Two Princes and a Queen by Shmuel David
Two Princes and a Queen is a novel based on true events and real people. It is the story of Hanne, the son of a well-off Jewish family in Belgrade, Serbia, of the 1930s. His father is a successful architect, his mother a devotee of German culture.
Against the backdrop of the dramatic events of that period in Yugoslavia and elsewhere in Europe, Hanne and his family live a comfortable and sheltered life in their luxurious home.
When the family loses its source of income as the result of anti-Semitism in Belgrade, they decide to join a group of over a thousand Jews from Austria, Germany and Czechoslovakia on a harrowing voyage along the Danube, eventually meant to reach pre-State Israel. The passengers aboard the three creaking river-boats are constantly torn between hope and despair in their attempt to evade the approaching Nazi troops and reach safety. While focusing on a touching love story that blossoms on one of the boats, the writer also tells the story of many other true characters that shaped the fate of what became known as The Kladovo-Sabac Affair.
This little-known historical fiasco is embedded in a frame story that begins in 1998: Ilan is an Israeli computer expert who has been living with his family in New York for many years. He is suddenly called back to Israel when his father suffers a stroke. As Ilan sits at his bedside in hospital, his father drifts in and out of consciousness, talks disconnectedly but passionately about his first love, Inga, whom he was forced to leave in tragic circumstances, and implores Ilan to find out what became of her. Ilan’s father is none other than Hanne – one of the survivors of Kladovo-Sabac.
Ilan’s father dies, but Ilan is intrigued and feels inexorably drawn to delving into the past. Bit by bit, he uncovers the fateful vicissitudes of his father’s journey. Ilan’s initial source is Hanne’s journals and memoirs. But once back in NYC, Ilan serendipitously gets acquainted with Erika, one of the few who managed to join the Partisans and escape Sabac in the summer of 1941. She tells him what became of the families and youngsters who remained there after one group of youth, including Hanne whom she remembers well, were sent by train to Israel, and actually made it.
Erika tells Ilan to go the Jewish museum in Belgrade, where he indeed finds hair-raising evidence: The letters of Inga’s friend Hilda Deutsch, and Inga’s diary, written in the freezing bunks of the notorious Sajmiste extermination camp near Belgrade.
Back in New York, Ilan determines to write the story of the Caldovo Sabac affair, and to return with his family to Israel, which meant so much to Hanne and to Inga.