“Exhaustively researched and movingly written” Jonathan Gornall
Eighty years on from the start of the genocidal calamity that claimed the lives of six million Jews in Europe there is a danger that, as the voices of the last survivors can be heard no more, the true meaning of the Holocaust will be lost to history.
The House on Thrömerstrasse, an exhaustively researched and movingly written book, serves the vital purpose of keeping alive that meaning, not through a broad retelling of the horror story that is the Holocaust, but by immersing the reader in the lives of the Böhm family and their descendants.
After all, while history can be too vast to grasp, each of us has a mother and a father and the story of the Böhms – one more ordinary family striving to make its way in the world, just like our own, until the rise of Nazism blotted out its sun – is one with which we can all identify.
Author Ron Vincent’s achievement is to flesh out the story of the lives and times of this family with just enough detail to bring to life its hopes, dreams and sufferings without bogging down the narrative with minutiae – a trap into which many writers of non-fiction, determined to deploy all the fruits of their prodigious research, frequently fall.
Vincent also manages to maintain the emotional distance from his subject demanded of any narrator seeking credibility. This is an even more impressive achievement given that he is the son of Ruth Böhm, who fled from Germany to England in 1939, and the great-grandson of Louis Böhm, the draper from Katscher (today Kietrz in Poland), whose story opens the book and ends in tragedy.
Tragedy is, of course, a theme that runs through this book, but all is not darkness. Vincent is determined to demonstrate that the human spirit can endure and rise above the darkest of days, which he does by following the dispersed footsteps of a family that emerges from the chaos of the Second World War to forge new beginnings in Australia, South America, the USA and the UK.
There will be some, of course, who question the need for yet another book about the Holocaust and its victims. That such reminders are necessary, however, is depressingly evident in the resurgence of anti-semitism in the nationalist narratives of far-right groups across Europe – including, of all places, in Germany.
Speaking in September 2020 at the 70th anniversary of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, German Chancellor Angela Merkel pointed to the rise of anti-semitic conspiracy theories and hate speech on social media and spoke of her shame that “many Jews do not feel safe, do not feel respected in our country”.
It is for them, and for the millions of Jews who passed this way before, that books such as The House on Thrömerstrasse must be written.
Jonathan Gornall is a British author and journalist, formerly with The Times. His book “How To Build A Boat – A Father, His Daughter and The Unsailed Sea”, is published by Simon & Schuster in the UK and by Scribner in the US.
“A marvellously-written book...” Elizabeth Pawluk
The “House on Thromerstrasse” is a compelling read, depicting as it does Ron Vincent’s deeply emotional journey to trace the roots of his family. This is a marvelously-written book. The author’s writing flows almost like smooth piano playing and he deserves every accolade for his relentless research in discovering the minutest of details about the history of his family. Everything is woven so clearly into a kind of tapestry made up of the individuals – his ancestors – who created history through their joys and suffering. We, as human beings are all infinitely connected. We are all as one. We each have a history and it is most often one of endured hardship and suffering. This story touched me deeply, as it will you. I encourage you to take this most profound healing journey into a history that has affected us all. Ron Vincent can be justifiably proud of his life altering accomplishment.
“…beautifully coherent and elegant prose…..one is left with hope and light” Kathy Shock
When I first opened this book my heart sank. Although I too am fascinated by my own European family history, the idea of reading a long-winded description of another family’s journey of sorrow, terror and survival was not greatly appealing but I was willing to have a look at it. As the author started to describe how he had pieced together so much of their story in beautifully coherent and elegant prose I felt encouraged. Here was obsession and integrity combined in this relatively short investigation of his mother Ruth Böhm’s family background in an attempt to come to terms with her life and indeed his own.
Having visited the sites of their homes and businesses in Upper Silesia he has brought them to life in words and pictures and then set them in the context of the political and social upheavals of the early 20th Century and the Second World War. Katscher, Breslau and other towns of culture and cultivation that were laid waste by the Germans and then the Russians have become real places for me, however much their names have now changed as they were rebuilt in what became Poland. Just as the grimness became hard to bear, he flashes to the huge and thriving family that exists all over the world now and one is left with hope and light. Having been born in Wales and studied German, he too had lived in Australia where the majority of the family had regrouped and revived their fortunes so you have a real flavour of their new lives rather than an academic gathering of notes, an understanding of his own discovery of his Jewish identity. His present life in Germany turns the wheel onwards.
What I hadn’t realised that I would find was more information about my own father’s background. His journey started in Vienna, going via Dachau, Kitchener Camp in Kent and the Pioneer Corps. I found myself looking closely at the photos just in case he was there in the background. Of course it was unlikely but he would have shared so much with those who were there. This and the political commentary put the book on a new footing for me. Someone has done valuable research on my behalf and I believe many more families who escaped Nazi persecution. This may be a very personal book but it is a shaft of light that I hadn’t found elsewhere and a rewarding read.
Kathy Shock is an active member of the Oxford Jewish community. Her own father left Vienna via Dachau, then fought in the British army after a period in Kitchener Camp Pioneer Corps and met her Jewish English mother in London. He managed to bring his own parents over to the UK on a domestic visa just in time and most of her family were dispersed across the world, rather than perishing in the Holocaust. But her roots and their journeys are similar to those of the author, as are those of countless Jews spread worldwide.
“….a very readable account of the author’s personal journey” Tina Delavre
“The House on Thömerstraße” is a very readable account of the author’s personal journey into uncovering his true identity. When he discovers that his mother was Jewish, he embarks upon a fascinating journey into the past which leads him from the Isle of Man, where his mother was interned, to the house of his great grandparents in Upper Silesia.
Tina Delavre is Honorary Vice President of B’nai B’rith, Frankfurt and Editor of the Jewish Immigrants Journal ‘Unsere Stimme’
“An engrossing family tale of tragedy, survival and renewal……” Dr Leah Kaye
Ron Vincent’s book travels through time. His story spans 150 years and shares an engrossing family tale of tragedy, survival and renewal. But at its heart, this is a man’s quest for identity and belonging which he ultimately finds in his maternal lineage to the Bohm family.
There is much to discover when reading this book – the sadness and bravery of the individuals who survived but ultimately the intimacy in the rich fabric of family which is something the Holocaust could not destroy. Yes, the Holocaust left its scars and wounds but it also built resilience and gave the Bohm family new beginnings in far-off lands, which is something that may never have been deemed possible or even imaginable to Louis and Jenni Bohm. Their legacy lives on in this book.
Dr Leah Kaye is an experienced management consultant and academic with over 30 years experience in higher education, organisational training and management education.