L’Hôtel de la Duchesse-Anne was a luxury hotel in Nantes, France, the city’s finest hotel for many years. The main façade is on Rue de Henri IV, and overlooks Place Duchesse-Anne (a city square) and the gorgeous Medieval Château des Ducs de Bretagne. It miraculously escaped the brutal bombardments during WWII. Much of the city was reduced to rubble, just like Budapest, but the grand hotel wasn’t among the destroyed buildings.
The hotel was founded in 1874, and in the 1930s, architect Ferdinand Ménard made some modifications to the building. Among these modifications was adding an Art Deco façade.
Sadly, the roof of this beautiful historic hotel was destroyed by fire on 17 June 2004, and a legal battle over its fate ensued. It’s fallen into great disrepair and degradation, and planned demolition work slated for October 2015 wasn’t carried out. If the building is rehabilitated, it’ll probably be for luxury apartments, not a new hotel.
In December 1945, my characters spend a week by the Duchesse-Anne, while native Nantaise Marie Sternglass searches for word about her family. Sweet little Marie is finally pushed to her breaking point and has a bit of a mental breakdown when she finds strangers living in her old house and refusing to acknowledge her claim to the house or anything inside. She’s also deeply hurt by the cold, indifferent reception she gets from many people she considered friends just a few years ago.
Hashomer Hatzair of Slonim, Poland, 1934, Courtesy Talma Lahav, Daughter of Bilha Podberevsky
Hashomer Hatzair (The Young Guard) is a Socialist–Zionist youth movement founded in Galicia in 1913. In the British Mandate of Palestine (i.e., pre-State Israel), this was also the name of the group’s political party. It was formed by the merger of Hashomer (The Guard), a Zionist scouting group, and Tz’irei Tzion (The Youth of Zion), a group studying Jewish history, Socialism, and Zionism.
The first members of the group made aliyah (moved to Israel) in 1919, and founded four kibbutzim. On 1 April 1927, these kibbutzim joined to form Kibbutz Artzi (Nationwide Kibbutz). As of 1998, they had 85 kibbutzim and 28,000 members.
Initially, it was strongly based on the principles of the Scout Movement (e.g., camping, hiking, self-reliance), and the German Wandervogel movement (which emphasised the creativity and independence of youth).
Hashomer Hatzair of Pultusk, Poland, 30 May 1931
The group’s political party in pre-State Israel sought a binational solution, with full equality between Jewish and Arab Israelis. In 1936, they formed an urban political party, the Socialist League of Palestine (not to be confused with their Hashomer Hatzair Workers Party, founded in 1946). Hashomer Hatzair was the only political party in pre-State Israel to support Arab rights, accept Arab members as equals, and call for a binational state.
There were 70,000 members of the youth movement by 1939, mostly in Eastern Europe. During WWII, they fought against Nazi occupation and were involved in resistance and rescue efforts. After the war, they were among the first to start smuggling survivors into Israel. They also were active in the Haganah (underground army) and Palmach (shock troops) during the bitter fight to get the British to leave. Many of their kibbutzim were in the front lines during the War of Independence, and bore the brunt of Arab attacks. Kibbutz Yad Mordechai (named for the heroic leader of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising) and Kibbutz Negba blocked the Egyptians’ path to Tel-Aviv.
Members of Kibbutz Gan Shmuel, Greater Tel-Aviv, ca. 1943, Source Gan-Shmuel archive via the PikiWiki – Israel free image collection project
My characters from Abony, Hungary, join Hashomer Hatzair in 1943, and receive training in farming, weapons, Hebrew, history, and other useful skills. They all desire to move to Israel and start new lives there, but many of them aren’t destined to live that long. For the select survivors, their passion to make aliyah becomes even more important.