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A Look at the Berlin Airlift - an Editorial Review of "Cold Peace"

Updated: Jan 14

Book Blurb:

Three years after WWII, Europe struggles with rationing, widespread unemployment and a growing Soviet threat. Hitler's former capital lies ruined under the joint occupation and control of wartime allies bitterly at odds. With the currency worthless, the population lives on hand-outs or turns to crime and prostitution. Deep inside the Soviet Zone, Berlin appears to be an ideal target for a communist take-over, putting the defenders of democracy on a collision course with Stalin's merciless aggression.<br/>A Battle of Britain ace, a female air traffic controller, a concentration camp survivor and an ex-ATA woman pilot are just some of those trying to find their place in the post-war world. An air ambulance service offers a shimmer of hope, but when a Soviet fighter brings down a British passenger liner, Berlin becomes a flashpoint. The world stands poised on the brink of World War Three.

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Author Bio:

Helena P. Schrader

Award-Winning Historical Novelist

For readers tired of clichés and cartoons, award-winning novelist Helena P. Schrader offers nuanced and sophisticated historical fiction based on sound research. Her inspiring novels offer refreshing insights into historical events and personalities.

Helena P. Schrader holds a PhD in history and was a career diplomat. She employs her skills of observation and communication to convey the drama and excitement of the events and societies described. She delivers her stories through the eyes of complex and compelling characters—male and female—drawn from the pages of history.

She earned a PhD in History (cum Laude) from the University of Hamburg with a ground-breaking dissertation on a leading member of the German Resistance to Hitler, which received widespread praise on publication in Germany. Her non-fiction publications include "Sisters in Arms: The Women who Flew in WWII," "The Blockade Breakers: The Berlin Airlift," "Codename Valkyrie: General Friederich Olbricht and the Plot against Hitler," (an English-language adaptation of her dissertation), and "The Holy Land in the Era of the Crusades: Kingdoms at the Crossroads of Civilizations."

Helena has published eighteen historical novels and won numerous literary awards, including “Best Biography 2017” from Book Excellence Awards and “Best Historical Fiction 2020” from Feathered Quill Book Awards. For more on her publications, works-in-progress, reviews and awards visit:

Her most recent release, "Moral Fibre" has won widespread critical acclaim and is already the winner of a Maincrest Media Award for Military Fiction and a Finalist for the Book Excellence Award.

Helena's novel on the Battle of Britain, "Where Eagles Never Flew: A Battle of Britain Novel," won the praise of Wing Commander Bob Doe -- one of the few surviving RAF aces of the Battle of Britain. Doe called it the "best book" he had ever read about the Battle of Britain, adding that Helena "got it smack on the way it was for us fighter pilots." It was re-released in an updated illustrated edition for the 80th anniversary of the Battle of Britain in 2020 and won the Hemingway Award for 20th Century Wartime Fiction and a Media Crest Award for military fiction. It has also won critical acclaim from Kirkus and Clarion Foreword Reviews.

"Grounded Eagles," a finalist for the Book Excellence Awards, is an anthology of novellas set in WWII. Disfiguring injuries, a single a parent balancing family and career, and PTSD are the focus of these three heart wrenching tales.

"Traitors for the Sake of Humanity: A Novel on the German Resistance to Hitler" was a finalist for the Foreword INDIES Awards, a reflection of its relevance in a world where fascism is on the rise. It highlights the difficulties and costs of opposing an established totalitarian regime.

The Greek and Polish language rights to her three-part biography of Leonidas of Sparta have been purchased by Greek and Polish publishers respectively.

Her Jerusalem Trilogy, a three-part biography of Balian d'Ibelin, earned a total of 11 literary accolades, including Best Biography 2017 by Book Excellence Awards and Best Christian Historical Fiction 2017 by Readers' Favorites. All three books in the Jerusalem Trilogy were awarded B.R.A.G. medallions.

Her series on the baronial rebellion against the autocracy of Emperor Frederick II in thirteenth century Outremer (the Rebels of Outremer series) has to date won nine awards including Best Historical Fiction 2020 from Feathered Quill Awards and Distinguished Favorite for Military Fiction 2020 from the Independent Press Awards for "The Emperor Strikes Back."

For a complete list of awards and review excerpts visit Helena's website at:

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Editorial Review:

''When we refused to be forced out of Berlin, we demonstrated to the people of Europe that with their cooperation we would act, and act resolutely when their freedom is threatened.'' - Harry S. Truman.

