When the father of British lawyer Meriel Schindler died, he left behind piles of Nazi-era documents related to her Jewish family's fate in Innsbruck, Austria, and a treasure trove of family albums reaching back to before World War I. Here she confronts the truth behind their family history.
... lingering tastes and luscious aromas...permeate Meriel Schindler’s affecting The Lost Café Schindler ... The endless maneuvering between Kurt’s family and the authorities of each successive government can be tedious to wade through until you realize, as Ms. Schindler does, the dispiriting and enraging impact they must have had on Kurt [Schindler] as he doggedly pursued his claims through the decades ... it is still difficult to keep all the complicated connections straight, and the details of one intertwined story can blur into another. She also can’t refrain from following up on various historical sidebars, some of which are less interesting than others. Yet through her research she clearly documents the simmering presence of anti-Semitism in the Tyrol throughout the decades that preceded Hitler’s rise. Those tropes are unsettlingly visible in the vicious political cartoons and pamphlets, some of which are reproduced here ... Ms. Schindler’s insight-filled reckoning with the past can’t help but leave behind a bitter taste that no amount of Sacher torte can disguise.
While the stories could scarcely be more powerful, a tighter edit would have made the book even more compelling. There is too much signposting, too much exposition, too many tangents ... Meriel could easily have removed herself from much of the narrative and let her investigative efforts speak for themselves. Instead, she has treated writing a book as though it’s like solving a maths problem, where you have to show all your working ... Her family story is so fascinating that you forgive any foibles, though. I think some readers will think that there’s a bigger problem; at the book’s close you still do not understand Meriel’s father and what made him go rogue. Yet that feels like Kurt’s destiny, to remain an enigma—even to his daughter.
Meriel Schindler’s precise and very well researched book effectively traces her family history from her great-grandfather’s time and is set to the backdrop of a Central Europe enduring the turbulent times of two world wars; very dramatically so for Jewish people who were to encounter a history of resentment and persecution ... quite an educational, yet gripping story and the sometimes grand history of the Café Schindler ... a comprehensive guide and insights into what life was like for entrepreneurial people during the decline of the Austro-Hungarian empire, its participation in the First World War, the growing prejudice towards and the persecution of Jewish people, Hitler’s ascendancy, Kristallnacht, the Second World War and its aftermath ... Overall this is a very readable, illuminating, informative and enjoyable book, though at times one might not be quite sure whether it was written and intended simply as a storyline or was meant to be something more academic in nature. In some ways it might also be seen to be twin-tracked, even perhaps multi-tracked in its approaches and in what it achieves ... It certainly succeeds in providing that ‘way in’ to the history and social circumstances of the times, from the 1850s to the present, and we gain a perspective on the two world wars from geographical and culturally different perspectives that reflect a genuine feel for the times portrayed.