Title: Hitler and Mars Bars
Author: Dianne Ascroft
Format: Paperback, 340pp
Publisher: Trafford Publishing
Publication Date: March 2008
The book is available online from www.trafford.com/07-1955, www.amazon.com and other online
Dianne Ascroft is a Canadian writer, living in Britain. She has been freelance writing since 2002. Most of her writing focuses on history, arts/music and human interest stories. Her articles have been printed in Canadian and Irish newspapers and magazines including the Toronto Star, Mississauga News, Derry Journal, Banbridge Leader and Ireland’s Own magazine. ‘Hitler and Mars Bars’ is her first novel.
Dianne is currently on a Virtual Book Tour which continues until December 24. The full tour schedule is available at www.dianneascroft.wordpress.
Also, please drop by her website at www.geocities.com/dianne_
‘Hitler and Mars Bars’ is the story of a German boy, Erich, growing up in war-torn Germany and post-war rural Ireland. Set against the backdrop of Operation Shamrock, a little known Irish Red Cross project which aided German children after World War II, the novel explores a previously hidden slice of Irish and German history.
I have just finished reading Dianne Ascroft’s wonderful story entitled ‘Hitler and Mars Bars’. It’s a riveting story of a young German boy Erich from the industrialised Ruhr area of Germany. During the Second World War, buildings and industry were demolished but so were families and communities too. Erich’s mother is killed in the bombing. He and his brother Hans are left to fend for themselves.
It was then that they became part of Operation Shamrock, which was an Irish Red Cross project designed to help German children recover from the deprivation of the war. Southern Ireland was accused of being ambivalent in its attitude to Hitler. Yet Ireland was one of the first countries, through the Red Cross, to send donations to help the children in Germany.
As a result the German Save the Children Society was formed with the aim of bringing German children to Ireland to save them from starvation. With the help of the Irish Red Cross, many children were brought to Ireland - mainly to Glencree in Wicklow. When they were sufficiently cared for, they were fostered to families all over Ireland. Most of the children returned to Germany in the early 1950s but about 50 of them remained permanently in Ireland.
Dianne Ascroft’s story is based on Operation Shamrock, but the characters, including Erich, are fictional.
Throughout the book we follow the stories of these children, some of whom met good, caring families but others were treated horrifically. We read the stories of both in this excellently written book.
Traversing the country, we get to know the children, their families, the hard work entailed in running a farm in rural Ireland in those difficult times.
But most of all we get the human stories. As a novel it is extraordinarily well researched. It could form the basis of a revealing film script.
It is already an award winning novel for this Canadian born writer who has come to settle in Brookeborough in Co Fermanagh. Beautifully written with a strong human story running through it, it’s an ideal read for these summer days.
Brian D’Arcy, BBC broadcaster, Sunday World columnist, author, journalist,
THE GINGERBREAD HOUSE
Bredenscheid, near Hattingen, Germany
“Wake up, Erich,” his mother said softly.
Leaning over him, she gently shook his shoulder. Shrugging away from her touch, he turned over in the narrow metal bed. She shook a bit harder and he opened his eyes, squinting at her silhouette in the moonlight.
“Mutti! You’re here!” Erich sat up and threw his arms around her neck.
“Yes. Get up, quickly now.”
“I knew you’d come!” he cried.
“Shh…don’t wake the other children,” she hushed him as she pulled back his thin, woollen blanket.
Shivering in the cold air, he jumped out of bed and scurried the few steps to the fireplace. The embers from the fire, set before bedtime, still glowed and occasionally crackled in the open grate. The waning fire radiated a modest heat and Erich savoured its warmth. The moon was low in the early evening sky, but its light streamed through the partly drawn curtains.
Erich’s mother pulled his white cotton nightshirt over his head and he hunched forward, shivering as cold draughts eddied around him. She quickly threaded his arms into his shirt. Erich squirmed against the prickly fabric which scratched at his back.
“It’s itchy! I don’t want to wear it!”
“You don’t have anything else so you must. Hurry now!” she urged him.
She pulled up his short brown trousers and leaned over to lace his boots. She pushed his arms into his ragged woollen coat, then pulled it firmly around him, noticing how baggy it was.
“You are so thin!” she exclaimed. “You must eat!”
“They don’t give us much. And it’s rotten! It makes me sick. And I’m so tired,” he complained.
The food shortage was severe as the war drew to an end. Everyone struggled to get enough to eat. Malnutrition and the poor quality of available food frequently made the children ill. To conserve energy they went to bed after their evening meal.
She frowned, looking at him. The waist of his trousers was loose and his bony knees seemed large on his thin legs.
Putting her arm around his shoulder, she ushered him out of the dormitory and down the stairs. At the foot of the stairs Erich stopped. “Mutti has come for me, T-T-Tante Gretchen!” he called excitedly to the staff member standing in the downstairs hall. Nodding to the woman as they passed, his mother said, “I will return him by breakfast. Good night.”
As they stepped out of the door the darkness enveloped them; no street lights lit their way. Their eyes adjusted to it as they walked briskly down the country lane. Erich held tightly to his mother’s hand. He pressed against her, almost tripping her in his eagerness to be close to her on this rare visit.