iUniverse welcomes Phyllis Rauch, translator of Unlikely Warrior: A Jewish Soldier in Hitler’s Army, written by her late husband, Georg Rauch. The book, originally published as The Jew with the Iron Cross by iUniverse, has been picked up by Farrar, Straus and Giroux/Macmillan, and is now re-titled as Unlikely Warrior: A Jewish Soldier in Hitler’s Army. iUniverse is of course extremely proud of Phyllis and Georg, and we are delighted to have a two-part blog from Phyllis in which she discusses Georg’s life as a soldier, painter, and writer, as well as her experience as a translator and editor.
In 1938, when Hitler entered Austria, welcomed by cheering multitudes, Georg was dubbed a “¼ Jew” thanks to the fact that his Jewish grandmother and mother had married Aryans.
Though his family wasn’t rounded up, and didn’t wear yellow stars, Georg was ignored at school by teachers and students alike and treated as a third-class citizen.
Solitude for Georg meant more time for sketching and painting, building radios, and learning Morse code. At sixteen he bicycled alone through the Alps, hoping to find someplace where he could avoid being swallowed up by Hitler’s gruesome war.
More important hours were spent helping his mother, who was hiding Jews behind false walls in their Viennese apartment. Georg was assigned the task of selling the Jews’ valuables on the black market so they could be fed and sheltered until it was time to smuggle them out of Austria.
Inevitably, in 1943 Georg’s draft notice arrived, and soon he was in basic training in Czechoslovakia. Later, from the Russian trenches and village huts, under the worst of circumstances, Georg would write over 80 letters home until he was captured.
The letters sat unopened in his Viennese art studio, but accompanied him to the US and Mexico where, after 40 years, he opened them for the first time.
Expecting to read the scribbling of a frightened teenager, Georg discovered something much more valuable, filled with fascinating details, unexpected humor, boredom and despair. These letters were his inspiration for the book.
Unlikely Warrior is divided into three sections: Georg’s recruitment and the Russian front; his experiences as a prisoner of war, where he is recruited as a Russian spy, and ends up at one point in the morgue; and the journey home, in which his survival still wasn’t guaranteed.
Unlikely Warrior is about survival. Thanks to Georg’s self-taught abilities as a cook, radio builder, and even harmonica player, he maneuvered his way through the worst situations, and often, after the bloodiest battles, was amongst the few who survived.
In addition to the text, Unlikely Warrior is abundantly illustrated with drawings by the author, portraits of his Jewish ancestors and of himself in uniform. A unique map details Georg’s locations from Czechoslovakia to Kiev in the Ukraine where he was imprisoned.
Georg, a successful artist, was honored with major museum retrospectives in Guadalajara, the metropolis near our Mexican home. He wasn’t an artist who waited for inspiration to strike.
His work ethic was comparable to that of an architect or engineer. Georg arose at the same hour daily, and after breakfast was in his studio. Following a quick lunch break with his favorite chicken soup, he continued to draw or paint until the light had disappeared.
After deciding to write his book, Georg abandoned his paints and brushes for the first time since we had met. During the succeeding months his days were devoted exclusively to writing.
Later, in the afternoons, seated on our terrace overlooking Lake Chapala, Georg would read aloud to me the pages he had written that day. I was already familiar with many of his accounts, some of which had served in the past as dinner party anecdotes. But on the evening that he read “The Hardest Thing” (a story I knew well), he broke down and sobbed, for the second and only time since I had known him.
Phyllis will continue her very moving and extraordinary blog in Part Two, which we’ll be publishing in a few days.
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