Katherine Diosy was born in Budapest in 1920. As a schoolgirl in Vienna she was ordered out onto the streets to welcome the visiting Adolf Hitler, after he and his thugs had swallowed the country. Even Jews were ordered to attend, to swell the crowds and show the outside world how everyone in Austria approved. She stood a matter of feet from the man himself as he was driven past, a pasty faced nonentity of a chap with a sly, sullen look.
Kathy was amazed to discover that even her teachers were closet Nazis, and even more so to discover that she and her sole friend were now regarded as outcasts, pariahs, made to sit in the corner, not to be spoken to by the other pupils at any time, and it was with great relief that she was able to return to her family and friends in a still free Hungary, though only on condition that her school fees for the rest of the year were paid up.
That safety would not last long.
The long shadow of evil turned towards Budapest and again Kathy and her family were persecuted, ordered to attend railway stations at ungodly hours, and far worse than that. Kathy argued with her mother about attending. The daughter courageously tore off her yellow star and went into hiding, hunkering down in a cousin’s abandoned flat, the same cousin who had been called into the Hungarian army to fight alongside the German army on the Russian front. The hapless young man, suffering from cold and poor rations and no mail from home, eventually receives a letter from his homeland, only to discover it is an electricity bill for the crumbling and bombed flat back in Buda, where Kathy cowers in the hallway, living in silence with a single candle for company.
Eventually the Russians arrive and all will be well, except it won’t be for the young and conquered women. Things get worse again, far worse, but at least there is some consolation for Kathy from the hanging Nazis who decorate many of the lampposts throughout Buda. Kathy touches their feet, for comfort, it is good to know that at least some have paid the ultimate price for murdering and deporting hundreds of thousands Hungarian Jews and others to the camps, including many of Kathy’s immediate family. Can she ever forgive them? Would you?
She applies to emigrate to the USA but they drag their heels, citing one excuse after another, but Australia will accept them, and finally Kathy leaves a shattered and bitter Europe for the sunshine and peace of a country a world away.
Forgiving Hitler is three books in one. Firstly, Kathy’s own story, an intimate tale of one woman’s eventful life, and how other human beings can sink so low. Secondly, we break off every now and again, for an update on the how the war is progressing. This part didn’t convince me; and one or two of the facts were not quite correct either, but hey, it was only ever a slight diversion from the real story.
And the third strand followed Kathy’s strange religious conversion. She came from an old Jewish family, but they were what could be termed, lapsed Jews. They didn’t follow a kosher diet, and barely visited the synagogues once a year. Someone had the bright wheeze that if they converted to Catholicism, they would all be safe. A piece of priestly paper in the pocket stating they were now Catholic would save them from any trouble from the Nazis, and what is more, they could obtain such a document by simply making a substantial contribution to the church funds, except the piece of paper was about as useful as 1920’s German banknote.
On arrival in Australia she again attempts to join the Catholic Church, but surprisingly, and rather oddly, they don’t want to know because she has never attended a Catholic service in her life. But the Anglicans and even Evangelists are keen enough, and here she finds some peace, and even the ability to forgive, maybe.
The book comes from a religious publisher, and that made me wonder about the ultimate conversions, but please do read it and make up your own mind.
All in all this is a fantastic book, detailing one young woman’s struggle with walls of evil the likes of which had never been seen before. Kathy’s story held me through and through; the other two strands were never as engaging, or convincing.
A super read though, and Kathy’s story will live long in the memory.