Sunday, 25 December 2011


Lenny had been away for a long time. Where, and for how long, was not something he liked to think about, let alone discuss. Suffice to say that, turning the familiar corner that led onto the last stretch of the walk home, he was very glad to be back.

Lenny’s walk home had been the same for many years. His parents had bought the house before Theodor, the eldest, was born, and had stayed there ever since. By the time the youngest had arrived, four children later, the house had truly become a home.


Life is hard. Some people are fortunate, and only to have to cope with the inevitable difficulties life brings; sickness, heartbreak, loss. Unfortunately, some people are born into difficult situations, and life can be a struggle. Pregnant and desperate, Carolin turned to her aunt, who had been living in London for many years. In late 1935, Carolin Amsel and Dieter Günzberg were among the few lucky Germans to escape the clutches of the Third Reich, and they set up home somewhere just north of Leeds. Anti-Semitic behaviour had grown exponentially in Germany over the past year or so, and Dieter had no longer been able to find work. After months of desperate job hunting and grim determination, the introduction of the Nuremberg laws, which officially declared Jews ethnically inferior, also stated that Jews could no longer marry non-Jews. Dieter was Jewish, Carolin was not. It was the final affront; the couple had been defeated.

As enthusiastic as they were about their new life in Jolly Old England, they were determined to hold onto their German heritage. At the birth of their first child, shortly after their fairly spontaneous marriage, they made a decision to give their children German names and to teach them German as their first language. Theodor came first, in the spring of 1936. Happy and healthy, life was looking up for the Günzbergs. Many British Northerners had never met a German, and Dieter spent many hours with his fellow carpenters teaching them German vocabulary (predominantly blasphemous, although he never admitted this to Carolin). Jan came next in the autumn of 1938. By his first birthday, Britain was at war with Germany, and tension had started to rise in the Günzberg household. Although none of their British friends had been intentionally unkind, both Carolin and Dieter had noticed a distinct change in their behaviour towards them. Carolin was not overwhelmed with the same number of passing guests as she had been before, and conversation between her and the neighbours had become noticeably reserved. Painfully for Dieter, who had bonded so closely with his colleagues, he often walked in on silent rooms that had previously been filled with chatter. Once again, the couple felt like outcasts.

The outbreak of war hit Dieter particularly hard. Correspondence with his family in Germany had ended abruptly. He suddenly felt like a traitor; abandoning his loved ones when life had gotten too difficult, leaving them to fight their corner alone. So when the opportunity arose for the family to host a Jewish child from Vienna, Dieter jumped at the chance. In September 1939, Lennart arrived on the doorstep of the Günzbergs, much to Carolin’s initial surprise. Lennart Maybaum was a tall, dirty, and endearingly shy boy of twelve.  He brought nothing with him but the clothes on his back, and a pair of broken shoes that, Dieter finally discovered, had belonged to his father. It soon became apparent that Lennart had no intention of discussing what had happened before, what inevitable horrors had occurred to qualify him for the last Kindertransport train. Carolin and Dieter asked no questions.

Lennart spoke absolutely no English, and was incredibly reluctant to leave the safety of the German speaking home from home. The Günzbergs suddenly found themselves experiencing considerably more British culture, in an attempt to ease Lennart out of his shell. Everything became an adventure, from grocery shopping to buying railway tickets. More than anything, Carolin wanted Lennart to have as normal a childhood as possible from then on. In early October 1939, after tense discussions between the Günzbergs and the headmaster of a local school, it was decided that Lennart would attend school as of January. Carolin and Dieter redoubled their efforts to integrate Lennart into English society. By the time Lennart was ready to start school, the whole family felt much more like they belonged, and a lot less like outsiders. School came with its own difficulties, but Lennart took them in his stride. In time, ‘Lanky Lenny the Hun’ became ‘Lanky Lenny’, and finally just ‘Lenny’. He made good friends with children on their street, and they all walked home together from school, playing football and swapping jokes. In July 1940, Rafael became the newest addition to the Günzberg family. It was at this point that Dieter had suggested to Carolin that perhaps four children were enough. She informed him, in her brusque manner, that they would not be stopping until they had a girl. Fortunately for Dieter, her wish came true in December 1941, and Annaliese became the last member of their happy clan.

The war raged on, and as much as the family supported the Allied war effort, triumphant news stories of ravaged German towns were difficult to hear. Dieter had tried to dissuade Lenny from listening to the news, as much for Lenny’s benefit as for his. He just did not want to know. One evening in late 1943, after Lenny had been left to babysit for the others, Carolin and Dieter returned home to find him sitting with his ear pressed to the softly crackling wireless. It was obvious he had been crying.
“I have to know. You have to know.”
Carolin sat at his feet, Dieter at his right arm, and Lenny finally told them how he had ended up on a train from Vienna to London, with nothing to his name but broken shoes.


Lenny gradually made his way home, kicking fallen leaves from the gutter and marvelling at the splendour of English autumn. Seven autumns had come and gone, and yet he never tired of the scorching reds and burning oranges that swirled at his feet. Life had not always been easy for Lenny, but now that he was finally home again, he knew that he was where he belonged.

This is from my fiction writing module. The task was to include a character called Lenny, a pair of broken shoes, and a walk home. I like the ideas, but I think it's written far too much like a history A-level essay (I LOVED writing those), or a story summary. There's another section including Lenny's back story, but I kept it out of the final cut. Drop a comment below to let me know what you think! Cheers. And I hope you had a wonderful Christmas.

This is what Lenny looks like in my head, but without glasses.

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