Erich Bannon is happy in the small Irish village he has thought of as home since he arrived as a terrified, traumatised seven year old, one of the last Jewish children to escape Berlin in 1939. Now at twenty-three, it feels like all of his friends are drawn to The Promised Land, and he can understand why, but Israel is not for him. One by one, they leave, and Erich is bereft.
He feels lost but a chance encounter with an Irish Catholic girl gives him hope. All he and Róisín want is to be allowed to love each other but the traditions and rules of their backgrounds forbid it.
By the time he learns that Róisín wasn't honest with him about her family and what kind of people they really are, it is too late and he finds himself unwittingly embroiled in a dangerous world from which there seems to be no escape.
When Róisín disappears, events take a sinister turn and Erich wonders if their relationship really was all he thought it was.. Reluctant to place his family in danger, he has to solve his problems alone, something he's never had to do before.
From rural Ireland, to the glitz of 1950's America, from the orange groves of Israel to the dark streets of post-war Liverpool, The World Starts Anew, is the fourth book in the best-selling Star and the Shamrock series.
Release date: December 1, 2020
Print pages: 274
* BingeBooks earns revenue from qualifying purchases as an Amazon Associate as well as from other retail partners.
The World Starts Anew: The Star and the Shamrock Series - Book 4
Erich Bannon sat on the velvet covered seat in the dining room of the house he considered his home since he was seven years old. He looked through the open door, hoping for inspiration, the pen poised, the fresh clean sheet of writing paper waiting expectantly. Dappled light shone through the coloured glass on the front door, illuminating the tiles on the floor in the hallway..
Dear Abigail, he began.
He would just be honest, write it quickly and get it posted. Dragging these things out didn’t help.
Thank you for your letter and the picture, you look so happy and tanned now, but I suppose getting out of the Irish rain is good for anyone’s skin. Everyone knows Irish people don’t tan, they rust. J
I can’t imagine you out in the orange groves every day, and feeding chickens and growing tomatoes, it really suits you though and I’m glad you’re happy. Your hair is gone so blonde in the sun, you look beautiful.
He paused again, this was going to be the hard bit. He exhaled.
‘Thanks as well for the kind invitation to come and join you, even for a visit, and I feel like I have to be honest and say I won’t be going to Israel. I understand the pull of the Promised Land, and I absolutely understand why you and so many others want to establish a home, a place of safety for our people, but Abigail, it’s not for me.
My home is here, and I know you will be disappointed (at least I hope you will be a little!) but my life was turned upside down when I was seven and I had to leave Berlin. Mutti put Liesl and I on that train in 1939 never knowing if we would ever see her again. And then moving to Liverpool, getting bombed out of there and finally landing up here in Ballycreggan finding a home with Daniel and Elizabeth, and then Mutti reappearing after the war, well we all endured so many years of fear and turmoil, I don’t feel like I want to be separated from my family ever again.
As well as that, Daniel Willi and I have really grown the business and we are so busy now, we have building jobs going on all over the place and they need me.
I am so fond of you, and I loved our time together, but our lives have just gone in different directions and I think it’s only fair to both of us to end things.
I will always be there for you as a friend if you ever need me and I do hope we see each other again, but for now, I think it is best to go our separate ways.
The last words looked harsh, but Abigail was such a lovely girl it wasn’t right to string her along pretending that Israel held the same attraction for him as it did for her.
Something told him even before she left for Tel Aviv that there was a chance she wouldn’t come back. She was so enthusiastic about it all, the right to return, the whole notion of the homeland for all Jews, the Promised Land, and while he understood it coming from those that survived the Nazis, people who’d lost so much more than bricks and mortar, he was surprised she felt it as strongly, Abigail was from Dublin. Her whole family remained untouched by the war, and yet she felt this longing, this magnetic pull of Israel.
