Hello Reddit!

My name is Eric Sanders (although I was originally called Ignaz Schwarz) and I was born in Vienna in 1919.

As a Jew I escaped the Nazis and headed to London where I luckily arrived in 1938. I joined the British Army and eventually the SOE (Special Operations Executive). Since the end of the war I have written several plays and a script for the film 'Nasser' along with two autobiographies (one in German and the other in English) and have now turned my eye, at the wonderfully ripe age of 97, towards writing books.

I have just finished writing a two part book called Mazes (blurb here: https://images-na.ssl-images-amazon.com/images/I/71VR4-JXffL.jpg) and I will also be holding a book launch event at the BAFTA venue on Saturday 16th September, feel free to PM me if you are interested in attending!

Proof: https://imgur.com/a/MCa3p (I will upload a picture of me with a sign when I come back to answer questions!).

Proof 2: https://imgur.com/a/xq86j

Ask Me Anything!

We will be answering questions today at 18:30pm GMT (13:30pm Eastern Time, 10:30am PCT)

1st Edit: Silly me, I put Non-fiction in the title but I meant Fiction! (Grandson's fault)

2nd Edit: Just going to have some dinner, we will be back in 30 minutes!

3rd Edit: Well it's getting pretty late now so we'll finish for today however my Grandson will be back here with me on Thursday 14th September to answer some more of your questions. Many thanks for all of your wonderful questions, I have been truly amazed at the sheer amount of questions and the amount of people who would be interested in this topic!

4th Edit: We are back again today at 18:30pm GMT (13:30pm Eastern Time, 10:30am PCT) to answer some more questions

Comments: 1022 • Responses: 43  • Date: 

sub-t553 karma

Do you have a favorite recipe from childhood?

Can/will you share it?

Eric-Sanders715 karma

Hi there,

I don't really cook so I don't have any recipes but a great favourite thing to eat of mine is Poppy Seed Cake (Mohnstrudel). I also, like many Viennese, love Apfelstrudel (Apple Strudel). Some other non-dessert food are very typical Austrian meals such as Wiener Schnitzel and Goulash.

LiquidSnak355 karma

Do you perhaps rember "topfntatschgerl" or some varint of it? It's basically big ravioli with a sourcream/quark, potato and brown mintleaves filling and you pour some hot liquid butter over it when serving. The dough is a bit different though. My mom's from Judenburg (yes, jew-castle) in the Steiermark and she makes them on special occasions.

Eric-Sanders73 karma

Hi there,

Yes I do remember this although not quite like how you described this (this maybe a variant in your mother's region). I didn't particularly like it, I preferred sweeter things!

AlamutJones519 karma

Thanks for doing this, sir.

1) Do you know what happened to any of the other members of your family?

2) While you were with the SOE, if your landlady asked what you were doing to help with the war effort, what would you have said? I assume you couldn't just say it openly!

3) What did you find most difficult when you arrived in England?

Eric-Sanders504 karma

Hi there, thanks for your question!

1) Yes, well my parents and I each emigrated separately to England so eventually we were reunited in London. My Brother went to Palestine. Some of my other family went to America, Australia and South Africa. However I found out about these mostly after the war.

2) I did not have a landlady, with the SOE I was stationed mostly in stately homes (which were very comfortable!) and when I had leave I would go back to my parent's home.

3) Some aspects of my language, for example when I was told to ask the bus conductor to drop me off somewhere I only understood one meaning of drop (something like a trap door or dropping an item) so I was quite confused!

AlamutJones91 karma

Thank you. :)

Did your parents know what you did?

Eric-Sanders147 karma

My parents knew that I had left the pioneer corp (a non-combatant section of the army) and they knew of some of the training that I had, we were allowed to disclose this. But I did not tell them about the existence of the SOE, what it was or what the direction of the group was however they may have been able to guess some things due to having parachuting badges etc..

piffsmith15421 karma

When did you realize the grave reality of what the Nazi's were doing? What tipped you off?

Eric-Sanders688 karma

Hi there,

Many thanks for your question.

