This book was originally issued under the title Evil on the Wind and I read it several years ago. Since then we have had the arrival of the Kindle and other e-readers which make access to deserving books so much easier. I am simply delighted that this title is now available to a wider readership as I think it is an excellent book.
The Runaway Family tells the story of a Jewish family, living in Germany, just before the outbreak of the Second World War. We are all familiar with the happenings of that time and the persecution of the Jews; the stealing of their property, the arrests in the middle of the night, the stripping of all dignity and rights; the hardships and the humiliations they suffered.
Ruth Friedman and her four children are left alone following the destruction of their home and the arrest of her
husband, Karl. She is homeless and seeks help from her friends and neighbours who are unwilling to harbour her in case of reprisals. She manages to make her way to her brother-in-law, Herbert, who takes them in, albeit reluctantly and, as the situation in Germany worsens, he decides to leave the country and go to Argentina leaving Ruth and her family behind. He goes and to Ruth's horror, she learns he has been arrested and she and her family are turned out of the apartment which is now claimed by his housekeeper, Frau Schulz, as her reward for betraying them all to the Gestapo.
After many tribulations, Ruth manages to get her family out of Germany and goes to stay with her sister and husband in Austria. She has merely jumped out of the frying pan into the fire, as within months of her arrival the Anschluss takes place and not only does she have to submit to the same treatment as she received in Germany, so do her family who had no real understanding of what happened to Ruth prior to their arrival. Now they do. Once again, she is left alone as her sister, husband and children flee the country leaving Ruth behind with her mother and children. She remains behind hoping to hear from her husband Karl to whom she has written and left a letter with neighbours in their old home.
While one's reaction to cowardice and betrayal is contempt and anger, it is easy to feel this way when reading this book indoors nice and safe and far removed from the time and place. I do wonder sometimes how I, or others, would react if tested in this way. Would be good to think we would all be brave and honest, but would we?
The family becomes separated as two of Ruth's children are sent to safety through Kindertransport. This part of the book really moved me to tears:
"Ruth was determined not to break down in front of her children. She fought the lump that rose so painfully in her throat, struggled to keep the brimming tears from flooding down her cheeks as she looked down at her two little daughters, one just eight years old, the other eleven, about to embark on a journey into the unknown. How could she let them go? How could she send these two children off on their own across Europe?"
At the time of my first reading of The Runaway Family my elder daughter was starting a new job in Australia, I was deeply upset about this and knew I was going to miss her. If I felt this way when a grown up daughter, capable and clever and able to look after herself, was leaving on her travels, how must these parents have felt when they waved goodbye to their children knowing that, in all probability, they will never see them gain? It is simply heart breaking and almost impossible to contemplate.
To say I 'enjoyed' this book is wrong. Enjoy is not a word to use for such a topic as this, but I was quite overwhelmed by it. Nothing mawkish or sentimental about the writing, it was clean and strong, no exaggeration was needed to emphasis the horrors of this time, the plain statement of fact is enough. This is a wonderful book, deeply moving and I cannot recommend it enough.