|News Letter (Belfast) 21 June 2008,
"This is an endearing story. Set in post war Europe, it charts the Red Cross's Operation Shamrock which saw hundreds of German children transported from their war-torn home country to the safety and security of Ireland. The focus of Dianne Ascroft's book is Erich and his brother Hans and stretches across a 10-year period of the boys' life in Ireland as part of Operation Shamrock, before making their own way in life, either in the British Isles or by returning home.
Young Erich's first home is Gold-schmidthaus, a Children's Home near Essen. He lives for visits with his beloved mother and longs for the day he will live with her. He is distraught when, after a heavy bombing raid, her visits abruptly end. After the war, Erich finds himself, with hundreds of other German children, transported across Europe to escape the appalling conditions in their homeland. Operation Shamrock brings Erich and Hans, to a new life in Ireland but with different familes. There then follows the story of how Erich experiences both the best and worst of Irish life with a string of Irish foster families, where he finds both love and acceptance and some harshness and indifference from others.
Ascroft is superb in telling the story from Erich's point of view. It's a poignant and nostalgic look at a bygone and more innocent age. The reader will feel much sympathy for the two German lads as they are split from each other and go about living their lives in a foreign land.
The story is both vivid and moving and even though Erich is only a child, the reader will find an admiration for how the human spirit can overcome all manner of hardship and misery and still retain hopes and dreams."
|Brian D'Arcy, BBC broadcaster, Sunday World columnist,
"I have just finished reading Dianne Ascroft's wonderful story entitled 'Hitler and Mars Bars'. It's a riveting story of a young German boy Erich from the Industrialised Ruhr area of Germany. During the Second World War, buildings and industry were demolished; but so were families and communities too. Erich's mother is killed in the bombing. He and his brother Hans are left to fend for themselves.
It was then that they became part of Operation Shamrock, which was an Irish Red Cross project designed to help German children recover from the deprivation of the war. Southern Ireland was accused of being ambivalent in its attitude to Hitler. Yet Ireland was one of the first countries, through the Red Cross, to send donations to help the children in Germany.
As a result the German Save the Children Society was formed with the aim of bringing German children to Ireland to save them from starvation. With the help of the Irish Red Cross, many children were brought to Ireland - mainly to Glencree in Wicklow. When they were sufficiently cared for, they were fostered to families all over Ireland. Most of the children returned to Germany in the early 1950's but about 50 of them remained permanently in Ireland.
Dianne Ascroft's story is based on Operation Shamrock, but the characters, including Erich, are fictional.
Throughout the book we follow the stories of these children, some of whom met good, caring families but others were treated horrifically. We read the stories of both in this excellently written book.
Traversing the country, we get to know the children, their families, the hard work entailed in running a farm in rural Ireland in those difficult times.
But most of all we get the human stories. As a novel it is extraordinarily well researched. It could form the basis of a revealing film script.
It is already an award winning novel for this Canadian born writer who has come to settle in Brookeborough in Co Fermanagh. Beautifully written with a strong human story running through it, it's an ideal read for these summer days."
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