When I left I knew that the Nazis were anti-semitic but I saw my leaving as more that Austria was throwing me out. I only started to realise the true extent when I was out of Austria in England, after hearing about Kristallnacht (November 1938, two months or so after I arrived in England). My father, who had great difficulty in getting to England was held in a prison in Belgium because his visitors visa had expired and I was worried that they were going to send him back. Luckily they didn't, Belgium changed their policy under pressure from the USA and UK governments who promised to absorb all of these people.

MirageMageknight352 karma

Do you ever watch movies or TV series based in the time period of the Second World War? If so, which do you find to be the most accurate?

Eric-Sanders839 karma

Hi there,

Thank you for your question.

Yes, I do watch a TV series called Foyle's War (a British TV Series) which is about a policeman's work during the war. The background is brilliant, the meticulous research of the civilians and they really understand the different reactions some people had to the war. I would really love to meet the writer (Anthony Horowitz).

Edit: Can anyone here help me to meet him!?

_lonesomedreams253 karma

Where did you live after the war ended?

Have you received any medals for serving in the army?

What was your job before you joined an army and after the war ended?

Eric-Sanders322 karma

Hi there,

Thank you for your questions!

1) When the war ended, I was in Italy however the SOE was dissolved and so we were all sent to different regiments. I was stationed in a German POW camp outside Taunton, England as an interpreter and I was also given the task of re-educating the Germans in democracy. I was then later stationed in Vienna with the legal division of the British Occupation Army.

2) That's a difficult question, because I did receive about 4 medals but they were all service medals (serving in France, Italy and Britain along with a long time service, seven years I think) however I didn't keep any of them because I didn't value them very much because I was just in the army, everyone got them. There was no medal for the SOE service.

3) Before I joined the army I was working on a dairy farm in Hampshire. I then returned to London where my parents had moved to, as my father had become too old to work in the farm and he had found work in a factory.

moosebog202 karma

What's your best memory?

Eric-Sanders730 karma

Hi there,

This is quite a hard question. A memory that showed me the high state of civilisation in England. When I watched people buying newspapers from a newspaper stand and the salesman left the stand but with a sign on how much the newspapers cost. The people continued to pay!

zevonisgod194 karma

Thanks for doing this.

  1. How did you escape?

  2. Prior to the war, from your perspective, what was the feeling? Did everyone sort of know it was going to happen? Was it like North Korea right now?

  3. If you like sports, what sort of sports were big back then in England?

Good luck on the book!

Eric-Sanders251 karma

Hi there,

Thanks for your questions!

1) In the early days of the Nazi occupation the Austrian government policy was to try and get the Jews to leave Austria so they actively helped the Jewish council to get Jews out of Austria. The difficulty was in finding permission on where to emigrate. To get an entry visa to the UK was available for four classes of people; as a domestic service (if they had a job advertised), for apprentices, those who could guarantee £100 deposit with the home office in London (someone would have to be very rich for this) and for children continuing their education (if the Nazis had interrupted their education) which is the class that I fell in.

  1. Some people apparently anticipated the war. My family was not one of those.

  2. Football (Soccer) was very big in England. Rugby was also quite big but I most enjoyed/enjoy Football and used to play in my early days of arriving to the UK with friends.

samoanlawyer183 karma

Did you experience any anti-semitism in England when you first arrived or during the war?

Eric-Sanders373 karma

Hi there,

Thank you for your question.

No, there was no point where I suffered anti-semitism. There was one incident on a bus where a man told me "To go back to where you belong" however this was probably just anti-foreigner sentiment and everyone else on the bus was on my side.

zedwan155 karma

1) What do you think of the world today?

2) How did you manage to survive mentally after WWII?

3) Do you think there is going to be another world war soon?

Eric-Sanders322 karma

Hi there,

Thank you for your questions!

1) I believe it has become more violent, more dishonest and frightening. I really feel there may be another war.

2) During WWII I had started to revise my own ideas and forget those I was brought up with. I made up my own values, I became a strong democrat and socialist and I found myself well armed against what came my way.

3) Kind of answered in the first question. I am no cleverer than anyone else but I hope not is all I can say.

YdoodYaj152 karma

What was your reaction to the bombs being dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki?