''Cold Peace'' by Helena P. Schrader is a truly monumental work, enormous in its scope and intention and is the first in a planned trilogy of books on the subject of the Berlin Air Lift of 1948; of the events leading up to the event, the event itself and the huge ramification of the effects of it that are still very much a fact of the world of today. As a subject of historical fiction, it has been explored comparatively rarely for an occurrence of such impact and lasting importance. Certainly, tackling all the complexities of the event is truly daunting and the author is to be truly congratulated on embarking on such a huge scale! Schrader has marshalled the historical facts and assembled her wide range of very different characters with both a magisterial authority and a painterly skill. in her forward, Helena P. Schrader, a seasoned and experienced resident of Berlin herself, lays out her stall to the reader with an admirable clarity and precision:

''The situation in Berlin in 1948 and 1949 was extremely complicated. The cast of characters was great and diverse. The relationship between the various nations was fluid and nuanced......The Airlift cannot be appreciated without first comprehending the situation in Berlin before the Soviet blockade. Berlin in 1948 was unlike any other place on earth. The scale of destruction and the depth of the psychological trauma exceeded that of Tokyo, Frankfurt or Rome. In addition, the simultaneous presence of all four wartime allies in the city created unique political pressures and fissures. The result was a poisonous cocktail composed of crime, terror, mutual suspicion and widespread hopelessness......''

The Countess Charlotte Graefin Walmsdorf is one of the major characters of the novel. Only one of the approximate 2.2 million inhabitants of beleaguered Berlin and about, like them, to experience yet more suffering and privation as the Soviet forces indulge in highly damaging psychological warfare with the three allied powers of France, Great Britain and the United States of America with the people of Berlin as their chessboard. An aristocrat from a prosperous family, she has fallen upon hard times indeed. Her parents killed by a strafing Soviet fighter pilot, she now occupies the remnants of a family home in Berlin with a number of other residents, invited and otherwise. Malnourished and deadened by the dismal existence of most Berliners, she tries to eke out a meagre living as a journalist. Here she is, fearfully making her way home through the ruined city in the uncertain and intimidating dark:

''As darkness gathered, she reached the point where she had to abandon the dimly lit main road and cut through the back streets. Gritting her teeth together unconsciously, she left the wide thoroughfare. There were no streetlights, and no light came from the houses either. All the buildings here, if not completely destroyed, had lost their roofs to fire. The floors of many were gutted as well. Yet most were inhabited on the ground floor and some on the first and second floors as well. Behind facades shorn of plaster, people existed rather than lived. They cooked a little food over a wood-burning stove, crowded around a radio, perhaps, or read by the light of a bulb dangling from the ceiling. No light escaped onto the street because there was no glass to replace the shattered windows. Instead, the windows were boarded up with plywood and cardboard or simply closed with heavy curtains. Only trickles of smoke and the smell of cooked onions, carrots and potatoes oozing out into the cold motionless air betrayed the presence of humans hidden in the ruins.....''

This is a whole set of remarkably vivid images that stay in the mind of the reader and is typical of the quality of evocation of scene, description and dialogue present through the whole of the book. In the final analysis, the book - covering as it does a vast and truly significant period in World history - is about individuals! Wing Commander Robert ''Robin'' Priestman: D.S.O. and Bar, for example, is a highly qualified and experienced Royal Air Force {RAF] veteran and former prisoner of war, appointed to the post of Station Commander of the base of Gatow stationed outside Berlin. He gathers a similar impression of the desolate city, viewed from the air as he arrives to take up his new post, unlike Charlotte, stumbling her way home furtively through the dark. He is uncertain of his role and nervous, justifiably as events will show, of the challenges ahead of him. He takes up a Spitfire fighter aircraft for a reconnaissance flight over Berlin for a bird's eye view, as opposed to Charlotte's worm's eye view:

''The further they flew, the more densely built-up the city became and the greater the damage appeared. They flew over the Central Park, the 'Tiergarten' [and] the infamous Reichstag, where the Soviet flag still flew.....the Reichskanzlei, where Hitler had killed himself.....Priestman had a glimpse of a series of once elegant and palatial buildings surrounded by larger swathes of rubble. The elaborate facades were shattered, and their glass windows were gone, leaving only gloomy, grey surfaces pockmarked by artillery and gunfire.......the city spread out like a vast field of ruins. Almost nothing seemed intact. As far as the eye could see were piles of broken masonry standing between the shattered shells of broken buildings with vacant windows......of course, the Germans had sowed the wind, but had anyone seriously imagined the whirlwind would look like this?

