All The Books I Can Read

1 girl….2 many books!

Review: The Viennese Girl by Jenny Lecoat

on April 30, 2020

The Viennese Girl 
Jenny Lecoat
Allen & Unwin
2020, 265p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Blurb {from the publisher/}:

Inspired by the true story of a young Jewish girl – Hedy Bercu – who fled to Jersey from Vienna only to find herself trapped on the island during the German occupation.

In June 1940, the horror-struck inhabitants of Jersey watch as the German army unopposed takes possession of their island. Now only a short way from the English coast, the Germans plan their invasion.

Hedy Bercu, a young Jewish girl from Vienna who fled to the isolation and safety of Jersey two years earlier to escape the Nazis, finds herself once more trapped, but this time with no way of escape.

Hiding her racial status, Hedy is employed by the German authorities and secretly embarks on small acts of resistance. But most dangerously of all, she falls in love with German lieutenant Kurt Neumann — a relationship on which her life will soon depend.

This is a fictionalised account of a real life story – Hedwig ‘Hedy’ Bercu was real. Born in Vienna, she escaped to Jersey only to find that the German invasion followed her when they took possession of the Channel Islands. A confusion in her identity cards allowed her to claim that she ‘wasn’t really’ Jewish, although due to regulations, her identity card was still stamped with the red J that denoted her Jewish faith. Despite this, after German arrival, Hedy was able to get a job working as a translator for the German office as she was one of the few people on the island that could speak both fluent German and English.

Whilst working, Hedy meets a young German soldier named Kurt Neumann, who clearly finds her attractive and asks her to translate something for him. In return he’ll provide her with a meal and given that most of the locals on Jersey are struggling for food now due to the swelling German population, Hedy finds it hard to refuse. Kurt is German but without the fanaticism of a lot of his fellow countrymen and also without the prejudice. Even though he claims to have no issues with those of other races or religions, Hedy keeps her Jewish status a secret from him, even after they become lovers, for the safety of everyone. After she is found out stealing petrol coupons, it’s Kurt who helps work out a solution for Hedy to hide in the home of her friend and assists the two women with rations and gives them advance information so that they might survive the remainder of the occupation.

The only other book I’ve read detailing some of the German occupation of the islands in the English Channel was The Guernsey Literary And Potato Peel Pie Society which actually begins after the occupation and war are well over and details the experience of some of the characters during the experience through letters. This begins just before – Hedy has already fled the Germans once, having had to leave her native Austria. She thought that Jersey might be safe but now, some two years later, the danger has followed her. Despite her reluctance, the suggestion from her friend’s wife that she apply for a job in the office doing translation is the only option left for Hedy. Food is scarce, jobs scarcer. The soldiers take everything for themselves, leaving locals struggling.

Hedy is in an unenviable position. The locals are wary of her because although she isn’t German and might be in even more danger from them than those from Jersey are, her accent sounds German to them, so they don’t know how to treat her. And when the Germans come, although her German is fluent, she’s had to be declared Jewish on her identity card so they might employ her but she doesn’t find any friends in the encampment….except for Kurt.

I know not all Germans were Nazis – and there were probably many who didn’t agree or want to take part in the many atrocities of World War II. But it’s jarring reading a romance between a Jewish woman and a German officer. I’m not sure honestly, why Hedy would even consider such a thing at first. Kurt is fine, he’s kind of persistent in pursuing her at first and he also doesn’t know she’s Jewish although if he did I don’t think it would’ve made a difference, he does take pains to assure Hedy that he doesn’t have those same views about race and religion. But he’s also incredibly naive, assuming Jewish people are “just working on farms” like a lot of Germans did probably but Hedy knows better. It feels difficult to believe in a romance where the countrymen of one person are exterminating the people of the other with alarming determination. This is based on a real story, and the real Hedy Bercu did marry her German soldier boyfriend after the war so it’s not like it’s out of the realms of possibility, it just feels hard to believe in. Especially as the romance felt quite swift and rushed – snatches of time, sneaking around, differences in opinion over German motivation and actions. There’s no build, but the rules of war are probably different given tomorrow is not guaranteed.

For me, the shining light of this book was the friendship between Hedy and Dorothea. At first, it seems Hedy has little patience for Dorothea but the woman, who seems a bit flighty and lacking in substance, ends up being a rock. A person who is incredibly brave and sees a way to help her friend and perhaps give her own private ‘screw you’ to the group that invaded her home and stole her husband away from her. Dorothea was an amazing character, one who seemed physically and even emotionally weak but ended up probably being the strongest of all, with backbone and loyalty and a willingness to place herself in danger for others. She doesn’t seem like much at first and we see her through Hedy’s somewhat disdainful eyes but she really comes into her own in this story.

I felt like this probably gave a good indication of life during German occupation – the uncertainty, the lack of food and supplies, the horror of the locals as they watched prisoners arrive to work, the fear. But there was always hope underneath, there were small rebellions that the citizens engaged in. The element of romance wasn’t for me, I think it could’ve been fleshed out a little more but the way in which Hedy and Dorothea’s friendship evolved was admirable.


Book #77 of 2020


2 responses to “Review: The Viennese Girl by Jenny Lecoat

  1. We sort of have opposing views on this one, I thought the romance was well developed, but the friendship between Hedy and Dory was underdone 🙂

  2. Marg says:

    I like the idea of this one! Firstly because it is different and because it is set on Jersey.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: