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War Child

Survival. Betrayal. Secrets

(54 customer reviews)
Authors: Annette Janic, Catherine McCullagh
history, war, world war II, family history, nazi, nazi Germany, refugees, family secrets, red army, hitler youth, Australian history
153mm x 234mm

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War Child is a true story that spans 100 years, a tale 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 pre-World War II Germany in a small town steeped in superstition. Spurned by her Catholic grandfather, Leni and her mother live in poverty in a country sliding towards war. At school Leni joins the Hitler Youth, leaving at 14 to work to support her family. A sadistic employer forces her to submit to secret systematic rape or face having her mother interned.

Fleeing the advance of the Red Army, Leni and her family survive on their wits, and she is transformed from a meek, cowed girl to protector. In the post-war chaos she falls pregnant to her Yugoslav boyfriend, marrying him in a bid to avoid the hardship that blighted her childhood. The little family migrates to Australia, crossing the war-torn continent, enduring appalling conditions in Bagnoli Refugee Transit Camp and finally facing the enormous task of beginning a new life in an alien land.

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.


‘War Child’ is one of those wonderful and rare examples of a real life history that touches the heart and educates the mind simultaneously.

An epic read that spans continents, and generations.! This book have everything that makes for a great (emotional) read.

A truly heart rending and compelling read.

There’s a film in this – it has everything.

A journey that is intriguing, sometimes agonising and most definitely thought provoking.

It is raw, compelling, sad, confronting but more than anything educational.

Three amazing women entwined in one family. I’ll be recommending it to everyone.

A story that needed to be told. I could not put it down.

A memorable tear-jerker. Hard to put down. I read it in 2 days!

Annette Janic

Annette Janic

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 […]

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Catherine McCullagh

Catherine McCullagh

Catherine McCullagh is a highly respected editor and author. She has worked as an editor and advisor on numerous military and Australian history books and has two published works to her name, Willingly into the Fray, a narrative history of the first 100 years of Australian Army nursing, and War Child, the true story of […]

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54 reviews for War Child

  1. War Child is one of those wonderful and rare examples of a real life history that touches the heart and educates the mind simultaneously. Threading the true story of incredible hardship and inhumane treatment of a young girl growing up in Germany, through the history of the Second World War from local German citizens’ perspectives, authors Annette Janic and Catherine McCullagh have crafted an excellent book that’s so readable through the right mix of sadness and uplifting inspiration. This is a truly heartfelt example of the indomitable and unbreakable human survival instinct. No-one can read this and not be moved and touched by the twists and turns of the author’s family’s fortunes and foibles. A truly inspiring and satisfying adventure.

  2. A harrowing and moving account of the experiences of a mother and daughter in Germany before, during and after World War 2, and later in 40’s and 50’s Australia. The terrible plight of refugees is described in horrific detail, highlighting a resonance to contemporary events in this part of the world that need far greater compassion and consideration on our part. This is an important work, and I commend it highly.

  3. Sensational insight into what life was like for civilians inside Germany during WWII – the so called “master race” were not immune from the thugs who ruled the streets – what an eye opener! SUSAN HAVERCROFT

  4. I started reading your book tonight and all I can say is it’s beautiful! So emotionally raw. I’m so moved and I’m only up to chapter 4. I can’t keep tears from my eyes. AMANDA GILES

  5. was so absorbed in reading War Child on the bus to work that I missed my bus stop, and had to walk back a few stops. Then, reading it at the bus stop for the trip home, I missed hailing the bus! Congratulations on writing a hard to put down book! CATHERINE DURR

  6. War Child is the type of book that you rush home to continue reading. You just can’t get enough of it. And people who knew Leni say that she was a very cheerful and positive lady. Hard to believe when you read how difficult and sad her life was. ZUZANA FRANOVA

  7. War Child is a great insight into humanity during a time of uncertainty, Europe during world wars and immigration in Australia. Even though the subject is quite heavy at times, its “easy” to read style of writing allows you to move through the chapters without wanting to put it down. Just when you think this poor girl has gone through enough… something else happens and her inner strength or something, pushes her through and you just want to know more… Definitely a story worth sharing, and worth taking the time to read. Magdalene

  8. This is a must read book that tells the story of an ordinary German family life and deprivations during WW2.One that is rarely told. The personal endurances of the author’s mother and her family.Truly , betrayals and secrets. I could not put this book down. The ending being as truly amazing (i will not spoil the ending for you here) as the main story of human endurance and protection at great costs for loved ones involved during the war and in emigration to Australia. Highly recommended.

  9. I have just finished reading “War Child” and what a read it’s been! A story of survival, betrayal, loyalty, lies and love! What an ending!

  10. This story is absolutely enthralling. I bought the book and went home to do some chores but started reading instead … and read, and read, and read. I could not put it down. Missed my afternoon appointments! It’s such a tragic tale told with so much love. I am guessing the author wished it wasn’t true, but sadly it is. A story of pain and sadness handled so beautifully. JAN GOLDSWORTHY

  11. War Child has me positively enthralled. I am totally absorbed by the book and have only started reading it. Could not help myself from writing a short review with my initial thoughts. Amazing, powerful, harrowing, raw. Must read. DAWN HILSBERG

  12. Out of pain and sadness can come change, healing and joy. This books helps release these conversations. MAGGS

  13. ‘War Child’ is one of those wonderful and rare examples of a real life history that touches the heart and educates the mind simultaneously. Threading the true story of incredible hardship and inhumane treatment of a young girl growing up in Nazi Germany, through the history of the Second World War from local German citizens’ perspectives, first time author Annette Janic, has crafted an excellent book that’s so readable through the right mix of sadness and uplifting inspiration. This is a truly heartfelt example of the indomitable and unbreakable human survival instinct. No-one can read this and not be moved and touched by the twists and turns of the author’s family’s fortunes and foibles. a truly inspiring and satisfying adventure.

  14. An epic read that spans continents, and generations.! This book have everything that makes for a great (emotional) read. Amongst the adversity and hardship, secrets and untruths, was an underlying theme about strength, survival and the power of a mothers love. Buy it!

  15. WAR CHILD is the true story of Magdalena (Leni) Janic whose name appears on The Welcome Wall at Sydney’s Darling Harbour. I will now look at those names with greater appreciation for the hardship that many went through before arriving on our shores post WWII and helping to build Australia into the wonderful multi-cultural country that it is today. But it’s also a story of a woman’s unconditional love for her family, the sacrifices she made and secrets she kept to protect them. Her ultimate secret was only revealed in a bizarre twist after her death and much to her daughter’s (and author) surprise involved her. A memorable tear-jerker. Hard to put down. I read it in 2 days!

  16. I was struck by the complexities of Leni’s life and her mental and physical resilience (which she no doubt inherited from Auguste) and fascinated to read of the post WW 2 migration experiences. Your descriptions reminded me of the brief details my mother shared with me. My Ukrainian parents and their young son arrived in Adelaide in 1949 after fleeing the Russians (approaching Lviv) in 1944 and spending a period in a displaced persons camp at Mittenwald, Germany. My mother’s only complaints were the “dirtiness” of Naples (awaiting their transport ship), her continuous seasickness (forcing her to spend the entire journey in the ship’s infirmary) and the cold of Woodside, SA where they lived in a migrant hostel for a short time before they, too, moved into a tin shed in the backyard of friends. Our family lived in Adelaide’s eastern suburbs but I formed friendships with many ‘ethnic’ children living in the western suburbs. My mother was always grateful for her new life in Australia. Thank you for finding the courage and energy to share your family story. LYDIA MAKIV

