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

The science behind finding the perfect sports bra
107091 2019-06-17 00:00:00Z Health

The science behind finding the perfect sports bra

by Ruth Nichol

Insufficient breast support is a barrier to exercise for many women, but with the right sports bra, there can be less bounce in your step.

Read more
Jessica McCormack: The Kiwi jeweller sparkling in Mayfair
106986 2019-06-16 00:00:00Z Profiles

Jessica McCormack: The Kiwi jeweller sparkling in…

by Clare de Lore

Diamonds and books are New Zealand designer Jessica McCormack’s best friends.

Read more
Sometimes Always Never is a triple-word-score of a film
107199 2019-06-16 00:00:00Z Movies

Sometimes Always Never is a triple-word-score of a…

by James Robins

In a delightful film about a father whose life has come unstuck after a contentious Scrabble game, Bill Nighy is superb.

Read more
Cocaine and cleavage: The iconic TV series Westside returns
107210 2019-06-16 00:00:00Z Television

Cocaine and cleavage: The iconic TV series Westsid…

by Fiona Rae

In the return of the West family saga, it’s 1987 and Ted West and the gang are waiting to rob a safe.

Read more
Bill Ralston: Why Jacinda Ardern needs a serious cabinet reshuffle
107147 2019-06-15 00:00:00Z Politics

Bill Ralston: Why Jacinda Ardern needs a serious c…

by Bill Ralston

If this Government is serious about tackling the big issues, it needs the best possible line-up of Cabinet ministers.

Read more
The drama and the trauma behind NZ musician Shayne Carter's rise to the top
107207 2019-06-15 00:00:00Z Music

The drama and the trauma behind NZ musician Shayne…

by Mike White

Shayne Carter’s career has been wild and acclaimed. But his just-released memoir reveals the drama and trauma going on behind the scenes.

Read more
Rare photos of the Straitjacket Fits by Brian Murphy
The Handmaid's Tale is so chilling, you risk hypothermia
107150 2019-06-15 00:00:00Z Television

The Handmaid's Tale is so chilling, you risk hypot…

by Diana Wichtel

Season three of The Handmaid’s Tale packs a punch, despite some implausible scenes, writes Diana Wichtel.

Read more