My father, Walter Less, told me a simple story about the gift of an orange, the centerpiece of this story, when I was a little girl growing up in San Francisco, California. In California, of course, oranges in December were not such a rare novelty as they were in the German winters of the 1920s. But he used the story to teach me about sacrifice and “gifts from the heart”. I also shared this story with my own two children.
I created the other components of “An Orange in Winter” from a memoir my father wrote for me, and from my research on German history in the 1920s and 1930s. I wanted to learn how and why the Nazis came to power and how the Hitler Youth movement became the force it was in the country after the “Great War”. I wove my father’s remembrances and his “voice” into this work of historical fiction.
While Hans, Walter’s friend, is a fictional character, both boys represent the “eyes of a child” from very different perspectives. What Hans experiences and observes reflects accurate historical accounts. He represents the “witness” who sees what is happening in his country, struggles with conflicts, and ultimately must choose whether or not to “do the right thing”. What my father and his family experienced illustrates how Jewish families in Germany suffered during the early years of the Nazi regime before the horrific “final solution”.
I hope that reading about this time period will help provide a context for understanding the complex historical events and background for books about the Holocaust and World War II. Although “An Orange in Winter” is a short story, I purposely included many examples of how the Nazis took complete control over the German people (through fear, propaganda, book burnings, etc.) and developed other characters, like Karl Heine, to present multiple viewpoints. I hope this decision will enable readers to analyze and discuss the greater political, moral and ethical issues presented in the story and to delve into specific questions or research.
By personalizing such complex events, I hope readers can better connect such timeless issues to their own lives and, sadly, to the many current political and global conflicts.
And, of course, we all must recognize this recent history can easily be repeated when people are apathetic or do not speak out against prejudice, injustice and evil.
Creating and sharing this narrative has taken me on a remarkable journey I could never have imagined when, as a school principal, I first wrote the story to help my students understand the background and moral implications of the novels they were reading about The Holocaust.
I never imagined I would be invited to Lüneburg or that this story could be used as a teaching resource in Germany and in the United States.
I also never imagined I would learn so much more about my family history through records, photographs, documents and conversations; that I would make so many new friends; or that my father’s family would be honored in their former home. The kindnesses I have received while visiting Lüneburg; the planting of a linden tree in 2013 to remember my grandparents and father; the permanent museum exhibit that features the Less’ family history and includes my grandparents’ menorah – all have touched me deeply.