Amelie Fried knows nothing of her family’s dark past because her father would never speak of it. In 2004, her husband takes part in the New York marathon. On the phone, after the run, his mind seems to be elsewhere. He asks whether she knows who Max Fried was, but she’s never heard of him. He tells her that Amelie’s grandfather and Max had the same parents, so Max was a great uncle of hers. What’s this all about? She wants to know.
Her husband had been to view the memorial book of Jewish Holocaust victims in New York, he explained. “You had to go to New York for that?” she chides, knowing the book had been compiled by archivists back home in Munich. Then he tells her…Max and his wife were both killed in a Nazi death camp. It’s a huge shock since none of her family had ever mentioned any of this. She begins researching her family history in detail.
“The Pallas Shoe Store” of the title, belonged to her grandfather. Fried explains the family shoe business and its place in the town of Ulm. There’s a second business though, her father’s newspaper. This very local nature, the detailed lives of two prominent citizens, her father and grandfather, in a smallish town is what sets this story apart. The book literally “brings the story home”. The bad guys of the town, use their newly gained power to personal advantage and against people they don’t like.
The Ulm chief of police, appears to have a personal grudge. What we learn, is all the little intricacies of various relationships between different people, friends and foe. What is remarkable, is how many years her father and grandfather manage to stay free and afloat, despite numerous conflicts with the local chief of police. Fried also traces some relatives who fled via South America. I’ll say no more to avoid spoilers.
This is not a novel, or a classic “Familienchronik”. It’s all fact, yet different to a report, because the story is so personal. Amelie Fried uses a journalistic style to describe the results of her investigations. This factual, sometimes distanced approach, is the book’s strength though. It makes the grave, emotional moments, of which there are many, all the more powerful.
The book contains photos and document facsimiles. I listened to the audiobook read by Amelie Fried herself, which creates more of a storytelling feel.
While we’re on the subject, a great song in this context is “Kristallnaach” by BAP. The lyrics are in Kölsch, Cologne dialect, which most Germans have difficulty understanding. It takes some practice. I couldn’t find an English translation, but the band’s website has a translation from Kölsch to Hochdeutsch. This is one of those songs where rock music is also highly literary. (Another really literary rock song of theirs, is “Bahnhofskino”, which is quite a challenge to wrap your head around, but worth it.)
You can listen to the song on Spotify with a free account, or search youtube. Here’s the Spotify link, which WordPress supports: