Hazel McHaffie

On that date …

I’ve been mulling over a strange thought this week. The significance of dates.

It began when I started to read yet another book about the Nazis: this time The Day the Nazis Came by Stephen R Matthews. This one is set in Guernsey at the beginning of the Second World War, and it’s written by a man who was a small child there and got caught up in the horrors. He was just four years old when he was deported with his parents to a camp in Germany.

To begin with, and with due respect, I should say, the author is not a natural wordsmith, but he has a family story to tell which I found worth persisting with, because these times were relevant to my own history. My parents started their family in 1941; they too were eking out a meagre living because of the deprivations of war; they too were seeking shelter from air raids, observing blackouts, watching developments fearfully. It resonated.

I’ve visited the Channel Islands twice and can envisage the places and scenarios Matthews talks about.

At the end of the 90s a beautiful tapestry had finally been completed commemorating the events of occupation, and I was blown away by the vibrancy of its panels and the profound sense of history it captures. The bulk of the embroidering was done by skilled needle workers, but anyone could add a stitch under their guidance, to give them a personal connection. And it’s that personal identification with events and experiences that I’ve been preoccupied with this week.

Identifying with dates and details in this book, I’m reminded of the profound feeling I had in Berlin where there is so much to remind one of the horrors perpetrated in the 40s which must never be forgotten. I felt devastated by a sense of terrible loss when I stood on the edge of a railway line marking the number of Jews deported to the concentration camps on the day of my birth. I was bereft of words looking at the memorials to the Romany people, to the trains taking children to life or to death, to the six million Jews who died in the concentration camps – all of which happened in my early childhood.

And isn’t that what we try to do with novel writing? Take the reader into that place, that time, that emotion? Leave them feeling the connection. So even though The Day the Nazis Came isn’t going to win any literary prizes, it’s enabling us to hear what it was like to live innocently on these beautiful islands, and nevertheless be sucked into a darkness, an evil, beyond comprehension.

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