Berlin born Max Rieker grows up in an orphanage in the turbulent years of Germany’s Weimar and Nazi periods. As one of millions of youths, young Rieker is sucked in by the causative wave of events that rocked the nation after its catastrophic defeat in WWI.
Considered an archetypical Aryan, Rieker has an insatiable appetite for life and becomes an outstanding boxer and elite soldier in Adolf Hitler’s personal unit, the Leibstandarte-SS Adolf Hitler. His years spent in the Hitler Youth were the best of his life. Here, he enjoys the adventures and shares the camaraderie with boys of his own ilk: life is seen through rose-coloured glasses back then. He’d embraced the Party’s doctrine of ‘pure race’ because it fitted in with his own earlier beliefs of a race directly descended from the gods.
Alas, the transition from boy to adult, gives rise to tastes that sour his personal code of honour: they conflict with how he imagined a master race should conduct itself. The gap widens in the war years when he discovers vast differences between those in his Waffen-SS unit, young men who fought for their country, and those of Allgemeine-SS; ‘political’ desk-bound individuals and the brutal einsatzkommandos who blindly carry out the unconscionable mandates of the Party. Inevitably ‘politics’ overflows into the field and for Rieker signals a rude awakening shattering the adventurous heart-set dreams he’d readily embraced in his early years. Forced to comply with orders that seriously threaten his personal values a dark side infests his mind; fear, guilt and anger become his most unwelcome demons. Struggling to confront the truth and seek redemption, he finds that there is no short cut back to the ‘noble warrior’ soul of his youth.
All this and bearing witness to the sad attrition of his comrades fighting the merciless Russian Campaign, vastly outnumbered against a fanatical enemy, where atrocity is an everyday occurrence, renders Rieker hard pressed to maintain his sanity; reality becomes a harsh teacher. Any remaining acceptance to master race and his Fuhrer is blown away when his Jewish Ukrainian sweetheart, Irina is killed. Members of the dreaded Einsatzgruppe are responsible. Rieker’s verve for life turns into a venomous hatred for the ‘line management’ who mindlessly implement its cruel doctrine. He sets out to defy the ‘System’ and together with his commanding officer, Paul von Wittenburg, save a young Ukrainian child, Ilyana (the title of the book) from the hangman’s noose.
A not to be missed finale involves conspiracy, murder, summary execution, insubordination and sentencing to Majdanek, a German concentration camp in Poland - a hell on earth, where Rieker and two of his fellow NCO’s, Fritz Kohler and Hans Muller have only themselves to blame for the choices they’d made during their journey forward. Believing it couldn’t get any worse, the past returns to haunt them when their ruthless camp overseer Beicher, the Butcher, turns out to be a former einsatzkommando whom Rieker had almost bludgeoned to death in a boxing contest 4-years earlier. Beicher vows they will never serve out their sentences, but Rieker and his comrades have their own agenda.
They pull off a daring escape but at a heart wrenching price. Barely alive and mentally broken Rieker reaches Berlin to link up with his beloved sister, Greta, for what he knows will be a final farewell.
As for the doctrine of ‘Pure Race’ Rieker settles for his own understanding etched from bitter experience fighting on the frozen killing plains of an unforgiving Eastern Front. A surprising ending illustrates the triumph of spirit over the ills of Mankind.
I really enjoyed "Ilyana". Review by Lynn
What an excellent book - well done. The amount of research and referencing must have been a tremendous amount of work. I really got into the characters, though I wasn't too sure when I first started book as I haven't ever read one from the German side, as it were. The relationship between Max and Greta really came across. I always know when a book is good for me when I just cant read quickly enough to find out what happened!! I really enjoyed "Ilyana". (Posted on 12/04/13)
Loved the book.... Review by Tony
Loved the book, read it earlier in the year - recognised my character and wizzed through it. I confess, your writing style took a while to get used to as it is quite unsophisticated in a refreshing way - but once onboard with that it does make a good read and an easy read.
(Posted on 21/10/12)
It is a ripping yarn Review by Desmond
It is a ripping yarn (Posted on 30/04/12)
... brings a smile to my face every time I read the book. Review by Craig
... so many things I want to chat about
regarding your book ! Fritz !!! The strong legs!! The women always second in
my life!! Always blood drawn in every battle !! Could charm the apples off
the trees !! All these things and more it's me!!! And you !! reading the
book it all seems as if I know me and u did all this and more brings a smile
to my face every time I read the book.
(Posted on 29/04/12)
I've recommended your book to everyone. Review by Carol & Ray
I just wanted to tell you how much Ray and I enjoyed "Ilyana". It taught us much that we didn't know. Ray was especially impressed by the compassion from the SS soldier, for the victims of war, something he had never thought about. We have been so brainwashed to believe the worst, and as you said it's from the other side of the coin. Ray asked me if it was about you, a past life experience, I believe it was, your character shines through.
How can I express my surprise in your style of writing, I've always known you're a genius John, but the tenderness, of the love scenes, and drama of the battles, and boxing bouts, kept me on tenterhooks, wanting to know what would come next. I'm left wanting more.
In the final stages, I was so touched, I felt as if Max's spirit had touched mine, and I sobbed.
Insanity, that even when they were so undermanned, the powers of the day, would "cut their noses off to spite their faces", but I guess that's the sacrifice to cruelly maintain control. Why else would humans follow orders, other than to stay alive.
I've recommended your book to everyone. I was amazed to see a television programme on SBS on the Leibstandarte, only last week, and was able to understand it.
Please don't make us wait too long for more of your writing.
(Posted on 29/04/12)
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