just one final point. Some twenty or so years ago I attended the funeral of my wonderful and adored Aunt Joan. After the ceremony, I had a discussion with the Rabbi about my ‘Jewishness’, She told me that of course I was Jewish as Jewishness was passed down through the mother. When I asked her why she said it was because so many Jewish women were raped that their children often didn’t know who their father was. Now I know this is not the only reason. and I can’t fully substantiate what she told me, but I think she may have been referring to the Ashkenazy Jews in Europe and their treatment by the Nazis.
Rape of Jewish women plays an even bigger role in the second book and will remain the most harrowing aspect for me (and I suspect for all women). Some were prepared to allow themselves to be taken by soldiers of the SS to stay alive, while others would rather have died. However, in many cases, rape, often in front of the husband and children was used as a means of torture and I can’t bring myself to go into further details – it’s too upsetting.
**Canaris is a fascinating and real character. Initially he was attracted to the National Socialists because of their stand on communism, but eventually, together with his friend Hans Oster, they were trying to prevent another war in Europe. He was disillusioned by Hitler’s fanaticism – seeing Warsaw in flames brought him to tears – and hatred of Jews and other minorities, so he began to diarise events in a journal which he hid in a safe, along with all the incriminating memos he received from the party – his fear being that his wonderful country would be demonised by the rest of the world for decades to come. His ‘apparent squeamishness’ was noted by Heydrich and added to his file on the “political unreliability” of the Abwehr, which would eventually be disbanded in 1944. We now know that Canaris was a double agent, having a mistress who was a Polish spy based in Switzerland, Halina Szymanska, who passed information from him to the Polish government-in-exile based in London and he is also have thought to have met with MI6. This is how he was able to pass on information about the invasion of the Soviet Union – Operation Barbarossa – to Erich Kästner (in the book). He has also been linked to Valkyrie, the plot to kill Hitler on which the film of the same name was based, but sufficient evidence was not found against him.
About the Author
Alan Jones is a Scottish author with three gritty crime stories to his name, the first two set in Glasgow, the third one based in London. He has now switched genres, and his WW2 trilogy will be published in August 2021. It is a Holocaust story set in Northern Germany.
He is married with four grown up children and four wonderful grandchildren.
He has recently retired as a mixed-practice vet in a small Scottish coastal town in Ayrshire and is one of the RNLI volunteer coxswains on the local lifeboat. He makes furniture in his spare time, and maintains and sails a 45-year-old yacht in the Irish Sea and on the beautiful west coast of Scotland. He loves reading, watching films and cooking. He still plays football despite being just the wrong side of sixty.
His crime novels are not for the faint-hearted, with some strong language, violence, and various degrees of sexual content. The first two books also contain a fair smattering of Glasgow slang.
He is one of the few self-published authors to be given a panel at Bloody Scotland and has done two pop-up book launches at the festival in Stirling.
He has spent the last five years researching and writing The Sturmtaucher Trilogy.