Eric-Sanders317 karma

Hi there,

Thank you for your question!

It was awful. However I have to be honest that after seven years of uninterrupted war I was one of many that was happy that it had ended the war.

Ionicazza121 karma

Is there a point in your life, a moment, conversation or so on, that you consider to be the middle of the book that is your life? Sort of a moment where everything is either before or after that moment. And thank you for your service sir.

Eric-Sanders224 karma

Hi there,

Thank you for your question.

Well, yes. Perhaps. In the mid-Eighties when I was playing a Football match. I was about 60 and extremely fit at the time, considering my age. Every Friday after school I and teachers much younger than I went down to the gyms to play matches.

During the game I was standing near the opponent's goal and one of my teammates kicked a high pass to me as the ball was coming down the defender turned and elbowed me right in the eye, it was a foul but I do not think he blinded me on purpose and unfortunately the hospital said it was not possible to recover it.

woodlandLSG2385 karma

Thank you for this AMA.

What has been the largest change in society that you have noticed in your life time? And do you think the newer generations don't fully understand the magnitude of WWII?

Eric-Sanders148 karma

Hi thank you for your question.

1) The largest change is computerisation.

2) I don't think anybody who didn't experience it does. The world is becoming a very fast singular unit where communication is very easy and things change very quickly.

fishnchips1769 karma

What do you think of how people compare Donald Trump to the nazis?

Eric-Sanders215 karma

Hi there,

Thank you for your question.

Well it's very difficult. He's not an anti-semite although he's definitely not a true democrat. He's extremely reactionary in my view and is more similar to Mussolini.

I don't necessarily find it offensive to compare him to the Nazis but I just think this is an inaccurate comparison.

morallyirresponsible68 karma

What are the names of your autobiographies? I'm interested in reading them

Eric-Sanders115 karma

Hi there,

Thank you for your question.

The German one is called: Emigracion ins Leben: Wien - London und nicht mehr retour (Emigration into Life Vienna - London and no return).

The English one is called: Secret Operations: From Music to Morse and Beyond.

I think it might difficult to get your hands on a copy though!

aelric2264 karma

Hello. I've met many survivors before and am actually a descendant of a Jewish Polish survivor. Many of the people who would have been extended family, died in the camps. My great grandmother I believe was the only one able to escape and come to America.

My questions maybe a bit deep:

  1. How did you feel fighting the Nazis as a Jewish soldier? Did you feel a sense of vengeance or justice by the end of the war and during it?

  2. How did things transition from the end of WWII to current day in Europe from your perspective?

Eric-Sanders134 karma

Hi there,

Thank you for your questions.

1) I volunteered to join the British Army in the very first year of the war because I was filled with a strong desire to do something against the Nazis. The desire never left me during the war. After the war I did not feel vengeance or justice, I just felt happy that it was over and that they had lost.

2) At the end of the war, it looked like a wonderful beginning to a much better society. A lot of things were introduced such as the health service, good pension schemes and the EU etc.. but it has all taken a negative direction in the last few years (with anti EU sentiment etc..)

Falcontierra61 karma

As an Austrian who lives just south of Vienna: Did you ever return to Vienna? If yes, what kimds of changes did you notice?

Eric-Sanders139 karma

Hi there,

Many thanks for your question.

Yes I returned often (and will again in November). As a teacher (my old profession) I knew that Vienna was a good place to visit for children and so I would take them on trips there as it is one of the most interesting cities in the world. I particularly love the Danube and the Vienna woods.

Because I went to Vienna so often it is quite hard to pin down one particular change however I felt that the Austrians had become a lot more democratic and tolerant.

Also at the end of WWII during the peace treaties, the Allies and Russia found it useful to make Austria a buffer state. The peace treaty declared Austria a liberated country (not a defeated state) and they were not allowed to side with the west or the east.

The Austrians took full advantage of being painted as a victim until Franz Vranitzky, a socialist chancellor (similar to a Prime minister) of Austria proclaimed the truth that the Austrians had been just as guilty as the Germans. I think this was a huge change for Austria.

partyofwalrus58 karma

Do you believe that the Nazis were incredibly evil people or were ordinary people who held and acted on incredibly evil beliefs, is there a difference between the two or have you separated the two? How do you feel towards those Nazis who have wronged you, your family, friends and countless others?