But then, he was obviously the exception rather than the rule. He watched as one by one his friends left Ballycreggan, and the farm that had been set up as a sanctuary for the Kindertransport children, to join kibbutzim in Israel.
When Simon went, and it was a blow. But, like with Abigail, he could kind of see why it drew his best friend in. He had grown up at the farm and while the Rabbi and the others did everything they could to make it feel like home, it was an institution. Simon had some cousins there, they were getting on well , they’d set up a fruit business in Haifa and they’d written, begging him to join them.
He and Erich had been best friends since they were in short pants, and while he was happy for him, if it was what he wanted, the idea of leaving Ballycreggan, to go farming oranges in the desert was something that baffled Erich.
Ruth and Levi were next, then Ben and Viola, then Simon and now Abigail.
He was sad it ended this way, and at one time he thought he loved Abigail, and could hardly believe his luck last year when she agreed to go out with him. She’d always been nice to him, whenever he visited Liesl at university in Dublin, but he was sure she just saw him as Liesl’s little brother, but that weekend, the going away party for the Kindertransport children of Ballycreggan, she’d kissed him and told him she liked him. He really liked her too and the past year had been a romantic whirlwind of trips to Dublin to see her, holidays in Ballycreggan for her where they walked hand in hand on the beach, went to the pictures and just enjoyed being young and courting.
He finished off his letter,
Take good care of yourself Abigail,
Before he changed his mind he quickly licked the envelope and folded the sheet of paper and decided he’d post it there and then. Abigail looked radiant in the photo and he was sure this letter might make her a bit sad, but she wouldn’t be heartbroken. He was under no illusion that some handsome young Jewish man would be waiting in the wings to take his place in her life.
As he walked towards the front door he caught sight of his reflection in the mirror of the oak hallstand. He was twenty three but he worried that he looked younger. Abigail always said how handsome he was, and he smiled at the memory. He genuinely wished her all the best.
He knew he looked like his father, though in truth Erich’s memories of him were hazy. He’d been a little boy when Peter Bannon was picked up by the Brownshirts on the streets of Berlin, never to be seen again. But seeing his mother’s startled look sometimes when he walked into a room, he knew she was seeing a ghost.
He wondered what his father would have made of all of this Israel business. He was a gentile, but he never objected to Mutti raising him and Liesl in her Jewish faith, so they never really considered themselves as anything but Jews. He gave a rueful snort, neither did the Nazis. As far as they were concerned they were Jews. Would his father understand everyone’s obsession with that hot, sandy place so far away?
He’d discussed it with Daniel, but his adopted father was pragmatic in that as in everything. While Erich felt sad at the mass exodus for Israel of the people he held dear, Daniel understood it and wished them all well. He had no interest in moving there himself, he was blissfully happy with Elizabeth in Ballycreggan, but he thought the others should go. He even said he and Elizabeth would like to visit the Promised Land someday.
Erich ran his hand through his dark hair, He’d have to tell Liesl, Abigail was her friend after all. He’d call to her and Jamie on the way back from the post box.
He let himself out of the house and onto the main street of Ballycreggan. He arrived here as a boy, and he’d done all of his schooling here, in the local national school alongside Jewish refugees from the farm and the local children. It all felt like a lifetime ago and in lots of ways the only life he ever had. He belonged here, there was no doubt in his mind. Liesl had gone to university in Dublin and had even gone back to Germany for a while, but he had no interest in further studies. Getting out of school was a Godsend, he was not cut out for sitting at a desk all day learning pointless things. He loved working with his hands, and Daniel and Willi were great teachers. By now, there were very few building jobs he wasn’t competent at, he could do wiring, plumbing, blockwork, carpentry, and he loved that every day was different.
Bridie waved as he passed on the other side of the road. She was sweeping the step outside her pink sweetshop, the very first place Elizabeth took them when they arrived in 1940, sixteen years ago now. Elizabeth’s house and school in Liverpool had been flattened by a bomb so they’d had no choice but move to Ballycreggan and take up residence in Elizabeth’s late parent’s house. It had seemed at the time like just another confusing upheaval, but now he silently thanked that Luftwaffe pilot, if that hadn’t happened they would never have come to Ballycreggan.
