Based on Siegfried Kra’s own childhood, Twilight in Danzig is an important addition to pre-Holocaust literature and a unique chronicle of European Jewish culture that reads like a thriller.
Young Jonas Kruger’s parents. are scions of Danzig society, his father a coal merchant, his mother a lovely socialite. But the rise of Hitler in 1933 forces them to examine their identity and make difficult moral choices: Jonas’ governess secretly enrolls him in the Nazi Youth; Mr. Kruger buys open tickets on the Queen Mary, but keeps his family in Danzig, hoping the madness will blow over.
But soon the anti-Jewish laws will reach Danzig and the Krugers will face the most difficult decision of their lives: whether to try to reform and resist from within, or to flee penniless to a country that doesn’t want them, leaving their larger family to an unspeakable fate.
SIEGFRIED KRA emigrated, with his family, from Danzig, Germany to New York in 1939. He attended CCNY, then went to medical school in France and Switzerland before completing his training at Yale. In his practice as a cardiologist, he has treated tens of thousands of patients. Kra has published over a dozen books, both fiction and non-fiction. In addition to medicine and writing, his passions include opera, growing orchids, and tennis, which he still plays weekly at age eighty-six. He also still teaches as an Associate Professor of Medicine at Yale University School of Medicine and Quininipac University Netter School of Medicine.
“Jonas, time to go home,” Fräulein Marlow called after the small boy. Jonas was bent over a circular pond, prodding a small sailboat to reach the other shore. He rose from his crouched position, looked up at the woman in the starched blue uniform, a white collar around her neck, and ran to her obediently.
She knew all about nobility, being herself a descendant of Prince Lefevre, once the Duke of Danzig. The end of World War 1 had also brought an end to the nobility of Danzig, except for a few. She was young, beautiful, and well-bred, with long silk-blonde hair, and she was poor. The position as governess in the rich Kruger household was ideal.
The late autumn afternoon air was chilly as the sun began to set over Danzig, leaving a blood-red glow on the Baltic Sea. The governess pulled her blue frock securely around her young narrow body. The little boy, shivering, held onto her hand as they briskly strolled on the white-pebbled path through the park.
All in all, life with the Kruger family was decent enough. Her living quarters on the top floor of the house gave her a marvelous view of the harbor, of Stefan’s Park, with its trimmed hedges, wide lawns, and musical pavilion, and of the tall medieval Marin church in the old city.
Below her window were the manicured gardens of the estate. After three years, she felt part of the family, not just a servant. Little Jonas, with his soft pompadour and dark eyes fringed with long curving lashes, was very special to her. She admired his fine, flat ears that sat close to his head, unlike those of his little playmates that stuck out as though standing at attention. She was going to make him a Prussian prince, a gentleman by all standards of nobility she knew, in spite of his birth as a Jew.
An asphalt staircase, flanked by two marble lions, led to a large terrace that was the main entrance to the house. Jonas raced ahead and kicked on the heavy carved door because the bell was too high for him to reach. His cheeks were like two red apples plucked from the cold air.
“Who is banging on my door?” A sweet voice came from the other side.
Slowly, his mother opened the door.
“Why, it is my little Jonas!” Lucia Kruger wrapped her slender arms around her son. “And what sea battles did we win today?” she asked as the governess followed behind the boy, carrying the still-wet sailboat. Lucia surveyed her son, dusty and breathless from his afternoon romp. “We will give you a warm bath and a nice supper,” she continued, “and Fräulein can be free for the night.”
As they stood in the spacious entrance hall, Prince Eric Brandenberg came trailing in, wearing a magnificent green riding outfit and smoking a pipe. He was an attractive looking man with a delicate face and high cheekbones.
“Fräulein.” He nodded to Fräulein Marlow in his aristocratic way and then approached Jonas, taking the boy’s small hand in his and shaking it.
“I am pleased to see you again, young man.” With his long tapered finger he gently pushed on the boy’s belly, making Jonas giggle.
“Ah, I almost forgot; I read in the newspaper someone has a birthday soon, and you know who that is. So I brought you a little present, an early birthday gift.” From behind his back the Prince brought forward a little Hessian soldier riding a horse.
“For your collection, which is getting bigger and bigger, as large as the Prussian Army once was.” Jonas clicked his heels, bowed and took the soldier with delight.
“Thank you, sir.”
“Do I at least get a little kiss?” Brandenberg bent down as Jonas planted a light kiss on the Prince’s smooth cheek.
“I really must be going, Frau Kruger. It has been a charming afternoon.”
The Prince bowed again and kissed Lucia Kruger’s hand. He gave her a small, careful glance as he departed.
“About eight o’clock tonight, Eric,” she said. “I do want so much for you to be here.”
“Eight, indeed, and not one moment later. I don’t want to miss one minute of the gracious Kruger dinner.”
“He is such a dear friend to all of us,” she sighed and took Jonas by the hand, singing as they ascended the spiral staircase to the nursery.
The nursery was as large as the downstairs hall, lined with long windows reaching to the floor. Adjacent to the space was a marbled bathroom decorated with painted figures of Rumpelstiltskin, Hansel and Gretel, the Katzenjammer Kids, and the Seven Dwarfs. A small bathtub supported by gold legs stood in the center of the bathroom, and against the north-facing walls were tall white-painted radiators with rounded pipes that heated three white bath towels. Lucia undressed the little boy, then swung him in the air.
“And now the Zeppelin is slowly coming down for a landing, and Jonas is the captain, into the pine water.” The child liked his mother undressing him and then giving him a bath. It was a special treat because his birthday was coming, he thought. The tepid green pine water and the odor of pine forest soothed him from the cold air outside.
Brand Kruger arrived home earlier than usual, carrying a German Shepherd puppy under his arm.
