“So there came in the West a booted ruler with a little mustache, and in the East a booted ruler with a big mustache, and both of them together kicked the wise man to the ground and he sank into the mud.” Thus the novelist Chaim Grade has one of his characters describe the fate of Central European Jewry in the 1930s and 40s. These words aptly describe the story told in Hitler, Stalin, Mum and Dad, the British journalist and Conservative peer Daniel Finkelstein’s telling of his family’s experiences in the 20th century. Robert Philpot recounts what befell some of its key characters:
Finkelstein’s grandfathers were impressive men. A fiercely patriotic German Jew, Alfred Wiener can lay claim to having been one of the first intellectuals to sound the alarm about the rise of anti-Semitism after World War I. “A mighty anti-Semitic storm has broken over us,” he wrote in his 1919 tract, Prelude to Pogroms? Working for the main German Jewish communal body throughout the 1920s, he accurately predicted the danger posed by the Nazi party, then still very much a fringe movement.
After Alfred left Germany in 1933—traveling first to the Netherlands, then to Britain in 1939 and the US in 1940—his now-renamed Jewish Central Information Office continued meticulously to track the Nazis’ activities. During World War II, Alfred’s files became, one of the heads of British wartime intelligence said, “by far the most useful of the outside sources of information available to us.”
No less impressive was Finkelstein’s paternal grandmother, Lusia, who lived in the Polish city of Lwów (now Lviv, Ukraine) with her husband Dolu Finkelstein when World War II began:
The  Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, under which Hitler and Stalin had secretly agreed to carve up Poland, saw Lwów occupied by the Soviets. As a member of the Polish elite, which Stalin was determined to destroy, Dolu was detained in April 1940, interrogated for months, and found guilty in absentia of being a “socially dangerous element.” In freezing temperatures, he was then transported 2,175 miles to a gulag on the edge of the Arctic Circle, where he was to serve his eight-year sentence. It was a brutal existence, with Dolu initially reduced to serving as a packhorse, hauling felled trees through a nearby forest.
Lusia and [and her son] Ludwik, meanwhile, fared little better. As part of the Soviets’ plan to smash Poland and suppress its people, they were exiled to a state farm in Siberia. It was, Lusia, later recalled, “an island of hunger and death.” Existing on small rations of unsifted flour, she made bricks from cow dung by day and slept in a cowshed by night. The winter—when she and Ludwik shared a small room in a freezing shack with four others—was worse still.