The Crush of Wine and War

Release Date: August 8, 2024

 
Synopsis

The Crush of Wine and War is a WWII story told from a unique perspective and deals with events and emotions largely unexplored, set against the myth of Austria’s victimization by Hitler and the reality of its complicity with the Third Reich, and the complicity of the Catholic Church.

1938: Two couples struggle with the terrifying prospect of resisting the Nazis. Sebastien Brandl, proprietor of a renowned Austrian inn, plunges headlong into the resistance while his wife, Hannah, deeply in love, secretly unsympathetic to the plight of the Jews, fights his choices and grieves for the idyllic lives they one led.

Maximilian Mayr, owner of a huge Viennese wine estate, reluctantly follows his sons into defying the Nazis while his wife, the survivor of a pogrom, is consumed with keeping her Jewish identity and that of their two sons an uncompromised secret. Surprisingly, they share a common nemesis, Faber Ratzener, the Brandls’ onetime neighbor and now a ruthless Oberführer intent on bringing down both Sebastien and Max.

Both families are surrounded by a community of unforgettable characters: lifelong friends wrenched apart by Nazi false promises; a wicked, gossipy baker; a heroic, gay winemaking couple, a Rabbi desperate to get Jews out of Vienna; a lovable young man whose fate is tied to Hitler. In the end, they will intersect, coming together in victory and defeat, surprising romance, and astounding acts of resistance.

Author's Note


Praise

The Crush of Wine and War is the extraordinary story of two families taking on the Nazi Empire. Years of intensive research also led Molly to issue a literary challenge to a nation, Austria, and a religious institution, the Catholic Church, to continue to tell the truth about their participation in one of the greatest evils of all time. Her characters are at once good-hearted and flawed, hesitant and zealous. I found it a beautifully written and irresistible read.
 –Bishop Thomas Gumbleton, Archdiocese of Detroit


Excerpt

 

PROLOGUE

We must always take sides.

Elie Wiesel

St Jakob, Austria, Friday, October 13, 1989

Defying all logic, the older gentleman pulls a green feathered hat over his eyes and makes yet another covert walk up the road toward the center of the tiny village. Shielded by a patch of pine trees, he watches a flock of young people greet the woman who emerges from the back of Gasthaus Zum Grünen Baum, one of the most famous inns in Austria.
Hannah Brandl. The widow of Sebastien Brandl, a recently crowned hero. Two chatty couples surround the petite woman, and she shakes each extended hand. Her head turns toward him, and without thinking, he lifts the brim of his hat. The crown of dark auburn curls he remembers has turned creamy silver. Those blue eyes seem bigger from behind the round, rimless spectacles perched on her nose.

An attractive, grinning woman appears at her side. Gabriele, Hannah’s daughter, tucks her mother’s arm under her own. She resembles her father; her light brown hair, held back from her oval face by a tortoiseshell clip, is thick and luscious.

They start down the path to St. Jakob’s miniature church. On this morning, the attendees were limited to devout matrons and a few reluctant men. Nothing like years ago, when a priest held his congregation hostage by any number of deific threats.

Since his arrival, the gentleman has been using long abandoned tricks to remain unseen. He observed that Pfarrer Primo Baumgartner, pastor of the churches in both St. Jakob and the nearby village of Moosfeld, declared the yearly Crush party, which celebrated the end of the grape harvest, would also be a tribute to Hannah Brandl on her seventy-third birthday.

Tributes. That Hannah and Sebastien shared the same birthday enhanced the Brandl mystique.

He also heard the priest suggest to a group of villagers that Sebastien might even be a Righteous Gentile, which immediately disgusted him. He knew Sebastien Brandl, and a Righteous Gentile he was not.

He returns to his hotel. He had no choice but to stay at the wholly inferior inn down the street from Grünen Baum. Taking a room there would have dangled him at the edge of being recognized. He wearily mounts the stairs to his room, pushes through the door, and senses immediately he is not alone.

“So,” he scowls at his visitor, glancing at the open window and the eaves beyond. “You’re here for a report?”

The creature nestles deeper into the folds of the eiderdown and pokes one paw up in a long stretch.

“The report is she forgets me.” The cat, snowy white, extremely well-fed, shows minimal interest in this intrusion and resumes his nap.

He strokes the silky white head. “So, you’re the famous Ludwig. “I knew an ancestor of yours, Chopin, as I recall.” Ludwig opens one eye, mildly curious about his lineage. “I don’t think we’ve been properly introduced. My name is Sivan.”

He considers telling the cat the rest of it. Sivan is one of several names. At least three identities over the course of a lifetime. But instead, he again wrestles with his sudden decision to return to St. Jakob. But there was no way he could have missed the article in the New York Times about the discovery of an unheralded war resister, an innkeeper named Sebastien Brandl. Hah. One would think Brandl had thrown himself in front of a tank. No mention of his one notable deed.

Leaning into the mirror above his sink, Sivan runs a hand from the back of his head over his brow and down his face. Sprigs of brown hair, streaked with gray, stick out forlornly in all directions. Why would she recognize him? Hannah Brandl lived a long life after he staggered away, a man driven by the need to again become a changeling, not even recognizing himself.

Sivan watches the cat, one leg up in the air, having his bath. “Ah, Ludwig,” he says. “I am not only an old man, but an old idiot.’