Coming soon: The Stone Crusher

A father, a son, a family.

A struggle for survival in which only love and courage could keep them alive.

— based on the secret concentration camp diary of Gustav Kleinmann —


Gustav 1946

In 1939, Gustav Kleinmann, a Viennese Jewish upholsterer, was arrested by the SS, along with his sixteen-year old son, Fritz. Together they were sent to Buchenwald in Germany, where the infamous concentration camp was being built.

It was the beginning of a six-year odyssey almost without parallel. They were forced to help build Buchenwald, labouring in the killing grounds of the camp’s stone quarry. Young Fritz learned the construction skills which would help preserve him from extermination in the coming years. But it was his bond with his father that would ultimately keep them both alive.

The Diary: Buchenwald and Auschwitz

From his first day in Buchenwald, Gustav began writing a secret diary - an activity for which he could be executed. In it he recorded his and Fritz’s experiences. It is a story of terrible suffering, atrocities, and fear; the story of a father and son struggling for survival.

When the 50-year old Gustav was transferred to Auschwitz – a certain death sentence – Fritz was determined to go with him. His wiser friends tried to dissuade him – “If you want to keep living, you have to forget your father,” they said. But that was impossible, and Fritz pleaded for a place on the Auschwitz transport. “He is a true comrade,” Gustav wrote in his diary, “always at my side. The boy is my greatest joy. We are inseparable.”

Their bond proved stronger than the machine that sought to break them both. The odds were against them – Gustav’s age made him vulnerable, and Fritz endangered himself with his rebellious streak, resisting the SS, smuggling guns into Auschwitz, aiding escapees; he was tortured by SS-Untersturmführer Maximilian Grabner, the notorious butcher of Block 11, and had to swap identities with a dead man to avoid execution.

As the end of the war approached, Gustav helped Fritz escape the Auschwitz evacuation. Fleeing alone in disguise, Fritz fell into the hands of the Gestapo and, resisting interrogation, was categorised as an enemy spy and sent to Mauthausen concentration camp. Meanwhile, Gustav and his fellow prisoners ended up at Bergen-Belsen, where the last dregs of strength were to be worked out of them before death.

Their chances of survival seemed non-existent, yet both Gustav and Fritz clung on determinedly to life.

The Family


After Gustav and Fritz’s arrest by the SS, the rest of the family had remained in Vienna under the oppressive rule of the Nazi Ostmark. Gustav’s wife, Tini, strove to save her children.

The eldest daughter, Edith, had managed to escape to England in 1939, shortly before the war began, and found herself living in a northern city. Against the background of German air raids, Edith met and fell in love with a fellow Viennese Jewish refugee, and they were married, beginning a new generation of the family while the bombs fell.

pp corr Kurt 1938

Meanwhile, Tini was left with the teenage Herta and ten-year-old Kurt. With Britain closed off by the outbreak of war, Tini did everything in her power to acquire travel permits to allow her children to escape to the United States. It was a tortuous, Kafkaesque process, obstructed at every turn by the Nazi bureaucracy and by America’s reluctance to take large numbers of refugees.

In early 1941, permission came through for Kurt. The German Jewish Children’s Aid organisation, based in New York, arranged for him to be received in America. He was put on a ship with other refugee children, and set out on a journey into a new life with a new family - a strange adventure in the world of the American Dream, as one of the One Thousand Children.

In late 1941 the United States entered the war, and the escape route closed. In 1942 Tini and Herta, trapped in Vienna, were both arrested and sent with thousands of other Austrian Jews to Maly-Trostenets camp near Minsk.

pp corr Kleinmann family 1938

As darkness fell: the Kleinmann family in April 1938, shortly after the Nazi annexation of Austria. l-r: Herta, Gustav, Kurt, Fritz, Tini, Edith. Tini organised this photo because she feared that the family would not remain together for long. (photo: Peter Patten)

The Stone Crusher

The stories of Tini and Herta, Kurt and Edith, Gustav and Fritz, are told in full for the first time in The Stone Crusher by Jeremy Dronfield. The book tells how this close, contented, loving family suffered under the Nazi regime; how they were split apart from one another; and how those who survived eventually came back together, changed forever by what they had been through.


The Stone Crusher is based on Gustav Kleinmann’s diary, Fritz Kleinmann’s written memories, and on interviews with Kurt Kleinmann. It will be published in the USA by Chicago Review Press in 2018.

Publishers: for submission/rights information about The Stone Crusher, see my agent’s website.

© Jeremy Dronfield 2017