Gerta: A Novel

Written by Kateřina Tučková Véronique Firkusny (trans.)
Review by K. M. Sandrick

The upheaval begins for Gerta Schnirch in the first year of secondary school when her beloved art teacher is let go and she is pushed into the League of German Girls. It is 1939 in Brno, in the Nazi-occupied Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia. War comes to Gerta at first in small ways: her German father banning her and her Czech mother from speaking their tongue, her brother excelling in the Hitler Youth. Ideologies change: The push to liberate “pure Germans” from oppression and provide them a living space shifts to ridding occupied territories of Jewish Bolsheviks and de-Germanizing populations. The miracle weapons meant to rescue besieged Germans outside the Reich become weapons of retribution, and targeted bombing runs are replaced by total blitzkriegs.

Liberation is no release for Gerta and others like her. Germans are expelled from Czechoslovakia, allowed to take only what they can carry. Many are forced to march out of cities and towns and killed. Some like Gerta beg to be among the few who are put to work on farms and away from rough encounters with Russian troops.

Gerta is an award-winning novel that first appeared in the Czech Republic in 2009. This edition is the English translation. The story is an unvarnished chronicle of a young woman doing what she must to protect herself and her daughter. It is written in a dry, matter-of-fact manner, with an almost passionless voice, capturing for readers the subdued resignation and resourcefulness of a survivor. Indelible.