By the Skin of his Teeth

Anthea Gerrie reviews journalist John Izbicki's dramatic memoir relating a dramatic escape from Nazi Germany


John Izbicki’s autobiography, Life Between the Lines (Umbria Press, £12.95), opens with his memories of running down the street as a five-year-old, exuberantly shouting: “I am a Jew!”. As this was in Hitler’s Berlin, it gave his parents understandable cause for anxiety.

Izbicki later witnessed Kristallnacht from inside his parents’ shop, and recalls literally running to the station with them in September 1939, hours after air transport out of Germany to England had been halted.
But they managed to make it and he recounts a colourful career in which, demobbed, he progressed from Paris correspondent to Daily Telegraph education editor and back again. Along the way, he worked with Ian Fleming pre-James Bond, danced with Margaret Thatcher, met Sophie Tucker and got to drive the Duke of Windsor’s Rolls-Royce.

While there is humour in the book, there is also much grim and poignant detail. Izbicki’s grandmother died in Theresienstadt, days after swapping her wedding ring for a raw potato, and he himself encountered an Auschwtiz survivor in post-war Germany who agonised over being forced to deliver gas cylinders that might have killed his own parents. Later, Izbicki’s first wife died young from cancer, leaving him to raise their teenage son alone.
With most of his family having perished, he clearly will never be reconciled with Germany, “where Beethoven and Buchenwald, Brahms and Belsen, Schiller, Schopenhauer and Auschwitz go hand-in-hand across the pages of history.”

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