Priestman and Charlotte are just two of the characters, though major ones, in 'Cold Peace'. There is also a raft of other significant characters, the beleaguered German civilians, the personnel of RAF Gatow, figures and decision makers in High Command in the American and British forces and the occasional Soviet figure, such as that man of conflicting emotions, Colonel Gregory Sergeyovich Kuznatsov and his ever present NKVD [Soviet Secret Police] shadow. There is the sharpshooter and medal holding 'Hero of the Soviet Union', Mila Mikhailivna Levkenkova, who meets and forms a friendship with her fellow Ukrainian, an RAF Corporal and Translator, Galyna Nicolaevna Borisenko, thus enabling the latter to discover a vital piece of information regarding secret Soviet intentions. Every person that Schrader introduces the reader to has his or her own back story and a link in the narrative to the others, introduced with a fluency that readers of her previous books will recognise. There is the redoubtable and resourceful Emily, wife of Priestman, the classic English woman abroad and possessing a pilot's license. She is splendid in a crisis, be it the organisation of a last minute dinner party for high ranking dignitaries or the piloting of a former RAF bomber, ferrying seriously ill patients out of the blockaded city. There is Kathleen Hart, newly appointed Assistant Air Traffic Controller at Gatow, a war widow and mother of a little girl and in search of her husband's grave, who has the misfortune to fall for a rakish army Major who proves to be a card carrying cad and a bounder. There is the entrepreneurial David 'Banks' Goldman, a man saddled with a disfiguring facial injury after he was shot down early in the war and possessing a huge but troubling legacy from his father and who falls in love with the City of Berlin and his Jewish German past all over again - and with one of its citizens. It is he, who with his business partner, Charles 'Kiwi' Murray, who brings into being their business of an 'Air Ambulance Service'; bound to be a valuable and well paid enterprise [provided that the customers pay!] and operating out of the RAF base of Gatow,; where old friend Emily Priestman and her newly found German teacher Charlotte Graefin Walmsdorf become willing recruits and business partners. The scene and the action occasionally shifts back to England and follows the progress of Christopher 'Kit' Moran [readers of Schrader's books will remember Kit Moran from her book 'Lack of Moral Fibre', as they will remember the backstories of both Robin Priestman and David Goldman from her works 'Where Eagles Never Flew' and ''A Stranger In The Mirror''. Helena P. Schrader, with an already impressive and proven track record on research into the role and nature and psychology of the Royal Air Force, brings this all to bear in 'Cold Peace'. It seems very likely that Schrader hasn't quite just yet finished with 'Kit' Moran and that he will return at some point.

Fearing a desk job for the rest of his working life, Priestman is delighted to accept the post at Gatow, though certainly not without reservations. He is uncertain of his function, powers and personal capabilities and, indeed, the whole position of the British in post war Berlin. Although life on the base at Gatow bears occasional resemblances to that of a privileged Nabob in the British Raj [the round of parties and receptions, the Fairs and charitable functions, the family Dog and the tennis and yachting and picnicking ] yet he immediately finds that the post is far from being a Sinecure! He is beset at every point and at every stage by the hostility and intransigence of the Soviet authorities; ranging from a whole series of obstructive nuisances to a downright threat of actual hostilities. The Soviet agenda remains very clear at all points. The Soviets want the Western powers out of Berlin, and as soon as possible. Very early on in his post, Priestman's superior officer, Air Commodore Waite, expresses the situation very clearly and succinctly: The Soviets want a Communist Germany that takes its direction from Moscow in every respect. The French want a broken Germany that will never be a threat to them ever again, militarily or economically, and the Americans and His Majesty's Government, broadly speaking, believe that their interests are best served by a strong, industrial Germany capable of feeding, clothing and employing its population. The British are inclined to seek diplomatic means to secure a peace with the Soviets and the Americans to adopt a more truculent position. This is, of course, an excellent description of the 'Cold War' as it existed at the time! Throughout the book there are many instances of the Soviets testing the boundaries whilst not resorting to violent means until the final blow comes in June 1948; when all land based links and transport, rail and road - even the canals- ceases. All of western controlled Berlin is closed to the world. nothing works! The troubled city of 2.2. million people, the vast majority of whom are denied all privileges and are undernourished, are under siege. There is no food, energy or electricity. Everything is cut off. The Americans are inclined to seek a military response and, in the first instance, it falls upon Priestman to organise [with limited resources] a massive Air Lift as a solution to all their woes!