He remembered the smell of molten sugar and the jars stretching as far as the eye could see, clove rock, bulls eyes, acid drops, chocolate covered lollipops, it was magical then, and to be honest, it was still magical now. He loved the smell of the toffee apples the Bridie made in her own kitchen, he loved how she weighed a quarter pound of whatever sweets you wanted, but then threw in two more, for luck, she’s always say with a mischievous wink.
He’d bumped into Mrs O’Hanlon the priest’s sour housekeeper as she came out of the greengrocers.
She dropped her bag of vegetables.
‘I’m so sorry Mrs O’Hanlon, I wasn’t paying attention, are you alright?’ Erich picked up a turnip and several potatoes and restored them to her shopping basket.
She made no secret of the fact that she disliked foreigners, and was deeply suspicious of Jews generally, but she had to admit to liking the children from the farm. She had no choice since Father O’Toole and the Rabbi were such good friends, that priest would tolerate no antisemitism from anyone.
‘I’m fine Erich, but please retrieve Father O’Toole’s carrots from the street if you wouldn’t mind.’ her imperious tone suggesting Erich was ten years old not a grown man.
‘Of course,’ he gathered the remaining vegetable and apologised again.
‘So are you not going off to the Middle East then?’ she asked.
Erich fought the urge to ask her why on earth she would think that.
‘No Mrs O’Hanlon, I’m not.’
‘Tis a wonder you wouldn’t, I mean isn’t your friend, the blondie one from Dublin gone over there now, and sure there’s hardly a soul above in the farm nowadays only the old Rabbi rattling about with your poor mother and Mrs Braun. God knows what they’re at up there, I mean, I said to Father O’Toole would the Rabbi not be better off down here in the village, that place up there was all well and good during the war, and thank the Lord and his blessed mother the sanctuary could be located there for the poor wee mites but they’re grown up and gone now, and I just don’t know what is going on.’
Erich tried not to smart from the suggestion that he would obviously go to Israel now. Was he the only person who thought he belonged here?
‘Sure during the war ye had to come here, and tis grand, don’t get me wrong, but I’m sure everyone would be happier now, back in their own places?’
‘Well Mrs O’Hanlon, returning to their own places isn’t really an option since for most European Jews since their property is either in German hands or flattened, and their families murdered in the death camps.’ He knew his reaction was a bit harsh but he was stung by her suggestion.
She seemed to draw herself up, her thin body in a puddle coloured coat straightening in indignation.
‘Yes, well…tisn’t we did that, so…’ she retorted, her cheeks flushed pink, and Erich wasn’t sure what point she was trying to make but knew that taking this conversation any further was pointless.
Mrs O’Hanlon was the nosiest woman in Ballycreggan and both Daniel and Elizabeth had made a pastime of not giving her information no matter how hard she dug for it.
‘Och, I don’t know Mrs O’Hanlon, you’re probably right.’ He conceded just to get away from her and she visibly relaxed. ‘Now, I must get on, my sister is waiting for me.’ He smiled politely and made to leave but the housekeeper had a grip of his arm.
‘and how is Liesl? I saw her in the library last week.’
Erich was nonchalant.
‘Och she’s mad for the books Mrs O’Hanlon, she’s the brains of the family I’m afraid.’ he winked and gently eased himself out of her grip.
‘And how’s your friend, the girl from Dublin, the one who went out foreign, Amanda is it?’
Erich struggled to remain impassive.
‘Abigail, she’s grand Mrs O’Hanlon, thanks, now I really best get going.’ He gave a last tug to his arm, releasing himself from the claw like clasp.
