Discovering that his father-in-law, a celebrated artist named Wolfram, endured a long, miserable experience in the Wehrmacht, popular historian Giles (Paradise Lost: Smyrna, 1922, 2008, etc.) suspected correctly that he had material for a fresh look at a familiar genre.
Combining interviews with family letters and diaries, the author provides an entertaining account of an artistic German family who did not conceal their dislike of Hitler but survived the war. It helped that they lived in a rural artist’s colony in the Black Forest and that the local Nazi leader was a family friend. Nine-year-old Wolfram paid little attention when Hitler took power in 1933. Already fascinated by medieval art, carvings and icons and excused from the obligatory Hitler Youth by a note from a friendly doctor, he spent his leisure wandering the countryside, inspecting old churches and farms, returning home to draw them. At 17, he began a four-year course at the elite Bavarian State Woodcarving School. However, in 1942, the 18-year-old was drafted and sent to the Russian front. By odd good fortune, he caught diphtheria and nearly died, but evacuation to Germany meant that he, unlike most in his unit, did not perish at Stalingrad. After a long recuperation, he served in France where his unit was devastated after the Normandy invasion. He surrendered to American forces in 1944, spending two years as a prisoner in England and the U.S. before returning to resume his woodcarving studies, marry and begin a successful career.
A fine addition to the dwindling number of firsthand World War II personal stories.