  17. One of my simple pleasures in life is to catch up with friends for lunch and a movie, coffee and cake and maybe some indulgent chocolate. On one of these occasions my dear friend Ruby Giles for over 30 years, gave me a ‘special gift’. It was the novel ‘War Child’ by Annette Janic. I knew it was emotionally significant to Ruby as it featured in part her recently departed and much beloved Mum ‘Marianne’, who was the close friend and confidante of ‘War Child’s’ central character ‘Leni’. I knew this wasn’t a book I could only read a couple of pages every other night. I knew that it needed my devoted time and attention. So I waited until a cold wintry weekend when I had little planned and began to read. I found the story so riveting that I stayed in my pyjamas almost all weekend being such a page turner! It was sad, poignant and compelling. It was more than a special gift – it was precious! It was a reminder to begin every day with gratitude for all that our peaceful society bestows upon its citizens. Gratitude for life long friendships … more precious than diamonds, and a reminder that a bond between Mother and Daughter cannot be broken despite war, distance, time and death. ROBYN PRIDMORE

  18. I was totally absorbed with this true story and how it was written that I felt like I was part of the epic journey. There were times when I just couldn’t put the book down. I had the good fortune of meeting Leni, before knowing her story. What a lovely, warm, caring and funny person she was – someone who simply wanted to protect others. Quite remarkable given what she’d endured. When you feel you’re having a bad day at work … think of this story and what it must have been like working for the tailor. MERRILYN WILLIS

  19. While I was reading War Child I’d reluctantly turn off the lights to go to sleep because I knew I had to get up for work in the mornings but I found myself returning to the book if I woke through the night! I simply could not let it go. I could feel the sorrow, sadness, frustration, entrapment and anger experienced by Leni and Auguste and desperately wanted to put it right for them. I could also feel the love – the one and only thing they had to cling to when everything else was lost. The resilience of these women, Leni in particular, was mind-boggling. How anyone could come out the other end as a warm, loving, happy person which is how she was described, is beyond me. This story covers so many themes including the tragedy of war, the toll of war on women, the untold civilian stories, mother and daughter relationships to name a few. Every reader will take something unique of their own from reading War Child.

  20. I just finished War Child tonight and must congratulate the author on this outstanding work. What an emotional roller coaster ride! I must say it really got me at the moment during the artillery barrage in Passau when Leni returned with coffee and Auguste was kneeling and giving thanks. There’s a film in this – it has everything. Thank you for giving this story to the world.

  21. A story that needed to be told. A truly heart rending and compelling read. It is hard to believe what some people are forced to endure and how strong the human spirit can be despite unimaginable hardship. The author takes you on a journey that is intriguing, sometimes agonising and most definitely thought provoking. It is a story of hardship, resilience, secrecy, displacement and legacy. A true story that has a strong message. As relevant today as it was then.

  22. I don’t even know how to describe the feelings that arose whilst reading this story. Some may say I am biased given that my Oma is Marianne the confidant, but this is truly one of the deepest and most fulfilling books I have ever read. I to have a interest in this time in history and hearing the story of someone I know is very touching and makes me wish I knew more. Annette I commend your strength and willingness to bring this to light x

  23. The War Child story provides an insight into what life was like for civilians living in Nazi Germany like I have never read before. The migration process and integrating into Australian life in the 1950’s is described candidly. It is raw, compelling, sad, confronting but more than anything educational. The unexpected twist at the end kept me reading into the small hours of the morning … I could not put this book down.

  24. The book War Child was a revelation to me. I have always read biography books about WW2 written by surviving Jewish Men and Women. To read about Leni and her family helped me understand so much more from a very different vantage point. Leni’s story deeply pained me at times, her childhood alone, let alone her teenage and adult years…. The author, Annette, is as amazing as Leni was, to be strong enough to relive it all in writing this book. Truly her Mothers daughter and Grandmothers Grandchild. 3 amazing women entwined in one family. I’ll be recommending it to everyone.

