The Monday Book: SOME GIRLS SOME HATS AND HITLER by Trudi Kanter

This first-person memoir came into our bookstore and I thought the title was intriguing, so took it on holiday with me. It turns out to be a self-published book from the 1950s that went out of print. Someone who worked for a publisher bought it in a second-hand bookstore, and the rest is reprint history.

Girls Hats Hitler is fascinating, because it’s pretty much the first person memories of a woman who expected to have a very normal life–and a fairly vapid one at that. Velvets and dances and moonlight, oh my – but she was Jewish and her husband was Jewish, and in 1930 Austria that changed everything.

What’s so interesting about the book is its sense of play by play, the feeling of wondering “What would I have done” as Trudi has the opportunity to stay in Paris and be safe, then to get out but not take anyone with her, and then to decide how to get out. She isn’t equipped for this kind of decision making, but she learns fast. Being rich helped, too, but more than that, she took seriously what was happening around her. Many of her friends and extended family didn’t.

Perhaps the most devastating part of the book is she’ll recall what happened at a particular party or event, the gestures and looks and petty jealousies, and then she’ll say “He died in Auschwitz. She took poison.” That kind of thing.

The book is frustrating, because there are some parts where she only says “And then we got visas,” not how they got them, who they bribed, what it took, etc. Sometimes, when you think the story is about to get deep, it just stops. She self-published this, and I can kind of see why an editor didn’t want to work with her. On the other hand, when she does let go and tell what happened, you see so clearly what it was like to be just one person caught up in and trying to survive one of the worst things in living memory.

Including the moment when as a Jewish emigree, her husband is interred as a German enemy combatant in London. It’s just plain crazy sometimes, the world in which they lived.

I highly recommend the book, but be prepared to be in parts frustrated, in parts confused, and in parts laughing at how someone in danger of imminent death can be jealous because her husband is flirting with the person who can save their lives. It’s a very honest book when it’s telling the whole story.