A Precious Journey Of Love And Faith

Take my advice, skip the review, save yourself some time, just head on over to Amazon and buy this book, it is an absolute cracker of a read!

Oh, you are still reading, I guess that means I’ll have to write the review after all 🙂

One of my favorite genres of literature is what I refer to as living history, peoples stories told by those that knew them. Lizzi & Fredl is the story of an Austrian couple Alfred and Alice Steiner, and their struggles during the Second World War, the storyteller is their son William Stanford. In fact the story behind the book is nearly as fascinating as the book itself. Lizzi, Fredl and their young son immigrated to the US in 1950, as Bill entered adulthood he would occasionally make mention of their war experiences but neither would talk about them, either they would change the subject, or make some comment about talking another time.

It was not until the late 1990’s that Fredl now in his eighties finally agreed to tell his story, likewise mother Lizzi gradually told of her experiences. Alas Fredl passed away in 2001, and Lizzi in 2004. This book is a memorial to two very brave young people.

We have all heard of the horror stories about the Nazi persecution of the Jews, however the Jews were not the only ones persecuted, and the Nazi’s were by no means the only persecutors. Lizzi and Fredl were of the Roman Catholic faith, Lizzi a well respected dressmaker, and Fredl a master of fine jewelry.

Life was in many ways idyllic and the young couple enjoyed all of the finery that Vienna had to offer. Their life changed forever in August of 1938, the receipt of a single letter set in motion a series of events that would forever change their lives. The Republic of Germany demanded that Fredl present himself in Munich three days hence, and his new mission was to work in an aviation factory designing delicate timing devices for Hitler’s bombs.

Appalled by the thought of assisting the madman the young couple decided to head to France, a place where they thought they would be safe from the clutches of Germany. They were joined on this flight to freedom by Fredl’s two brothers, Ernstl and Fritz, plus their wives Elise and Betty.

Any illusions that the three couples had about France becoming a safe haven are quickly dashed. As war looms ever closer the French begin to treat foreign ‘guests’ with ever increasing distrust. It is not long before Fredl is separated from his wife and forced into a detention camp. The first in a series of ever deteriorating and humiliating places that he finds himself in.

charcoal.JPGHe is forced under threat of being shot to dig roads, chop down trees, make charcoal for fuel, and various other tasks that he is ill equipped to perform, physically slight and unused to physical labor it is nothing short of a miracle he survived. We have heard many stories of the atrocities committed in the Nazi camps, and while the French ones were not death camps per se, they treated their prisoners like animals, in fact at one particular camp Fredl is actually forced to sleep on hay in a horse stall.

Lizzi while avoiding detainment faces ever increasing obstacles to survival, and is forced from town to town because of her ethnicity. Her situation becomes even more perilous with the arrival of the Germans. In fact were it not for the fact that an elderly and somewhat deaf official made a mistake while filling out an ID card Lizzi would almost certainly have found herself in a German concentration camp.

That is not to say that Lizzi and Fredl did not meet some good and well meaning French people, indeed they did, and it was these people that likely made the difference between life and death. Overall though, this book does not paint a rosy picture of the treatment that the French meted out.

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Lizzi, William (Author), and Fredl

Their one desire throughout the war was to escape to the safety of the US, a goal that thwarted them time and time again. Even after the war had ended they still dreamed of a life in the ‘New World’, memories of the war were too painful to remain where they were. It took a total of 18 attempts to finally get accepted by the US. Their persistence paid off, and on Monday December/4 1950 the family got their first view of The Statue Of Liberty.

Gott im Himmel, danke Ihnen fur diesen Geschenk. Und danken Ihnen fur Ihre grenzenlose Gnade. God in heaven, thank you for this gift. And thank you for your boundless mercy, Fredl said as he stared into Lizzi’s loving eyes. Sie haben mir meine Lebeb ruckseite gegeben, You have given me my life back.

Author William Stanford has taken an interesting approach to the layout of the book, essentially alternating perspectives from Fredl and Lizzi by chapter. What surprised me was how complete the accounts of the events are. William Stanford has done an outstanding job in bringing Lizzi and Fredl to life. I never met them, but through the written word I feel as if they are old friends.

You can get your own copy of Fredl & Lizzi from Amazon. William Stanford also has a web site that is well worth a visit.
Simon Barrett

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