  25. A busy life means it’s been a while since I read a book but I when I started War Child while on a recent holiday everything else took second place. I could not put it down. I was fascinated with two aspects of the story in particular – the way children were manipulated by The Hitler Youth and the difficult refugee experience for post WWII Europeans. It helped me understand more what refugees go through, which is clearly relevant now. Leni’s resilience was astounding. War Child has motivated me to find the time to start reading again.

  26. I read War Child in the space of three days. I felt for Leni and Auguste. What they went through was truly shocking. War brings out the worst in people. I will recommend this book to everyone – it’s a warning to everyone to keep the peace and be kind to our fellow men and women.

  27. I have just finished reading War Child. I was very impressed with the research and appreciated the story of how horrible life was for Germans as a whole during this time. It was interesting to see another perspective and such a story of courage.

  28. Loved this book so much, couldn’t put it down, I cried and got goose bumps and at the end I bought a golden purse. Such a fantastic read.

  29. A story that had to be told. A great read. Nothing more to say. ADELE TORR

  30. I have just finished War Child and was greatly moved. Overwhelmed, really. Just how Leni and Auguste survived and led such loving and fulfilling lives is truly remarkable. Their courage; their indomitable spirit: staggering. The author is to be commended for writing the story of her mother and grandmother. It is so important these stories are told. I hope the book is making an impact and inspiring others to question, to ask and to write. Mike Coward.

  31. Often times you read a book expecting highs and lows. This is about two generations of women that had very rare moments of highs and a continuous existence of abuse, sadness and perpetual fear prior to, during and post WW II Germany. The author expertly narrates the life of her mother and grandmother as well as a life changing tidbit about herself. I couldn’t put this down and simply had to find the happy ending. It’s not what I expected but it does exist and now I will look for my ‘perfect little golden purse’.

  32. I have been so moved and interested in this sympathetically told story of the author’s mother and grandmother. The gathering together and retelling of their stories has given me such an insight into just how difficult, even tragic, life was in Germany during that awful war. The book is a wonderful tribute to the author, her mother and grandmother. She has kept alive the memory of two remarkable people . Wonderful mothers, very brave and so resourceful while always remaining kind and human and with the courage to go on in spite of the horrible difficulties they faced.

  33. What a remarkable review of a very personal family account. I applaud the author for her openness and honesty and have to say that whatever the hardships Leni had to endure, she left a truly great legacy in her daughter.

  34. The hardships of life and bravery of the author’s mother and grandmother are beautifully portrayed in this book. It is unimaginable to think of the daily obstacles an impoverished female had to endure in a very dark and male-dominated, religion directed world. It is not easy to read, but the experience is enriching. Well done.

  35. I have just finished reading War Child. It’s a lovely story but very heart wrenching and I must admit I had teary eyes in parts. A well researched and written book. Highly recommended.

  36. “WAR CHILD is a moving and personal story as only a mother’s story can be. However this story needs to be heard beyond immediate family.”
    Jessie Street Library newsletter

  37. WAR CHILD is Number 1 book at Better Read than Dead bookshop

    Top Ten this week is a beautiful mix of books from our events and book clubs from the week past as well as some staff and customer favourites.
    1. War Child – Annette Janic & Catherine McCullagh
    2. Warlight – Michael Ondaatje
    3. Pretty Gentleman – Peter McNeil
    4. Men Without Women – Haruki Murakami
    5. Transgender History – Susan Stryker
    6. The Shepherd’s Hut – Tim Winton
    7. I’ll Be Gone In The Dark – Michelle McNamara
    8. Pachinko – Min Jin Lee
    9. Tom Gates: Biscuits, Bands and very Big Plans – Liz Pichon
    10. Growing Up Aboriginal in Australia – Anita Heiss – Author

  38. I thoroughly enjoyed this book. I decided as a child of European immigrants I might also embrace the author’s ‘perfect little golden purse’ tradition! I found mine last weekend at the local markets. Look forward to the follow up story!

