Fiercely patriotic secular Jew, Pavel Bauer, is helpless to prevent his world from unravelling when the Nazis invade Sudetenland, Czechoslovakia in 1939.  As the Czech government falls – a system he had great respect for – and then his business partners and neighbours all turn their back on Pavel and his family, only their adoring and dependant governess Marta remains loyal.  This book explores the Bauers’ heartbreaking struggle between doing what is right and acting to save themselves.  It shows how decisions born of fear, love and principle can have unimaginable consequences in wartime.  The reader feels the Bauers’ desperation on finally grasping the true enormity of the Nazi campaign and its destructive consequences for their family and particularly for their son Pepik.  

Key Themes

People are not all good or all bad

  • Ernst was Pavel’s employee and friend of many years but uses the events of 1939 to take Pavel’s property and prevent his exit from Czechoslovakia
  • Marta is loyal to the Bauers but struggles internally with the influence of Nazi policy and feelings of abandonment

Small acts of resistance

  • Anneliese tried to convince Pavel of the peril of staying in Sudetenland but he remains determined to stand firm for his country and culture, however futile doing so may be
  • despite not being religious, Pavel places a menorah in the window and says a Hebrew prayer at Chanukah in a gesture of defiance

Victims of Nazi persecution were part of the community

  • the Bauers are shocked and distressed by violence committed against the kind Jewish Mr Goldstein and a Catholic priest who agrees to baptise Pepik to try and protect him
  • Pavel Bauer was a well respected secular Czech businessman, whose wealth and influence were in the end irrelevant to the Nazis because of his background

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You can use HMDT resources to find out more about children like Pepik who escaped Europe on the Kindertransport:

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