He threw the letter in the post box outside the Catholic church and strolled back down the other side of the street. After a cold winter there was a touch of spring in the air, and the huge horse chestnut tree in the middle of the village green was beginning to bud. The sky was blue for once, and he felt a bit of guilt at the contents of his letter but mostly relief. He’d known for months there was no future for him and Abigail so finally telling the truth was a weight off his shoulders.
Jamie’s bar was still closed, but he went around the back and knocked. Hi sister and brother in law lived up over the bar and Liesl was teaching in the school, with Elizabeth as principal.
He looked up as his sister’s wet head popped out of the window.
‘Well ‘tis yourself.’ Liesl greeted him in the usual Ballycreggan way, a phrase that confused them at first when they heard it as children but now was a catchphrase between them.
‘The key is under the flower pot, come on up, I’m just out of the bath, I’ll only be a minute, stick the kettle on, oh did you bring any soda bread?’
‘No I didn’t. Liesl, you’d want to watch yourself, you eat like a farm labourer.’ he grinned and retrieved the key. He was forever teasing her about her healthy appetite, which while robust had not made her gain a pound.
He let himself in and was immediately met with the faint smell of beer and cigarette smoke from the night before. Jamie opened the windows during the day and kept the place immaculately clean but the not unpleasant odour remained.
The bar was owned by Daniel, he’d bought it from Pat Gordon who’d kept it badly for years and was now living with his daughter. Daniel offered it to Jamie to run and so far the Kerry man was making a marvellous job of it. He’d cleared the rubbish built up over years and made it into a lovely bright and clean place, and so the pub that had once been a grim little sheebeen, was, as well as being the village watering hole, now the headquarters for the local women’s institute, it was the meeting place for most local clubs and committees and all local functions and parties were held there.
Jamie was a great businessman, and he worked closely with Maisie McGovern who owned the village tea rooms, with Maisie doing the catering for any events so Jamie made sure he tread on nobody’s toes. He was universally loved in the village, and Erich couldn’t have wished for a better brother in law.
He put the kettle on as Liesl came into the kitchen, drying her long dark hair with a towel. Erich knew people thought his sister was beautiful, and he supposed she was, but she had eyes for nobody but Jamie Gallagher with his huge physique and copper curls.
‘I wrote to Abigail, breaking it off.’ He told her.
‘I hope you were kind?’ Liesl raised an eyebrow. She knew his feelings on the subject, he’d confided in her weeks ago.
‘Of course I was, but you were right, there’s no point in carrying on if it’s never going to turn into anything. I don’t want to go there, she doesn’t want to come back, so that’s all there is to it really. Where’s Jamie?’ Erich changed the subject as he put the kettle on.
‘Gone to Belfast to pick Derry up from the train, he’s coming to stay for a week.’ Liesl said with a sigh.
‘I thought you liked him better than the other members of your beloved’s family?’ Erich asked with a chuckle.
‘I do, and that wouldn’t be hard, it’s just, oh I don’t know, I don’t really feel like having visitors at the moment.’
Erich looked at her, she looked pale.
‘Are you alright Liesl?’ he asked. Ever since the horrific incident two years ago when Kurt Richter, and old family friend, or so they thought, came back into their lives and tried to kill Liesl, the family worried for her. She had jumped from a second floor window to escape him, and had injured herself badly, so badly she was wheelchair bound for months afterwards.
‘I’m fine.’ She smiled.
‘What?’ he asked.
‘Ok, look, We’re not telling anyone yet, but I’ll burst if I don’t tell you, but you must keep it to yourself alright?’ Liesl’s eyes danced with excitement.
‘What?’ he asked.
Erich was speechless, so he just stood and hugged his sister.
Recovering from the surprise he said, ‘That’s brilliant news, congratulations Liesl, I’m so happy for you, and for Jamie, you must be so excited.’
‘If you can get to the timber yard to pick up the eight by fours before they close you can make a start on Casey’s and I’ll follow on with Willi when we finish off the job in the convent.’ Daniel was poring over the order book, allocating jobs for the day. They had five different projects on the go at once.