And then there are the Berliners themselves; a world away from the inhabitants of the Officers' Mess at Gatow, where they worry that the supplies of gin might run out! They make their difficult daily progress across the stricken city, crowding the trams and the trains. They haggle, queue and bargain for bread and vegetables. Their state currency of no real purchasing power and diminishing in value daily, they work and cadge for cigarettes, they resent the ruling four powers and are subjected to abuse, occasional blows and petty bureaucratic tyranny on a daily basis where the Black Economy is king and rape and robbery a commonplace. Hundreds are being kidnapped, doctors, engineers and common working men disappearing into the Soviet Union. Consider the 'cri de couer' of poor Frau Newhausen, Emily Priestland's cook, when she hands in her resignation after the Soviets have blocked her entry to the British sector:

''You know, some of us have been trampled on our whole lives. First, we lost the Great War, then came the inflation, and then the Depression, and then the bombers and now the Ivans. No matter how hard we work or how honest we are, everything just gets taken away from us. Only Hitler ever gave us anything. He gave us pride. That's why we loved him. He made us great. Now we are nothing again.''

One wonders how frequently this sentiment may have been expressed! And then there is Christian Freiherr von Feldburg, aristocrat and former member of the 'Luftwaffe' and the elegant and charming cousin of Charlotte, who is, in her daily fear and depression, delighted to welcome him to a ruined family home now peopled, amongst other occupants, by disreputable and profiteering black marketeers. He has travelled to his beloved Berlin from his country estate to create and establish a profitable wine business. His cousin's work connections at RAF Gatow could be his means to import wine into Berlin in large amounts. He is outraged to discover that his uncle's large mansion house in Berlin is now [the Uncle having died in a concentration camp] owned by a former Nazi and possible war criminal! One suspects that we have not heard the last of this. Finally, also inhabitants of Maybachufer 27 and crammed into the apartment directly opposite to Charlotte and Christian, is another example of the Microcosm in the Macrocosm: Jakob Liebherr is an ageing former inmate of a concentration Camp. Grown old and wise and cynical, he is a left leaning member of the Berlin City Council. He and his long-suffering wife Trude share their tiny apartment with their firebrand son, Karl. Politically, he is a world apart politically from his father, having spent time in the Soviet Union and become thoroughly indoctrinated. They argue and squabble incessantly, with Trude attempting to keep the peace. We learn a great deal of Jakob, his life, his beliefs and the city of Berlin itself as ''Cold Peace'' develops. Indeed, he plays an important part in the revolt by the City Council in disobeying the Soviet authorities and refusing to accept an imposed currency upon them; a very important ingredient in the giant mix leading to the Blockade and Air Lift.

The book ends with a gathering of all the personnel in the Auditorium of RAF Gatow, doubtless the scene of previous Nazi meetings, where Wing Commander Priestman delivers a statement of intent, a harangue worthy of Prince Hal on the eve of Agincourt! Towards the end of a lengthy and impassioned peroration, he exhorts his doubtless enthralled audience:

''This is not a shooting war - at least not yet - but it is a war nonetheless. It is a war of nerves that will be won, hopefully, not with bloodshed, but with intelligence, innovation, improvisation and ingenuity. It will be won by determination, diligence and discipline - mixed, I hope, with a sense of humour.''

A stirring call to action, then, whilst Corporal Galyna Nicolaevna Borisenko translates 'Pravda' as part of her duties for the Intelligence Officer. Perhaps Kathleen's six year old daughter is playing with the Russian dolls that Galyna had obtained for her. In blockaded Berlin, Charlotte and Christian make a list of their meagre food supplies and Jakob wonders what will happen next. Everyone in this large cast of inter-connected personalities is involved. So too, is the reader of this fast paced, complex book, a wonderful mixture of hard historical facts, minutely and meticulously researched and synthesised, with raw portrayals of the human condition. Readers will be anxious for more.


“Cold Peace” by Helena P. Schrader receives five stars and the “Highly Recommended” award of excellence from The Historical Fiction Company


1 Comment

Jun 26, 2023

Congratulations, Helena!

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