A woman chronicles her childhood in Germany during and after World War II in this debut memoir.
When the Nazis invaded Poland in 1939, the members of Yearman’s family knew their lives in Germany would be transformed. Two years later, their town, Kiel, would be regularly bombed by British warplanes. In 1941, the author’s father explained to her that he had no choice but to send her away temporarily—all children between the ages of 6 and 10 living near military targets were compelled to relocate to the countryside. Yearman was sent to Seidel, a small farming village 300 miles east, and she was taken in by Anna Arndt, a kind woman who lived with her parents. The author was 6, attending school for the first time, and was fortunate to avoid the fate of so many of the era’s displaced children, who were exploited for free labor. Yearman’s temporary arrangement became a long-term one, and she fled Seidel with her new family in 1945 to avoid invading Soviet troops, briefly settling in Swinemunde, a Russian-occupied territory that was relatively stable. It was dangerous for her custodians to amble about freely because of the hostile Soviet forces. So Yearman spent much of her time scavenging for their food (“In general, the Russian soldiers had the decency to leave children alone”). The family eventually returned to Seidel, but it was now technically a Polish territory under Soviet rule and became too perilous. Warned by a Russian soldier of German descent of an imminent raid, they fled yet again. In her engrossing book (written with debut author Hanisch), Yearman recalls that she would not return to her father until she was 11, with her mother now dead from diphtheria. The prose artfully combines an unflinchingly honest account of Yearman’s travails with beautifully poetic descriptions. After she watched a ferry that departed from Swinemunde explode from contact with a mine, she observed the wreckage: “A carcass of a cow. I understood that animals died. I knew that. Then I realized, with clarity, that the people on that ferry had died too, just like the shattered cow floating in the water.” Yearman’s remembrance, which features some family photographs, is poignant, filled with vivid details but unembellished by maudlin sentiment. She allows the genuine power of her autobiographical drama to speak for itself.
An affecting portrayal of youthfulness stained by war.