The Boy from Boskovice: A Father's Secret Life
By Vicky Unwin
What makes a good man bad? Nature or nurture? A story of secrets, lies, loss and abuse…
Publication date: January 2021Support this project
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This is the story of my father Tomas Ungar, from the small Czech town of Boskovice, a Holocaust survivor who became the more-British-than-the-British Tom Unwin, erstwhile intelligence officer, United Nations diplomat and champion of the downtrodden.
But his whole life was a lie of one sort or another and, sifting through a suitcase-full of dusty documents, I gradually came to the hardest conclusion of all: it was possible to be part of the great Jewish exodus and still leave a trail of destruction in his wake.
Was it a case of nature vs nurture? Did my father inherit his cruel character from his father, Hermann Ungar, the Czech writer and diplomat, friend of Thomas Mann and Stefan Zweig?
I tease out how a victim can become a perpetrator; why my charming and charismatic dad was in fact a wife-beating, narcissistic misogynist, who hid his Jewish roots and abandoned and kept secret his illegitimate daughter until his death-bed confession.
Tomas Ungar/Tom Unwin is an amoral everyman figure emerging rootless from a corner of Europe at the darkest hour – a reminder that it is not always history which shapes the man, but the man that shapes himself.
His story resonates across the decades and contributes fascinating insights into the debate on the influence of genes.
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Vicky Unwin has had a long career, centred round her African roots, in both book and newspaper publishing. But she was always intrigued by her father’s secretive past and started to research the family history.
Then her daughter died of an accidental drug overdose in 2011 and her world was shattered. Her relationship with her father was already fraught and she abandoned the research, joining a campaign to introduce compulsory drug education in schools to warn of the dangers of ketamine and legal highs. She became a public spokesperson and wrote for national newspapers, appeared on Woman’s Hour, all the breakfast TV sofas, and graced many magazines.
But Louise’s death took its toll and Vicky developed a life-threatening soft tissue sarcoma. She turned to writing as therapy. Her first book, Love and War in The WRNS (History Press), a collection of her mother’s letters home during the Second World War, was published in June 2015 and received favourable reviews.
Following her father’s death in 2012 she finally felt strong enough to return to the family secrets and this book tells the story.
As a result of all the trauma, she wants to give something back, while remaining true to her passions: she is a Trustee of United World Schools, whose charter is to ‘teach the unreached’. In addition, she is Chairman of a contemporary Art Gallery and a former Judge and current council member of the Caine Prize for African Writing.
Vicky is five years in remission and lives life to the full.
Her determination to survive and love of travel, films and food are celebrated in her blogs, Healthy Living with Cancer, Vicky Goes Travelling and Vicky at the Movies. She is a fantastic cook and loves nothing more than entertaining friends to a good meal – and is happy to offer to cook for your dinner party!
Tom has fled Prague, summoning his mother and younger brother. They arrived on 29 March 1939, 14 days after the Nazis invaded Prague.
Chapter 5 The metamorphosis of Tomas Ungar
Grete’s Certificate of Registration, issued on 29 June 1939, allowed her to stay in Britain for three months on condition that she did not ‘establish himself [sic] or seek any employment’. She rapidly agreed with Tomy that they should emigrate to Canada, where Rudi [her first husband] and John [son from that marriage] were also planning to go as soon as it could be arranged. Meanwhile, she rented a cheap flat on Fairfax Road near Swiss Cottage in northwest London, close to where I now live, from a couple whom Grete recalled had ‘dirty feet’ and ‘didn’t wash their clothes enough’.
- 29th May 2020 Remembering Tom/Dad eight years after he died
It's eight years since Tom died...here he is in 1947/8 with a tractor superivising the ploughing on the infamous Groundnut Scheme, launched by the post-war Labour government to grow peanuts to be made into oil to feed the undernourished Brits. There's a whole chapter on this disaster in my book, plus lots of archive photos like this one showing Dad (and Mum) in their early pioneering days. However…30th April 2020 You'll have copies before Christmas!
I know this might be later than you had hoped - people keep asking me for the book so they have something engrossing to read during these strange days...but publishing, like everything else, takes on its own schedule these days. In fact I'm pleased as the official publishing date will be in the dead time in early 2021 and we will have a fantastic party! Thank you for your patience!
The photographs…13th January 2020 Happy memories of Papua New Guinea
Our recent visit to the Solomon Islands brought back memories of the time I spent in Papua New Guinea with my father. He was head of the UNDP there for seven years, and it was the highlight of his UN career. He loved dressing in his ‘colonial whites’ with knee-length socks and being in charge! He was particularly challenged and rewarded by the West Papuan refugee crisis that erupted in 1977. As…31st October 2019 Celebrating my grandfather Hermann Ungar 90 years on, the original Boy from Boskovice
I know you keep getting updates from unbound about the book's progress (it's on its way, though it may take some time, to quote a phrase).
Meanwhile I am keeping busy furthering my research and one of my objectives, which is to rekindle interest in my extrordinary writer grandfather Hermann Ungar, who died all too young at 36, before he had reached his full potential but after he had made quite…6th July 2019 Hurray!
My book is now completety funded thanks to your generosity and my dear Ross who topped up the fund so we could get the book to its next stage!
I shall keep you all updated as to its progress although it may yet be slow as there's lots of pre-prodcution work to do...
Once again heartfelt thanks to you for supporting me.
Have a wonderful summer.
Vicky4th May 2019 Now up to 55% funded
A quick thank you this holiday weekend to you all for helping the book along its way. I aim to get it funded by the month-end so if you can share and spread the word, please do...
Here's a sneak preview photograph of my parents as they started life on the Groundnut Scheme in Tanganyika in the late 1940s:23rd April 2019 10 days in and 43% target reached
Thank you all for your support. Now the Easter weekend is over, any forwards and social media recommendations you can do as well would be great. The target this week is 50%!
Plus a great endorsement from Alan Samson, Chairman of Weidenfeld & Nicholson, who says 'I am very pleased. Your book absolutely deserves to be published and I am a great fan of Unbound. I shall do my bit for you and the book…15th April 2019 4 days in and 33% target reached! Thank you all...
Plus a great endorsement from Alan Samson, Chairman of Weidenfeld & Nicholson, who says 'I am very pleased. You book absolutely deserves to be published and I am a great fan of Unbound. I shall do my bit for you and the book!' Please share this great news - hopefully with the right thumbnail this time, not of my old book!13th April 2019 15% funded after TWO days
Thank you all for your support so far...let's keep going and make this one of the fastest funded books on Unbound! Spread the word - tweet, insta and share on FB, plus forward to your friends. Thanks
These people are helping to fund The Boy from Boskovice: A Father's Secret Life.
An anonymous donor
Arabella van Niekerk