A timely look at two incredible narratives

The occasion of the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz this week offers me an opportunity I cannot pass by, to give a shameless but, I hope, entirely understandable promotion to two books which are very close to my heart.

My mother is an inspiration to me. At a time of life when most people have their feet up in front of the fire, she wrote and published these two books. It was her depth of commitment and passion that inspired me to try this writing-a-book thing for myself – although what I produced (a hopefully gripping psychological novel – contemporary mainstream fiction) is about as far removed from these well-researched, factual and historically significant books as it’s possible to get.

Music Publishing and Patronage – C. F. Peters: 1800 to the Holocaust – By Irene Lawford-Hinrichsen

2015-01-28 11.23.25“..this book will provide enlightening reading not only to all people associated with music, but also to the general reader who wants to know how destiny and history impinge on the human being” Yehudi Menuhin

If you love classical music; if you yearn to get under the skin of some of the most influential composers of their time; if the history of Germany and the Holocaust fascinates you; or if the lives of generous, dedicated, passionate people of culture inspire you, then this book is for you. Within its pages is a wealth of real life stories which bring history, culture and remarkable personalities alive.

The book is an account of the Hinrichsen family’s music publishing business, the world-renowned brand Edition Peters. It charts the relationships between C. F. Peters and many great composers and other matters of fascination to the music lover. Over and above a tapestry of musical, social and commercial history runs the family history; an account concluding with the horrendous fate meted out to numerous family members, including Henri Hinrichsen – my great-grandfather – who met his end in Auschwitz at the age of 74.

Five Hundred Years to Auschwitz – A family odyssey from the Inquisition to the Present – By Irene Lawford-Hinrichsen

2015-01-28 11.27.34This is an objective yet dramatic historical account of the journey of one dynasty – the author’s Sephardic Jewish paternal family – through 500 years of European turmoil. It tells of how politics and turbulent times shaped the family’s passage from the Inquisition to the Holocaust and beyond and graphically illustrates the dark reality of history coming ‘full circle’. It’s a human story set within a historical context, a fascinating account of achievement, emigration, persecution, horror and ultimately, survival.

The Henriques/Hinrichsens were not passive observers, but enterprising protagonists who left their mark on commerce and society. The family migrated from Spain to Portugal and then to Germany. In businesses as diverse as shipping, finance, tobacco, ladies corsetry and ultimately music publishing, the family were fully engaged in commercial enterprise. Their commitment to politics and civic society led to some becoming Court Jews – financiers to the rulers; another was a High Court Judge and President of the Senate in Hamburg; yet another worked tirelessly towards the emancipation of the Jews. A commitment to music, culture and philanthropy gave rise to generous bequests to the city of Leipzig in the early decades of the twentieth century.

The narrative weaves the political, commercial, social and personal experiences of the generations together with the often brutal events of their time; the Inquisition, the 30 years war, the Great War, the Weimar Republic, the Nazi era, Kristallnacht, Aryanization, Auschwitz and beyond, to the aftermath, Russian occupation of Eastern Germany and the creation of the GDR, taking the reader to the USA and to London, England and the modern day.

It is from here that my mother, inspired by the challenges and achievements of her father and grandfather, returned to Leipzig to seek out her roots and resurrect the memories of a dynasty.

* * *

I was born in the UK and am just one-quarter Jewish via my mother and grandfather. Nevertheless the connection I feel to the horrors of the Holocaust, especially since my mother provided us with such a comprehensive account of the family’s struggles, is very strong.

These two books have been in publication for several years and for anyone interested, they are now available to buy from the Edition Peters Group website – see Featured Publications in the right-hand column.

(By the way, excuse the dodgy images; they are photos of my actual copies of both books, complete with wonky edges and dodgy shadows. I’m a writer not a photographer!)

9 thoughts on “A timely look at two incredible narratives

  1. Wow, what an interesting family you have. It must be wonderful for you to read these books, even given some of the difficult stories they portray, and know that the same blood runs through your veins. Don’t even feel shy about being proud of both your family, and your mother for writing such wonderful works.

    1. Thank you, Dylan, and yes, I do feel proud. And I’m fortunate that my mother did so much work in uncovering the story. We see how the celebrities on ‘Who Do You Think You Are’ feel connected with their past and come to understand aspects of themselves through their discoveries. It was pretty much like that for me too.

        1. You’re right about the prices – but that’s because they’re both hardbacks. My mother wrote them in the days before Kindle and print-on-demand. She wanted to produce hardbacks rather than paperbacks and needed a print-run of a certain size, even for the costs as they are. We’re so lucky these days to be able to publish at such very reasonable costs, and on a book-by-book basis too.

          Nevertheless, I’m working on her to put out Kindle versions. Given that she has the manuscripts on MSWord and the cover artwork, it could be fairly straightforward. Although both books have quite a few photographs so that could complicate things. But Kindle is still a bit of a leap at the moment.

  2. These do sound like wonderful books to own and read — but alas! the prices! Do try to persuade your mother to reissue them in another, less expensive format! Thank you too, Julie, for telling us about them. (Another something I didn’t know about you! 🙂 )

    1. Yes, those prices! It’s because they are hardbacks, delivered before the arrival of Kindle and print-on-demand. I’m trying to persuade my mother to issue Kindle versions, I’m not sure how successful I will be. But I somehow think the work is done for now.

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