Thank you for your time and for your story. May we all learn from the past.

Eric-Sanders121 karma

Hi there,

Thanks for your great question.

It's not easy to make a statement that cover such a wide spectrum of people. A lot of ordinary Nazis, members of the party, believed that a strong hand was needed to deal with the problems and they thought the Nazis would provide it. At first anti-semitism became a useful propaganda tool. These sorts of people I would not class as evil, just misguided.

But as they reached the point of having total power their means became more and more violent. There is an old saying "absolute power corrupts absolutely" - I think this is a very true saying and I have seen it with my very own eyes.

A good example of this is with Röhm (who founded the stormtroopers). As relationships developed and power grew, Röhm thought he may make a better leader than Hitler and Hitler was pressurised by the other leaders to do away with him because he was a homosexual. Hitler had known this all the time and had not done anything about it yet Hitler did go and shoot him but explained publicly it was due to him being homosexual.

*Bonus product placement: Incidentally my new book shows Hitler's rise to power which made him more and more ruthless.

Ne_Si53 karma

Hi, thank you for doing this AMA. My grandparents also survived the WW2 on different sides - one serving in the German army and the others surviving it under the NAZI rule in Slovenia / Yugoslavia at the time, so I listened to different accounts about the era... My questions: 1. What made you move to UK (did you decide it yourself or did your friends and relatives felt the urge and danger looming?) 2. Did you fight in continental Europe? If yes, where?

Eric-Sanders77 karma

Hi there,

Thank you for your questions.

1) The moment the Nazis marched in we knew we had to get out. Because they had been in charge of Germany next door we knew that they were anti-semitic (but not to the extent that we know now). Luckily my mother had a couple of sisters and brothers who had emigrated to the UK before the WWI. I had always wanted to go to England, possibly due to my mother reading me English children's books.

Sun-Anvil50 karma

Kind of an off the wall question but:

At 97 yrs old, is there anything from your childhood that you still enjoy today?

Eric-Sanders107 karma

Hi there,

Thank you for your question!

Uhh, from my childhood.. I think the love of poppy seed cake, Wiener Schnitzel and the music of my era continues to this day.

salil9939 karma

As one of the last survivors what can be do to keep people aware of this horrible genocide?

Eric-Sanders75 karma

Hi there,

Thank you for your question.

I believe there is enough being done at the moment and that there are plenty of current bad things going on in the world that we should concentrate on.

There are many organisations who have made it their task to inform everyone about the holocaust and there are some countries that are anti-Jewish that deny that the holocaust ever existed. Whereas in some EU countries this would be a crime to deny the existence of the holocaust.

PAIRoDICE34 karma

Hi Mr. Sanders! Thanks so much for taking the time to do this. I'm actually working with a group of actors to write a show about the SOE. Did you happen to meet Nancy Wake, John Farmer, or Violette Szabo during your time at the SOE? Do you have any stories about them?

Eric-Sanders43 karma

Hi there,

Thank you for your question.

I knew of Violette Szabo however I have never met her. I have unfortunately not heard of the other two although I may have read about them and simply forgot their names.

chris_563432 karma

Coming from a german whose grandparent's siblings were killed in WW2, how did normal german people treat you? Like ones which were not Nazis? Was the country all antisemites or just the select ones everyone knows about?

Eric-Sanders66 karma

Hi there,

Thank you for your question.

I did not really experience many Germans during the War other than them shooting at us in France while I was stationed in a harbour. The only time I really experienced Germans was when I went there after the war on holidays (probably in the 70's and onwards) when the shudder had gone and I experienced no anti-semitism then.

charmanderaznable23 karma

How accepting was England of Jewish refugees? Being a Canadian I have huge resentment for the Canadian government during the war for having turned away Jewish refugees condemning them to death. (Luckily my great-grandfather left Europe during the pogroms, before the war)

Eric-Sanders51 karma

Hi there,

Many thanks for your question.

