A multilayered, moving literary memoir of a half-Jewish family torn apart during the Nazi era, with one branch ultimately relocating to Wales. The book was named the 2013 Welsh Book of the Year.
Gruffudd, active in Welsh-language education, is the son of a half-Jewish German woman, Kate Bosse-Griffiths, who came to Britain to study when she was dismissed for racial reasons from her position at a museum in Berlin in 1936. In Wittenberg, the seat of Martin Luther’s protests against the Catholic Church in the 16th century, the Bosse family had a successful distillery. In 1906, son Paul Bosse, a doctor, married Kaethe Levin, from a Jewish solicitor’s family that converted to Christianity in 1896 and took the name Ledien. With the rise of the Nazis, however, the conversion did not erase the Jewish stigma for Kaethe, her family and children. Despite Paul’s sterling credentials as director of the local clinic and his selection as a member of the medical team serving the German athletes in the 1936 Olympics, he was pressured to divorce his Jewish wife (he would not) and generally persecuted in the anti-Semitism that reigned in Wittenberg. (Gruffudd reminds us that Luther’s anti-Semitic tracts were amply employed in Nazi propaganda.) Kaethe was transported to a concentration camp in late 1944 and died shortly thereafter. In a horrible parallel, her sister, Eva, married to a rising Nazi officer, hanged herself in 1938 when it became apparent the only hope for her family’s survival was her death. Gruffudd tracks his mother’s extraordinary good fortune in finding positions as assistant to classicist Sir D’Arcy Thompson at St. Andrews, Scotland, and, later, as a research scholar at the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford just before the war broke out. Kate married a Welshman and valiantly took up the cause of preserving the Welsh language.
A family’s story that is by turns crushing and uplifting.