My Innocent Absence by Miriam Frank and Between Hitler & a Hard Place by Rolf Panny review

by Fiona Rae / 28 January, 2012
Two New Zealanders of German origin relate their stories.
Wrenched from their home in France in 1941 by her unconventional German Jewish solo mother to escape Nazi roundups, Miriam Frank began a restless life. From childhood days in Majorca and Mexico, schooling and medical training in New Zealand, hospital work in Israel, then as an anaesthetics specialist in London, she recreates her story vividly in MY INNOCENT ABSENCE: TALES FROM A NOMADIC LIFE (Arcadia, $39.95).

They thought New Zealand would be their promised land, but Frank found its climate cold and the people repressed. Yearning for a life of high emotions, colour and excitement, and with her relationship with her equally passionate mother under strain, she begins to wander once more in search of a career and an identity. Instead, she repeats the worst of her mother’s mistakes, falling for an impossible man. She marries a volatile German artist whose alcoholism, fecklessness and infidelity eventually provide her with more drama than even she can cope with, and two daughters to support.

Today retired, Frank lives in London, Greece and Italy, turning out Spanish literary translations. At home both nowhere and everywhere, she discovers, as so many have before, that wherever you go, there you are.

A very different life story by another New Zealander of German origin is BETWEEN HITLER & A HARD PLACE: A MEMOIR 1924-1948 (Steele Roberts, $34.99) by retired Massey University lecturer Rolf Panny. Growing up in Hamburg as the Nazis rose to dominance, Panny learnt early the virtues of keeping his head down and his sense of irony intact. A philosophy student, he manages by adroit footwork to avoid joining the Hitler Youth, but eventually the army catches up with him and he serves in the trenches on the Russian front.

The fascination of Panny’s candidly told story lies in the spirited detail of his daily work and family life as war raged, and his good-humoured, conversational, warts-and-all style. A competent English speaker, he spent time in an Allied POW camp in Brussels as a translator and then German teacher to English troops.

Life in England at war’s end gave him an appreciation of the British approach to philosophy. The prospect of clearing rubble for the prolonged rebuilding of a shattered Germany held no joy for him, and he opted for an academic career in France and the US. Panny plans a second volume; I’ll certainly be looking out for it.

Dale Williams is a writer and editor.

Latest

Inside the close-knit community that lives along the Cromwell-Tarras Rd
102505 2019-02-19 00:00:00Z Travel

Inside the close-knit community that lives along t…

by Mike White

Mike White heads up the Cromwell-Tarras road to merino and wine country.

Read more
The stars of Luther talk about their return in season five
102486 2019-02-18 13:16:40Z Television

The stars of Luther talk about their return in sea…

by The Listener

Idris Elba, Ruth Wilson, Hermione Norris, Wunmi Mosaku and Michael Smiley answer questions about the future of the dark and disturbing crime drama.

Read more
Vital evidence in Pike River mine disaster missing, say families
102465 2019-02-18 09:22:49Z Planet

Vital evidence in Pike River mine disaster missing…

by RNZ

Some families of Pike River mine victims suspect a piece of vital evidence may have been spirited away by the mining company and lost.

Read more
It's time to empower the mayor and make Auckland liveable again
102432 2019-02-17 00:00:00Z Politics

It's time to empower the mayor and make Auckland l…

by Bill Ralston

Making Auckland a liveable city is an unenviable task, writes Bill Ralston, but it's clear the mayor needs more power.

Read more
Knight star: Sir Hec Busby on his extraordinary life
102328 2019-02-17 00:00:00Z Profiles

Knight star: Sir Hec Busby on his extraordinary li…

by Clare de Lore

Northland kaumātua, master carver, navigator and bridge builder Hec Busby was hoping for “no fuss” when he accepted a knighthood.

Read more
Keira Knightley shines in bodice-ripping period drama Colette
102397 2019-02-16 00:00:00Z Movies

Keira Knightley shines in bodice-ripping period dr…

by James Robins

The story of Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette, a heroine of French literature, focuses on her early struggles.

Read more
Is barbecued meat bad for your health?
102255 2019-02-16 00:00:00Z Nutrition

Is barbecued meat bad for your health?

by Jennifer Bowden

Sizzling meat on the barbecue is the sound and smell of summer, but proceed with caution.

Read more
March of the Algorithms: Who’s at the wheel in the age of the machine?
102434 2019-02-16 00:00:00Z Tech

March of the Algorithms: Who’s at the wheel in the…

by Jenny Nicholls

Complacently relying on algorithms can lead us over a cliff – literally, in the case of car navigation systems.

Read more