It's a big issue to put into a couple of paragraphs but I'll try. There was a strong feeling that so many immigrants in one go would take away British jobs and culture which resulted in the British Government making rules about immigrants obtaining visas and on some levels I understand this.

Wealthy Jews in Britain guaranteed the government that no Austrian or German Jew coming here would become a burden on the government and any Jew that didn't fit in the immigration scheme, they would look after and this group of German Jews did what they promised.

On a positive note, I've got to point out what I've mentioned before regarding my Father in a Belgium POW being allowed to come to England due to pressure from the government.

DoctorJuicebox21 karma

Thank you for sharing your experiences, Sir. Do you intend on doing a book tour? I would love to book you at the San Antonio JCC if so! Please PM me of interested.

Eric-Sanders38 karma

Hi there,

The thought had crossed my mind and we had offers from two publishers in America however the reason we rejected them was due to not having easy access to them (I would have had to travel all the way to America to get anything done) on top of this at my age this would be very taxing.

motomasterrace18 karma

Do any particular current/recent events, mentalities, media propaganda, etc., resemble any from your past that raise red flags and worry you at this time?

Eric-Sanders57 karma

Hi there,

Many thanks for your question.

Sighs Yes, in Iran. The permanent threats of launching a nuclear war to annihilate Israel is worrying me. Similar to Hitler's threatening messages to the German Chancellor.

rattatally16 karma

Have you seen Dunkirk?

Eric-Sanders58 karma

Hi there,

Thank you for your question.

I have neither been to Dunkirk nor have I seen the recent film (which my grandson seems to think you are referencing). I escaped France a couple of weeks after the Dunkirk battle from St.Malo on the very last boat to England.

mimw15 karma


Eric-Sanders46 karma

Hi sorry, this is his grandson writing we were planning on answering at 18:30pm, is that a problem? I am currently not with my grandfather but will be after work.

SteezBird15 karma

Have you ever considered making Aliyah to Israel, especially after the war ended?

Eric-Sanders26 karma

Hi there,

Thank you for your question.

Yes, in the first year of the war before I joined the army I wrote a letter to the Aliya organisation and asked whether my work on the farm counted as qualification for this. They replied confirmed that it did but as soon as I realised I could join the British Army I changed my plans to do this instead. This was mainly due to my parents living in England and not wanting to separate from them.

FiendBlade15 karma

  1. Have you ever regretted any of you decision during or after the war?

  2. Can you tell - write us any memorable experience that you witnessed all this years?

  3. Being a writer was something that you wanted always to be or it just came up?

Also thanks for doing this and the best of luck in your first book.

Eric-Sanders35 karma

Hi there,

Thank you for your questions.

1) Yes, that I didn't accompany my younger brother to Palestine.

2) I have answered similar questions in some answer before

3) I have a feeling it always was there (the desire to write) as I started writing a novel when I was seventeen in Vienna. But I did start an outline for a play and did write the music for it and a major Viennese theatre (Theater-an-der-Wien) was going to perform it with my name on the billboards. I was in seventh heaven however when the Nazis came they destroyed the whole of my musical dream.

Whenever I think of the Nazis personally, I think of this loss and my brother's death.

bfritch10 karma

Thank you very much for sharing your experience during the war and answering questions about it! I was wondering if your experiences during WWII had any negative or positive impact on your religious beliefs. If it did impact your religious beliefs, how specifically did they change? As time has past, have you re-adopted any pre-war beliefs?

Eric-Sanders24 karma

Hi there,

Thank you for your questions.

I became an agnostic whilst studying to become a teacher. I don't think there was any relationship to the war at all. It may have done but not knowingly.

FullScaleTardWar9 karma

Hi Eric, you are a true hero!

Are there any moments that stand out from your experience in WWII as being particularly scary or where you almost gave up hope?

Eric-Sanders39 karma

Hi there,

Many thanks for your statement.

There were scary moments but any other thoughts about hope didn't come into it. One moment was when in the SOE we did a night attack on a power station outside Dorchester (for training). We were creeping towards it and it was very dark due to lights being turned off during the war. We approached a spiked fence around the perimeter and as we were climbing over this I slipped and a spike went into my thumb. I was then hanging with my thumb still caught but I was not allowed to make a single sound. This was a very painful and scary moment for me during the war.

xxTheHoffsNosexx9 karma

What rank did you achieve in the SOE?