  39. I read the chapter about staying at Bonegilla Migrant Camp with great interest as I was only at Bonegilla early this year. What a place that is. And so many other camps like it yet so much success came from the tough starts. I found more than a few family friends names on the memorial walls. It’s a credit to that generation that survived war, upheaved to the other side of the world, and in many ways, built Australia. Too often forgotten by the new generations. Secrets, stresses, survival, success, shared. It’s all there if we look for it. Great read!

  40. I so much enjoyed the story War Child but found it very harrowing in places. The extraordinary thing is, Leni seemed so resilient and positive after so much hardship and trauma. I am glad there was one happy relationship! I have now lent my copy of the book to a member of my Book Club and also bought a copy for our daughter who lives in Adelaide. So thank you!

  41. I picked up a copy of War Child at Bonegilla Migrant Centre when I was visiting with my mother-in-law who went through Bonegilla around the same time as Leni. It made me think of my own family history. My father was in Bomber Command during the war and my German mother-in-law was under some of his raids. Little did he know that somewhere in the darkness 20,000 feet below him was the grandmother of his future grand kids!! I thank the author of War Child for her efforts in putting this story together and I believe that all Australian kids should read books such as this so they will understand just how fortunate we all are.P

  42. What a fascinating story. The author handles the sometimes very hard-going narrative with such delicacy, skill and love … not to mention forgiveness. At times I found it hard to believe I was reading a true story. Great insight into how war affects women which is rarely told. Absolutely recommend this book.

  43. I have just discovered War Child. I cannot comprehend the horrors of Leni’s life, such sadness and bravery. It’s a story that will live with me forever. I’m glad that the author finally found her gold purse! Thank you for introducing me to Leni’s story.

  44. The term War Child has become understood to mean youth who were too young for direct participation in WWII but old enough to suffer from hunger, expulsion, abuse, bomb attacks, loss of family members, separation and fear of death. These children were shaped, impaired or even damaged by war and the aftermath of war which impacted the rest of their lives. For more than a decade there has been research into what became of these WWII War Children, what the long-term consequences of their war was and how it was felt decades later often increasing with age. This book WAR CHILD Survival Betrayal Secrets is one of those important stories.

  45. I review books every week on the ABC, War Child was by far the most gripping book I have read relating to the war. It really puts our lives in to perceptive when you realize what some people endured, not only did they survive but they have inspired. Annette was great to interview.

  46. I live in the former Katscher (now Kietrz), a small town where much of the early part of this story takes place. I was afraid this book might be melodramatic and impossible for me to read because the history is so close to home. However I discovered it is not at all melodramatic. I had to take several breaks while reading it though, because of the hardship and sadness described. The cruelty suffered by Leni and Auguste, especially the meanness towards children are unbearable for me. The wicked, sleazy, predator Tailor Paul Bannert, who made victims of both an innocent child Leni and her naive and grateful mother Auguste who thanked him for his kindness, was beyond belief. Auguste is Extra Mega Abominable! For me the book has two number one characters, Leni and Auguste, who is a shadow heroine.

  47. This detailed explanation on some of the pertinent characters and sad events in the war years, Nazi Germany and afterwards in Australia, was startling. It is a very sad story, but one that needed to be told. Annette was very forthcoming and honest in telling the War Child story.

  48. This book is not an easy read but please read it! The true story is heartbreaking and has stayed with me long after reading it. It is a story of courage and love. I would highly recommend this book.

  49. I found myself drawn into this story from the first few pages, that set the rationale and love that pervaded every sentence of this book. We learn about Auguste and Leni, through the pain of childhood, Hitler’s rise and demise and the statelessness that ensued for so many families. In an effort not to give away the depth of this story and the many emotional experiences that each endure, all I can say is please read this book. A story of courage, shame, resilience and tenacity across numerous years. I had intended to read it over several evenings, but once I’d begun, I had to continue… to know what happened to each of them. That the author chooses to share so many insights of the traumas overcome by her family is a gift in itself. That she does so with such warmth and eloquence is an absolute treat