The three of them were gathered in what was once the large open area behind Jamie’s pub, which had been transformed from a graveyard for old farm machinery and briars into a neatly organised builders yard. Daniel had an engineer’s eye and things out of place irritated him. Erich had been trained the same way, so every chisel and screwdriver was where it should be. When Willi Braun joined the business there was a little tension as though Willi was rapidly becoming a skilled craftsman, he was a bit careless with tools and had an annoying habit of not returning things to their proper place. Daniel and Erich complained so much about it, he had become accustomed to their ways and now the place ran smoothly.
‘Right.’ Erich said, gathering the tools he would need.
Willi put the kettle on, his limp barely noticeable now due to the success of his prosthetic. It was a heavy contraption made of wood and leather, but Willi never complained. He’d lost a leg on the Eastern front fighting with the Wehrmacht, and he always joked it was the best thing that ever happened to him, it got him out of the damned war and home to Berlin where he discovered Ariella, hidden in his mother’s attic. What was an ignominious beginning transformed into his personal love story, and after a gruelling few months hiding his Jewish girlfriend and his mother from the Nazis in the dying stages of the war, they were free. They’d all three made it to Ballycreggan where Ariella was reunited with her children and now lived, in his own words, happily ever after. Now at forty three, he still had his boyish good looks and was permanently cheerful.
‘Erich,’ Daniel called him. ‘that’s the wrong box of drill bits for that drill.’
‘What?’ Erich looked down at the tools in his hand, Daniel was right he was miles away.
‘Tell me to mind my own business if you want, but an absent minded builder often winds up missing fingers? You’ve been miles away.’ Daniel sat at the lunch table he’d built for their breaks and gestured Erich should join him. The two were as close as any father and son and Erich trusted him implicitly.
Willi arrived and placed three mugs of coffee and a box of home-made cakes on the table.
‘out with it Erich, what’s going on? Willi smiled and Erich reciprocated.
He might as well tell them. They’d find out sooner or later anyway.
‘Abagail is staying in Israel. So I wrote to her and broke off the relationship, there’s no point you know?’
‘Staying for good?’ Willi asked.
‘It sounds that way.’ Erich shrugged. ‘She said it was just for a visit, just to see it, but she went with a group from her synagogue and they were mostly young like her, and they met up with a group from New York, some family members of someone she knows. They saw how they are trying to cultivate the land, to use it to grow crops and she said there is such a sense of purpose there, a feeling of coming home, I don’t begrudge it to her, but it’s not for me.’
‘Fair enough.’ Willi shrugged.
‘Are you upset about it?’ Daniel asked.
Erich thought for a moment, ‘I’m fine, but I don’t know, first everyone from the farm, then Simon, and now Abigail, it feel like everyone wants to go to Israel, like they have this calling or something and I just don’t understand it. I feel like I’m missing something, or that I’m betraying who I am but I just don’t feel it you know? Israel might as well be the moon as far as I’m concerned.’
Daniel patted his shoulder. ‘I understand, but you’re all adults now and everyone must make their own decisions.’
‘Well Erich, that’s your decision,’ Willi was pragmatic, ‘and though it’s sad for you and Abigail, I admire you for doing what you want, you could go over there and be miserable, , but if she really was the one for you then nothing would stop you being with her. So something deep down is telling you she wasn’t the one, no matter how much you liked her, because if she was, wild horses wouldn’t stop you being on a ship to Haifa.’
‘I suppose.’ Erich agreed, ‘I think it’s not just Abigail, its everyone leaving, Abraham and Dieter are in Vienna, Benjamin went to Prague but his whole family, well what’s left of it are going to Israel now too from there. Viola, Anika and Ben, all gone to Jerualem, the Missenbergs went to New York, Charlie Kolitz went to London, Levi, Ruth, the list goes on. They were all my friends, I even miss Levi’s grumpy face. And I know I have you all but you’re all fine, you know, living your lives happily, Liesl and Jamie are doing so well, and I feel like I’m just plodding along. I’m twenty three years old, I live with my parents, I work with you two, I went to America once and that’s been it.’