Eric-Sanders30 karma

Hi there,

Thank you for your question.

I think the highest rank I achieved was Sergeant however the ranks were not accepted by the British Army unless you actually went into action, then you automatically became an officer.

However when it suited us whilst training we gave ourselves officer's ranks so we could have more comforts on leave.

ducatimechanic11 karma

in the SOE?

Since we're bringing that up, is there any equipment you'd like to talk about? Like the Enigma Machine, or weapons?


Radio sets would have been very interesting; maybe morse code back then?

Any agents you'd like to talk about?


Thank you very much for your service.

Eric-Sanders48 karma

Hi there,

Thank you for your questions.

The most interesting thing for me was parachuting. I did five parachute jumps and found them thrilling.

I was one of the fastest radio operators in the SOE and would have gone into action as a radio operator with other SOE agents. I think I was probably quite good at this due to my piano playing so I was much faster at typing!

GromflomiteAssassin8 karma

Thanks for this Mr. Sanders it's a pleasure to "speak" with you. I have 2 questions and I'm sorry if they've been asked and answered before.

What would you say to all these young people who are running around pretending to be Nazis?

Have you personally encountered holocaust deniers?

Eric-Sanders39 karma

Hi there,

Many thanks for your questions.

1) Young people like to show off and be exhibitionists. It can be hard to tell the difference between this and being a genuine anti-semite. It's really best to disregard them.

2) No I have never experienced this thankfully.

sasopocmarany5 karma

did you see any war related movies? which are the most realistic in your opinion?

Eric-Sanders25 karma

Hi there,

Thanks for your questions.

No, I actually avoided seeing war movies. I'm not exactly a friend of violence. However as previously mentioned I do enjoy the TV series, Foyle's War.

Anotherlink4214 karma

What do you think about many Democrats and the MSM labelling Donald Trump as "Hitler?"

Eric-Sanders2 karma

We have answered this in a previous question :)

thousandkneejerks3 karma

Where did you live in London? What did you do in your spare time, if you had any, during that time?

Eric-Sanders25 karma

Hi there,

Thank you for your question. When I arrived in London I attended a commercial college in Dalston to learn typing and accounting. Then I was offered a job as a volunteer (I was not allowed a proper job due to my visa) but was paid some minor pocket money.

In my spare time, on Saturdays I would go to the Dalston cinema and watch films. I had never been in a cinema before where you could see two films and a program in between for a thruppence or sixpence. For a short time I played with a dance band with one of my cousins but I was not very good at the rhythm. On some evenings I even had a date with a girl!

HahaUrGay3 karma

Did you escape to England with the thought of joining the British army, or did it just work out that way?

Eric-Sanders11 karma

Hi there,

Many thanks for your question.

No, I didn't know that there was going to be a war. I escaped to Britain a year, almost two before the war began.

14th_Eagle3 karma

You said you wrote your first nonfiction novel. Do you have any plans to write another?

Eric-Sanders13 karma

Hi there,

Thank you for your question. I have written a few non-fiction short stories about the war but I currently do not have any plans to write any more. Currently I am planning on writing two more fictional novels if I survive that long!

gedai3 karma

In your years, what achievement of man kind has brought you the most pride?

Eric-Sanders31 karma

Hi there,

Thank you for your tough question.

It's very hard to answer, probably the NHS (the British health service) which started when I was at college and I actually studied this with my wife at the college. A long time ago!

DigiMagic2 karma

I see that many redditors have already asked many great questions, so I'll inquire about the book. Given the introduction, I'd assume it's about your experiences during the war? Which parts of it are specifically important to you? Just in theory, would you allow an amateur filmmaker (... with no money... ) to make a movie based on it?

Eric-Sanders3 karma

Hi there,

Thank you for your questions.

This book is not really about my experiences about the war as this is about the rise of Nazism prior to the war. However the sequel will take place during the war and thus will be slightly more based on my experiences.

In theory, how would you make a film without any money? On a slightly more serious note it would depend on the circumstances and on meeting with the director.