In July 1938, the young Austrian Kurt Reiner had everything to look forward to. A 25-year old Jewish engineering student at Vienna’s Technical College, he was newly married to Hennie, a beautiful 19-year old high school graduate skilled in multiple languages. But just four months later, on November 10, 1938, Kurt was arrested by the German Gestapo in what became known as Kristallnacht, or the “Night of Broken Glass” and sent to Dachau, the first concentration camp opened in Germany and one of the most brutal. To rescue her husband, Hennie courageously confronts a Gestapo agent, an act of bravado that is instrumental in securing his release from the camp. After landing for several months at Fischamend , a farm labor camp monitored by the Nazi SS, the couple discover a pathway into Italy. Recognizing that Italy's fascist dictator, Mussolini is progressively consenting of Hitler's anti-Semitic policies, they manipulate their way across the border into France. As if their emigration plight wasn't difficult enough, it is again stalled when Kurt is arrested as an Austrian/German "foreign enemy" only days after they reach Marseille and France declares war on Germany.
The name of this book could be alternately titled Escape from Europe or Journey to Freedom or any one of a number of descriptive terms of flight easily justified by the substantive and underlying nature of the text. However, critical to the final selection of the book title was the prevailing theme from beginning to end that Counting on America was the lifeblood inspiration for the newlyweds as they persevered in the face of multiple challenges. The fact that they survived was nothing short of amazing, but without question it was due to their unconditional commitment to one another and unyielding faith that they would be embraced by America.
Remarkably, as the memoir is pieced together by the co-author and son, Gary Reiner, a tangential theme became apparent when some of the notable personalities mentioned were “Googled.” As a result, it was discovered that Kurt and Hennie inadvertently met up with more than a half dozen strangers that after the war were recognized as renowned world villains or heroes. Villains include Odilio Globočnik, the SS Leader given the mandate to carry out the Aktion Reinhard, the Nazi code name for the extermination of European Jewry; and SS Oberführer Hans Loritz, a Dachau Commandant in 1939. Heroes include Ho Feng-Shan, China’s mission chief in Nazi-occupied Vienna, honored in 2000 by Yad Vashem with the award, “Righteous Among the Nations”; and Hiram Bingham IV, U.S. diplomat, honored with the “Courageous Valor” award by the Simon Wiesenthal Center in 2011. As the story unfolds, it appears likely that each of these characters competed in their own way to determine the Reiner's ultimate fate.
"Every attempt was made to capture the experiences of my parents and project the emotional and historical significance of what Jews in Europe endured. It was what I endeavored to accomplish in order to make the causes and events of the Holocaust more understandable to our children and successive generations." Author and son, Gary D. Reiner
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Growing up as a first-generation, American child of a Holocaust survivor, I am aware that neither I nor most of my Jewish friends understood the significance of the Holocaust nor the lessons it advanced to people of all religious persuasions and ethnicities. I was also not aware of what my parents had experienced in Europe, or what it took for them to reach the United States. For example, I did not learn
until my late teens that my father spent three months in Dachau, a notorious holding facility
for “undesirables” that resulted in the murder of tens of thousands of persons. My father, of course, spoke of such matters when he began producing his memoir. My mother, quite frankly, could never overcome
her tears to speak of the Holocaust even as the subject was broached.
Helping put together my parents’ story completely changed my understanding. First, I discovered that the murder of 6,000,000 Jews was more than just a number. In the absence of context, it is difficult to connect with events that have no relationship to your own reality. In essence, my parents' story demonstrates through dramatic circumstance, including political-social discord, financial and emotional duress, why the Holocaust
is not simply explained by anti-Semitism. Importantly, I came to appreciate what it must have been like to live during times when political forces gave rise to violent social discord; as well as scrambling to endure within an environment of racial hatred targeting Jews-- the end goal being their complete annihilation.
Second, I came to recognize how brave, creative, lucky and in love my parents must have been as they strategized and maneuvered to survive their ordeal. Further, there are so many instances in which they barely managed to beat the clock (that is, narrowly escape), that one has to seriously consider the advent of divine intervention. Finally, I came to appreciate the need to remain vigil and alert to the danger signs of the scapegoating of ethnic and religious minorities. In fact, that may be the most important lesson of the book.
EDGY THROUGHOUT, THE MEMOIR IS EDUCATIONAL, ALTERNATELY FUNNY, SAD, CHILLING AND ROMANTIC. FOR LEISURE READING OR HIGH SCHOOL AND COLLEGE ACADEMIC SETTINGS.
Gary Reiner, Co-Author and Son
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John P. Hogan
McLean Center for the Study of Culture and Values
5 Stars - Jack Magnus for Readers' Favorite
D. Donovan, Senior Reviewer, Midwest Book Review
Former Director of Communications McKinsey & Company
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