A family’s lost history

I have recently read a few books about tracing family history back to the Holocaust and uncovering long hidden secrets within families. Many of these have featured families from Eastern Europe. You can read about a few of these in posts here, here and here and those posts also link to some others with similar themes. The Lost Café Schindler is a biography of her father by Meriel Schindler who also uncovers his past from the documents he leaves when he dies and from talking to other family members, many of whom were previously unknown to her.

The author’s father Kurt was a fantasist and a liar – he reminds me of the description of his father by John Le Carre in his autobiography which I review here. The man was not trustworthy and the author didn’t believe the stories which he told her and others. After his death she investigated and discovered a rich family history based in Austria which had resulted in her family owning the most fashionable café in Innsbruck and then losing it in the war. The story she uncovers tells the reader much about the experiences of Jews in Europe during the twentieth century and the tremendous losses that they suffered both financially and in terms of family members killed in the pogroms and in the Holocaust.

The author finds out that much of what her father said was not true but she also discovered that he had experienced things which he never shared as an adult. Her family wasn’t really related to Kafka, except very distantly, but Hitler’s doctor had married into the family and used his privileged position to save family members from almost certain death. She discovers that her father was probably present when the family business was looted on Kristallnacht and she shares with the reader some recipes from the successful days of the café.

This is a fascinating account enlivened by photos and letters which the author has uncovered and I recommend it as an excellent read.

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