War Child is a true story that spans 100 years, revealing agonising choices against the backdrop of Nazi Germany, the lingering effects of war, the 1950s Australian migration experience, and a modern day search.
Magdalena (‘Leni’) is an illegitimate child born in a small town steeped in superstition in pre-World War II Germany. Denounced as a source of shame by her devoutly Catholic grandfather and the narrow-minded townspeople, Leni and her mother eke out a living dogged by poverty and prejudice in a country moving inexorably towards war. With the advance of the Red Army, Leni and her family are stripped of their possessions and forced to survive on their wits, transforming Leni from a meek, cowed girl to breadwinner and protector. She becomes a member of the Hitler youth, while at the same time puzzling over the disappearance of her Jewish friend. Forced to leave school at 14, Leni is confronted with the terrible choice of submitting to secret systematic rape by her employer, or having her mother interned. When she falls pregnant, she is determined to avoid the hardship she endured as a child and marries her Yugoslav boyfriend and migrates to Australia.
It is an arduous journey marred by the appalling conditions at Bagnoli transit camp and the enormous difficulties of beginning a new life in Australia. In researching her mother’s life after the death of both parents, Leni’s daughter Annette makes a startling discovery. With her dying breath, Leni’s confidante reveals another secret. A complex search that crosses three continents follows as Annette gradually unravels the web of intrigue that protects her mother’s ultimate secret.
Annette Janic has worked as a television production and program acquisitions professional in genres ranging from live sport to documentaries, game shows, lifestyle and reality, while travelling extensively and living in Australia, Singapore, Dubai and India. She is a first generation Australian with parents and an older brother who arrived as refugees following World War II. Catherine McCullagh is a freelance editor and writer who specialises primarily in Australian military history. Her first book, a non-fiction narrative history of the first hundred years of Australian Army nursing entitled Willingly into the Fray, was published in July 2010.