Margaret Reid is the author of Under The Linden Tree. A novice writer, she spent twenty years researching her husband’s remarkably challenging  life. I had the privilege of meeting the Reid’s in March and thank both Margaret and her husband Rudi for joining me online.

The synopsis of Under the Linden Tree: This is the life story of Rudolf and the painstaking dedicated search for documents, truth and justice. It’s an unbelievable journey into the recent past: of a love affair that leads to the birth of an illegitimate baby boy, of parental selfishness in the upper echelons of the royal courts of Europe, the horror of war, the suffering in Nazi concentration camps of a non-Jewish child and the brutality endured by the thousands of political prisoners at the hands of the Soviet Union post world war two. The tale then takes an ocean voyage and becomes an Australian immigrants struggle to exist in a new unfamiliar land and finally it is love and medical intervention that helps Rudolf to tell his story, give him a sense of belonging and bring some kind of peace to his tormented mind.    

Why did you write, ‘Under The Linden Tree’?

 I didn’t set out to write a book it happened by a process of evolution. The seed was sown when my husband Rudi reached a point in his life where his past weighed heavily in his mind and he began reflecting on his own mortality. Up to this point in time he had never indicated to any person the life threatening experiences that brought him to Australia. If something happened to him his children in particular would never know their heritage or understand what formed his very definite views on some subjects. I became his personal confessor and confidant. The amazing story he told explained the horrific nightmares and depression that ruled his existence whenever they surfaced. I wanted to help Rudi to overcome his past, to bring some contentment into his older age and give him a sense of belonging by reuniting him with his family and friends in Australia, Germany and other parts of the world. But there were disbelievers among the ranks. I needed to verify the facts as a true story must be proven and that is what set me off on a twenty year long unbelievable journey into the past. As the documents, photos, newspaper articles, letters and general memorabilia filled my filing cabinets I decided to compile and print my own record of Rudi’s life for the family and interested friends. This very large manuscript became a first edition and provides the documentary evidence for the published article. For those people who like an interesting story but just wanted to sit down and read, this original version was far too involved. I then decided to write Rudi’s biography in a novel form and after many rewrites the finished book is now `Under the Linden Tree’.     

As a novice writer embarking on the journey of writing about your husband’s WW2 experiences did you find the task of searching archives daunting?

Searching for truth, justice, documents and knowledge in an English speaking country is challenging enough but at least you have a reasonable idea where certain information can be obtained. In Australia you can go to public libraries and historical societies ask for advice and look for yourself. When you begin a similar quest in a foreign land the obstacles become enormous. In the beginning I couldn’t speak read or write a word of German.  Rudi could, but he didn’t always understand what I wanted to ask and the memories were painful. He needed to come to terms slowly with his past I wanted results quickly. I took on the task single handed and wrote all my requests in English. It was very exciting when positive answers were forthcoming but for every positive response there were many negative replies or no replies at all. The second biggest challenge was of a financial nature. When I first started out most archives in Germany didn’t actually charge for their searching time only for the processing of any certificates or information if they were found but it was always necessary to send the cost of return postage. It proved very expensive to do the research as I sent at least three International postage reply coupons and a few postcards with each letter this meant each dispatch cost approximately $10 and I sent hundreds of letters. In the intervening years with the growing interest worldwide of tracing the family tree everything changed and all the archives and libraries in foreign lands jumped on this money making bandwagon making everything doubly expensive. I have to say though every so often I found a very helpful person sympathetic to my cause who went far beyond the realms of their job description. They discovered valuable information, didn’t charge, returned the postage coupons and have become firm friends in the process. The costs were certainly a drain on our financial resources but definitely worth every dollar spent.

I enjoyed the challenge it’s not in my nature to `give in’ or `give up’ my motto is `if at first you don’t succeed try a different way’ and that is what I did. Although the book is written there is still an itch that needs scratching. My research will go on until all the smaller parts of the puzzle are in place.  

A question for your husband Rudi – on your eventual arrival in Australia Rudi, can you explain to readers what it felt like to be in a democratically stable nation?

I was looking for a better life having come from the experiences of concentration camps, war, Soviet prisons and a completely destroyed nation as an aftermath of the war. I was advised to leave my homeland and several countries Canada, South Africa and Australia were offered. I chose Australia because it was the farthest place I could go away from Germany. When I first arrived I was housed in a camp that had strings of barbed wire fencing, this caused me much concern. I was worried that I had made a mistake. As time passed I soon realized my choice was a good one and was nothing to compare with the concentration camps of my previous experience. I felt free. What a land with a stable government, wide open spaces, friendship, work and sunshine.  Even though I had difficulties to overcome in this new country I have never regretted the decision to come. Australia is my home and I am glad to be here.

What do you believe/hope a reader will come away with following a reading of “Under The Linden Tree’?

 I hope that people who read Under the Linden Tree will at the very least reflect on their own lives and realize what a wonderful country Australia is. That war adversely affects equally all those involved regardless of their nationality or what side of the conflict they are fighting for. The story is a testament to what happens when power hungry dictatorships go out of control. I use here a couple of cliché’s to illustrate my points: ‘history has a habit of repeating itself’ but ‘knowledge is power’.  Future generations need to know what happened in the past to avoid a repetition of these events.

Nearly every person who has read the book and contacted me have made similar comments: `I couldn’t put it down’, `I cried’, `it would make a good movie’, and the comment I am most gratified to hear is `it made me reflect and be thankful for my own life’.

What is the best thing about where you and Rudi live?

 The Blue Mountains are a world heritage listed national park and that appointment speaks for itself. Unlike European mountain towns that sit in the valleys our villages are on the top of the ridges and we can look out to the endless expanse of beautiful bush land. There is a limited amount of land for residential purposes this means we can never be over populated and as the towns are small in comparison to city living there is a definite community spirit prevailing. For those who like to enjoy breathing fresh air, family picnics, bushwalking, canyoning, camping, rock climbing or any other outdoor pursuits it’s all here on the doorstep. For those who like to take in a live show or experience the city life, the harbour, the beaches, shopping it’s all within easy reach an hour by fast train. We have the best of both worlds and we love it.

Under the Linden Tree can be ordered through any bookstore or it is available online from Booktopia.