“Where is my son, the soon-to-be birthday boy?” he shouted.
“Your son,” Fräulein Marlow said, standing by the circular staircase, “is having a bath.” Brand raced up the stairs into the bathroom, tiptoed inside, carrying the animal in his arms, and then allowed the puppy to roam freely.
“Muttie, there is a dog here,” Jonas squealed. Brand picked up the dog and placed it next to Jonas, watching as it licked the water off his son’s face.
Jonas climbed out of the bathtub and hugged his new playmate.
“Every boy should have a dog,” Brand exulted. “And how is my darling wife today?”
“You are in a cheery mood.” She reached for a thick, warmed towel from the pipes and tried to encircle Jonas’ small body as he ran naked after the dog out of the playroom and into the hall. Hearing all the noise, the governess came upstairs shaking her head in disapproval.
“Fräulein, you have a new charge.”
“So I see. Of course, he isn’t housebroken.”
“A German Shepherd has excellent manners, Fräulein. In a few days, with your superb perseverance, he will know his place.”
“As you say, sir,” she answered politely as she turned away to arrange for the boy’s supper. With dinner guests expected, he would eat at a small table set up in the nursery.
Lucia was at first angry, but when the small dog ran to her and licked her face as she bent down to pet him, her face broke out in a radiant smile.
“What a nice dog. We will love him forever,” she said.
“A wonderful present for our Jonas.”
“What do you want to call him?” Lucia asked Jonas, now standing beside her wrapped up like a little mummy in his great towel.
The boy had a perplexed look on his face.
“We’ll call him Astor,” Brand broke in. “That was once the name of my dog.”
“Then you should call him Astor the Second.” Fräulein Marlow’s sarcastic tone was barely detectable.
“Astor the Second it shall be!”
“I like Astor only,” Jonas said, although the attention of the grown-ups had moved on.
“Well now, dear wife, and who is coming to dinner tonight?”
“I invited Uncle Herman and his girlfriend. I haven’t seen my brother in weeks. And the Prince is coming.”
“Does the Prince have to be at all our dinner parties?” Brand asked with a bit of irritation.
“He is a good friend, and he is our neighbor. And he adds so much class to our table.”
“He reminds me of one of our Lalique vases that you place on the table to impress people. Besides, I think he has a crush on you.”
“Well, what of it? Don’t you like your wife to be appreciated by other men? I thought men get a certain, how should I say, frisson of pleasure from their women being admired?”
“Yes, but not from a mignon.” Lucia chose to ignore that remark.
“I also invited Grecia.”
“That madman! A Russian anarchist, a Hessian Prince, Max the industrialist, and your nutty brother. What a group.”
“And Grecia’s beautiful wife. You like her, with her gorgeous boobs that hang out like ripe apples.”
“Lotte is a beautiful woman.”
“The most beautiful woman in all of Danzig, right, Lover?” She cast a sidelong glance at him.
Jonas was sitting on the floor playing with Astor.
“What are boobs, Mummy?”
“Go ahead and tell him,” Brand dared.
Brand had to look away so his son or Lucia couldn’t see him smiling.
“That is just a funny term for a woman’s breasts, sweetheart.”
“Fräulein Marlow has nice boobs, too,” Jonas said.
“I invited Grecia because it is his birthday,” Lucia smoothly continued. It was unclear whether she had chosen to let the remark pass or hadn’t heard it.
Brand looked at the boy, suddenly quite pleased with him. “How do you know that, Jonas?”
“Because I saw them.”
“Jonas, it is time for your dinner.” Lucia lightly clapped her hands together. “Hurry now and when you have finished I will tell you a story before bed.”
“No, please. I like to hear you and Papa talk.”
“I bet you do.”
With a teasing tone, Lucia turned to her husband, “There is also someone else coming whom you don’t know.”
“A young man I met a few days ago at the Beaux Arts. He is American. He came to Danzig to study the architecture. He is here by himself, and I thought we could learn English from him. We all must learn English. It is the language of the future.”
“I don’t need to know the language of the barbarians, and I will never have to. They eat filet mignon with jam, I am told. Why should I spend an evening with a cowboy?”
“What is a cowboy, Papa?” Jonas asked.
“A cowboy is a man who rides horses and drinks beer.”
“Papa, you ride horses and drink vodka.”
“Jonas, that is enough! Go and get your supper,” his father said. “Fräulein Marlow!” Brand yelled. “Jonas is waiting for you.”
The First Edition of Twilight in Danzig
was non-fiction and titled Twilight in Danzig:
A Privileged Jewish Childhood During the Third Reich
Canal House, 2015
Other works by Siegfried Kra
The Collected Stories from a Doctor’s Notebook
CreateSpace Independent Publishing, 2014
How to Keep Your Husband Alive: An Empowerment Tool
for Women Who Care About Their Man’s Health
Physical Diagnosis: A Concise Textbook
Elsevier Science Ltd, 1987
What Every Woman Must Know About Heart Disease: A No-nonsense Approach to Diagnosing, Treating, and Preventing the #1 Killer of Women
Grand Central Publishing, 1997
Coronary Bypass Surgery: Who Needs It
W W Norton & Co Inc, 1987
Aging Myths: Reversible Causes of Mind and Memory Loss
The Good Heart Diet Cook Book
Ellen Stern, Jonathan Michaels & Siegfried J. Kra
Ticknor and Fields, 1982
Examine Your Doctor:
A patient’s guide to avoiding medical mishaps
Houghton Mifflin Co International Inc., 1984
Is Surgery Necessary?
The Three-Legged Stallion: And Other Tales
W. W. Norton and Company, Inc., 1980
Basic Correlative Echocardiography Technique and Interpretation
Medical Examination Publishing Company; 2nd edition, 1977