‘The Painter’ is one woman’s remembrance of the terrible days of her youth spent under the bombs of the Allied Air Forces in the final months of the war in Europe.
Although ‘The Painter’ was inspired by a real life story which happened in a real place at a real time in German history, the characters are my own inventions, their actions, their feelings and their words are not those of anybody I specifically know to have lived in or around Bielefeld during the Second World War. Any resemblance to real life people or events is, therefore, unintended and entirely coincidental.
My inspiration was Hannah Martin’s elegiac song ‘The Painter’; the rest I made up in my own head.
After writing ‘Until the Night’ I had been looking for a way to start telling the other stories of the bombing war in Europe. ‘Until the Night’ was about the men in the bombers over Germany in the winter of 1943-44, ‘The Painter’ is about the experience of ordinary Germans under the bombs in the last winter of the war, and the madness of a regime that is too terrified of the consequences of inevitable defeat to surrender.
‘The Painter’ is the first of a series of companion books to ‘Until the Night’. Several future books will be prequels or sequels to Until the Night; ‘The Painter’ stands alone, unconnected other than in time and theme and by the tragedy of that thankfully, past age.
History is history but for it to ‘live’ it needs to be experienced through the eyes and ears of ‘people’, and it was not until I heard ‘The Painter’, a beautiful elegiac song penned by Hannah Martin and exquisitely performed in a concert by the duo Phillip Henry and Hannah Martin that I stumbled across a way to speak to the nightmare of the closing months of the war in Europe. In her song Hannah Martin encapsulates the stories told to her by her grandmother as a teenager and young woman growing up in Bielefeld.
In the terrible ‘big picture’ of the bombing war Bielefeld suffered less than many places in Germany. In the United Kingdom we recall the trial by fire of Coventry in 1940; that city has become a leitmotif of the British experience of the blitz even though other towns and cities were as badly hit by the Luftwaffe. In comparison Bielefeld, a much smaller city than Coventry during the war despite having its population swollen by slave labourers, suffered at least twice as many civilian casualties between September 1944 and VE-Day in April 1945.
Although Bielefeld was never subjected to a major ‘area bombing’ raid by the RAF, the United States Army Air Force repeatedly attacked it, and in the final phase of the war Bomber Command and the 8th Air Force repeatedly carpet bombed and finally knocked down the great Schildesche Railway Viaduct, and incidentally all the small communities around it, in March 1945.
Bielefeld was not wrecked from end to end; but for Hannah Martin’s grandmother it was worse than that, everything she had grown up with was destroyed, lost in the fire.
Lest we forget – remember the ‘The Painter’.
Audio edition available 26th May 2018