The warm reception for Hout Bay author Regine Josephy-Stelzmann’s book, collating letters from her father while stationed in the Ukraine during the Second World War, has prompted her to release an English translation.
The German edition of Feldpost 01047 was published in 2009, but as word has spread of the contents of Heinz Thone’s emotional letters home to his wife Eva and their two young children, Ms Josephy-Stelzmann was encouraged to release the book in English.
The book will be launched at the Hout Bay library from 1.30pm on Sunday September 3.
Ms Josephy-Stelzmann discovered the letters among her late mother’s possessions. They paint a harrowing portrait of life at the frontlines of war, particularly since her father, a successful architect by trade, was ideologically opposed to Hitler’s ambitions.
Young Germans, irrespective of their beliefs, were conscripted at the behest of the Fuhrer, and so it was that after the battle for Stalingrad, where Germany sustained heavy losses, he was called up to the Russian front.
Here he would be stationed near the Black Sea, defending a bridge over the Dnjepr river until his
death, apparently succumbing to shrapnel sustained during a grenade attack.
Yet more than the atrocities experienced by a father still under the age of 30, it is the love Heinz shows for his wife and two children, at the time one and two years old respectively, that strikes at the heart of the reader.
Today the words may seem
grandiloquent to the point of phoniness, but this was a time in which human relationships and the love of others was considered a privilege,
so expendable was life during the war.
“After arriving in the Ukraine, my father was given a field post number, 01047, but I think what he wrote in the letters wouldn’t have passed the censors,” Ms Josephy-Stelzmann
“There are things said that the army would have considered secrets. I’m assuming he got them through to my mother by giving them to soldiers who were granted leave.”
In one of the letters, Heinz mentioned that when he returned from the war, he wanted to put all 37 letters into a book. Given that he never did make it back, Ms Josephy-Stelzmann felt obliged to carry out her father’s wishes.
“My father had beautiful handwriting, and the letters were so well preserved.”
Interestingly, the man who encouraged her to publish the letters was someone who had known her father but who she herself had never met. Quite by chance, she learnt of Dr Heinz Migot, a Stuka pilot during the war, residing at a home for the elderly in Somerset West.
It was Dr Migot who swayed her to tell his story.
Ms Josephy-Stelzmann said after many people had expressed interest in the German edition, particularly people in Cape Town, she decided to re-release the book in English.
“It was quite difficult to translate. The letters were still in ‘old’ German. My father addressed my mother with terms like ‘honourable’ and ‘holy’, sayings you wouldn’t find today,” she said.
“After six months, when it was completed, I asked a German translator I know whether I should translate it for the modern audience, but he said it was best to keep the original, as it would capture how my father was feeling at the time.”
The book, she hoped, would go a long way to dispelling the stigmas attached to young German soldiers who fought in the war.
“This book sheds light on the fact that it was the ‘big ones’ in Berlin who were making all the terrible decisions. My father was a hugely successful architect, he was a big deal, and then he was called away to fight for something he did not believe
“There is no grave for my father, because he was on the side of the enemy. This makes me very sad.”
She said she could not be certain of the official version that her father had been killed by shrapnel, as the army had sent two letters informing her mother of his death, each giving a different date in 1943.
“My father was very outspoken against the Reich. My mother used
to tell me that when they went to restaurants he would turn around pictures of Hitler hanging on the wall. So I do wonder if how he
died is true. He could have been
killed by the SS, rather than by a grenade.”
All proceeds from the sale of the book will be donated to the Sonop home for the disabled. For more information, contact
Ms Josephy-Stelzmann on 079 916 1042.