Daniel smiled, ‘But you said you don’t want to leave Ballycreggan?’
‘I don’t, I just…I don’t know, I’ve no idea what I want to do.’ He sipped his coffee, feeling better for having told them. ‘I got a letter from Bud, inviting me over to Biloxi for a visit, its great timing, and I’d like to go, after everything I feel like I could use a holiday but we’re so busy.’ They didn’t know yet about Liesl’s baby but if he was going to take a trip he’d want to be cack before his niece or nephew made their appearance.
‘You should go, Bud would love to see you and as you say, you could use something to look forward to, we all need a holiday Erich.’ Daniel grinned, he was constantly being berated by the family for never taking a day off.
‘But what about all the work we have on here? I can’t just take off for weeks and leave you two to manage on your own?’
Daniel shrugged, ‘We can manage, I was thinking we might take on two apprentices, one electrician, one carpenter, and maybe a block layer as well, we have enough work now, and people are recovering after the war and wanting to have all the new things fitted, hot and cold running water in every house, nobody is happy with an outside toilet anymore, electric upgrades, not to mention how many enquiries we’ve had to install televisions. I was amazed that even Elizabeth said she wanted one, she saw the BBC broadcast in a shop in Belfast and is fascinated, I could live without it myself but…’
‘If Elizabeth wants one then Elizabeth shall have one, you’ve never refused her anything yet.’ Willi winked at Erich making a gesture with his thumb pressing into the palm of his hand.
‘I don’t pretend anything to the contrary my friend.’ Daniel confirmed with a smile.
‘So we’re expanding?’ Erich asked.
‘We have to, or else all three of us will burn out.’ Daniel nodded. ‘We have too much work for just us, so now would be a good time for you to take a break. Once they are trained up, and hopefully it works out, we might look at taking a holiday ourselves.’
Erich laughed, ‘I’ll believe that when I see it.’
‘No I mean it, Elizabeth and Ariella want to take a trip, but as you say we can’t go now, but if we set it up, get some staff, then down the line it could happen. So how about we find some apprentices, you go off to America for a few weeks and by the time you get back we’ll have seen how well they are working out and maybe next summer we could take off for a while?’
‘And you’re not just doing this to cheer me up are you?’ Erich asked doubtfully.
‘Erich, I’m an Austrian engineer, a species not generally given to rash emotional outbursts,’ Willi and Erich laughed, the family always teased him about how rational he was about everything, only logic made sense to him. ‘So no, it’s a good business move I think, and I want to do it. I’m not getting any younger, and to be honest with you, I’d like to spend a bit more time at home, I’m not thinking of retiring yet, but Elizabeth and I have all we need, and you and Liesl are grown up now and fending for yourselves more or less, so we’d like to be able to take a bit of time off. If we employ more staff, then I won’t need to be here all the time.’ He paused, ‘I promise it’s just for a visit, but Ruth and Levi have invited us to Jerusalem to visit them, and we’re thinking we might go sometime.’
Erich shook his head. ‘It better be just for a visit, I’m sick of losing everyone to that country.’
‘It will be, I can assure you, but we’d like travel a bit, maybe visit England, I know Elizabeth would like to visit Rudi’s family there, and I’d like to meet my old college friend in Bristol, Stephen Holland, if it wasn’t for his sponsorship, I would never have got out of Austria and I never got to thank him, so we’d like to do that, and just see a bit of the world you know?’
‘I do, and I think you should definitely do it.’ He knew when Liesl had told them the good news that might change, because if a baby was on the horizon neither Daniel nor Elizabeth would consider missing that.
We hope you are enjoying the book so far. To continue reading...