Two young doctors form a profound and loving bond in Nazi Germany; a bond that will stretch them to the very limits of human endurance. Catholic Max - whose religious and moral beliefs are in conflict, has been conscripted to join the war effort as a medic, despite his hatred of Hitler’s regime. His beloved Erika, a privileged young woman, is herself a product of the Hitler Youth. In spite of their stark differences, Max and Erika defy convention and marry.
But when Max is stationed at the fortress city of Breslau, their worst nightmares are realised; his hospital is bombed, he is captured by the Soviet Army and taken to a POW camp in Siberia. Max experiences untold horrors, his one comfort the letters he is allowed to send home: messages that can only contain Fifteen Words. Back in Germany, Erika is struggling to survive and protect their young daughter, finding comfort in the arms of a local carpenter. Worlds apart and with only sparse words for comfort, will they ever find their way back to one another, and will Germany ever find peace?
Fifteen Words is a vivid and intimate portrayal of human love and perseverance, one which illuminates the German experience of the war, which has often been overshadowed by history.
I was born 4 days after the end of WW 2 under quite dramatic circumstances.
My mother had joined her father in law, who had been evacuated to the town of Bernried in Bavaria from the Ruhr district. After the war had finished the Americans decided to throw the family out of their home and so my mother was sitting in the street 3 days before I was born. She went to have me in Bernried Castel which had been confiscated from their owners during the war and was used as an orthopaedic clinic. It was run by nuns and nobody knew how deliver a baby or wanted to. As she was a doctor she had brought her own instruments necessary to deliver me and in the end read out to an orthopaedic surgeon from the training manual how to get me safely into this world.
So I arrived without my mother knowing where her husband, father or mother were. Over the next year she got to know that her husband was in Russian imprisonment and returned only when I was 4, her father was in Siberian imprisonment and returned only in 1956 when I was 11, and her mother was in Polish imprisonment from which her father in law rescued her in 1947.
My mother returned with her father in laws family to the Ruhr district where I grew up and had a very happy childhood be it that my father was missing. My mother started her surgery when I was 3 and I have many memories accompanying her sitting in the front of her bike in a basket when she visited her patients.
When I was 4 my father returned from POW and for some time things were not quite so easy while he was trying to integrate into an established environment. My siblings were born and I continued with a secure background to develop into a teenager. When I was 21 I married my child hood sweetheart who had visited us regularly from the UK from when I was 15 and moved with him to the UK. There I was a Modern language teacher for 30 yrs in Secondary State and Private schools. It was a difficult transition culturally. The school system worked very differently from Germany and seemed much more restricted in its curriculum. I experienced many prejudices from parents against me as a German, and although that might be understandable it was hard to deal with.
I also discovered very early on in my teaching that many of the pupils were not achieving their potential because of emotional, behavioural, social or mental health problems. After trying from within the school system to do something about this and not succeeding as the climate 30 yrs ago was not conducive to emotional support of pupils but targeting achievements of grades, it led me to my current profession.
My 3 children are now grown up and I have 4 delightful grandchildren. I remarried nearly 20 yrs ago and Jeff has developed with me our profession in Play and Creative Arts therapies.
Fifteen Words is an extension of this story and experiences
Monika Jephcott Thomas grew up in Dortmund Mengede, north-west Germany. She moved to the UK in 1966, enjoying a thirty year career in education before retraining as a therapist. Along with her partner Jeff she established the Academy of Play & Child Psychotherapy in order to support the twenty per cent of children who have emotional, behavioural, social and mental health problems by using play and the creative Arts. A founder member of Play Therapy UK, Jephcott Thomas was elected President of Play Therapy International in 2002.