  50. This remarkable true story of Auguste and her family is both heartbreaking and uplifting. I cried for both Auguste and her daughter Leni at the cruelty they both suffered from family and neighbours in the small village where they were forced to live in poverty. It is hard to comprehend how people can be so cruel and unkind to a fellow human being and this story left me both shocked and saddened at how Auguste and Leni managed to survive after they were ostracised by family. Through sheer hard work and determination they both came through the horrors of a world war, poverty, abuse and rape and went on to find love and eventually peace. This sad story makes you think about and appreciate the everyday things in our life that we take for granted, ie love, happiness, plentiful food, comfortable home, money and security. Leni eventually went on to have children of her own and emigrated to Australia where she lived until the end of her days. What mark do we leave on this world after we have gone? This book is Leni’s mark, it is testament to her determination to succeed and protect those she loved

  51. This book is a true story based on the lives of Auguste and Leni and ending with the story of Leni’s children. It is a challenging read about the real trials of life of a German family during the war. I had heard stories of the British wartime family struggle but this is something different. The book is engaging and intriguing. The story is often harrowing and painful but it did need to be told. It is a well written, well researched book, with a twist to the end of the story. It is historic and informative. Although my review may make this sound dismal, it certainly isn’t. There is passion for life within.

  52. This true story is so incredibly sad. My heart ached for Leni and her absolutely horrific childhood. (Some parts of her story were hard to read) The trauma Leni experienced throughout her life was constantly cruel, unfair and quite simply, tragic. It was utterly heartbreaking to read the set back after set back that she faced. But, as sad as it was, Leni’s life story highlights her bravery, strength and tenacity. This book is a wonderful read.
    Although sad (very sad), I found the story of Hitler’s uprising very interesting. I have read a lot regarding the Holocaust but I did not know very much about the years before the war. This book is extremely well researched and I was intrigued by the way in which Hitler built his way up, manipulating and brainwashing the people of Germany (especially the youth) to gain power and status. His dictating ways were in play well before the war even began. I learnt a lot from this novel and felt shocked by the things that happened and the ridiculous laws and rules that the Nazi Party created. As we all know, so much that went on during the war years was barbaric, wrong and just plain scary. I highly recommend this read for WWII history buffs. It is shocking, extremely sad, very informative, well researched and exquisitely written.

  53. I was given a free copy of this book by the author in exchange for a review through Voracious Readers Only

    This was a beautifully written and heart wrenching biography/memoir that I absolutely could not tear myself away from. Leni’s story gives insight into not only what life was like for non-Jewish but impoverished German civilians around the time of World War II, but also the senseless cruelty that people subject to others simply because they are different and resilient in the face of this cruelty.

    Reading about all the bullying, neglect and abuse Leni endured from her family, classmates and townspeople simply because she was born out of wedlock to a poor Catholic mother and Protestant father made me so angry. I rejoiced when she got to experience little joys but my heart broke whenever her simple hopes for a better life or to gain acceptance got crushed. Being considered Aryan enough to join the Hitler Youth offered little protection as she was also forced to endure horrific sexual abuse and blackmail by her monstrous Nazi Party member of employer. Despite experiencing so much trauma all her young life, Leni’s story is ultimately a triumphant one and I enjoyed reading about how she managed to survive both her abuse and the war and start a new life in Australia. Annette’s story, which begins where Leni’s ends near the end of the book, is about her own quest to answer the questions about her mother’s story and discovering some unexpected and shocking details about her family history in the process, making for a wonderful conclusion as well. I’m so grateful for the opportunity to read this unforgettable book and those who enjoyed Night , Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience and Redemption, and Angela’s Ashes will likely appreciate this moving story also.

  54. I have just finished reading War Child and felt compelled to write and say how much the story of Leni and everyday Germans during the Nazi era and their escape to freedom moved me. I have read a lot about others impacted such as the Jews, disabled, homosexual and Polish people however the voice of everyday Germans faced with such difficult choices is rarely heard. What a very important story to be shared.

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