UGARTSTHAL, SEPTEMBER 1, 1939 by Charles Rehbein

UGARTSTHAL, SEPTEMBER 1, 1939

: My Life as Lived Through World War II
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KIRKUS REVIEW

Rehbein recalls the dreadful World War II years, and a few thereafter, of a German youth living in Poland.

As 1939 approached, Rehbein’s family toiled in a German farming village set amidst Ukrainian farming villages situated in Poland. As German Lutherans, they were retributive targets of the Polish government in those fraught years, and paid the price for German nationalism and bellicosity. Rehbein’s agricultural village may have been set in flowering meadows, but his voice displays a foreboding, fearful innocence of the time: “You know that if the Polish government were treating the German minority better, the thoughts of disloyalty would not need to be there.” Then the great hammer came down, and there was little but death to turn to, other than black humor, as the author was forced to resettle to the north: “Everybody had to learn how to say ‘Heil Hitler,’ and we heil hitlered a lot.” Rehbein had an intuitive distaste for injustice, and that found him on the dire end of brutality–being beaten, for instance, with a thorny stick while on the edge of starvation. It also allowed him an immediacy of recall, to remember with bitterness the everyday: “These screams were only interrupted by the pitch of their voices changing while they were being slapped or raped.” The author found solace in his possessions: a teakettle and two dirty shirts. There comes a moment when readers will think that Rehbein has simply let everything loose–“being picked for execution can be extremely unnerving”–only to have him reel them back into the soul-wasting, daily routine of a civilian prisoner of war in a Russian slave-labor camp. Still, the book contains what can only be called instances of salvation, such as Rehbein’s reunion with his parents after the war, and times of biblical wandering–“my sojourning in the bombed-out and defeated Germany.”

“When I think about that period, I feel resentful and happy at the same time,” writes Rehbein; likewise, readers will appreciate these honest accounts.

Pub Date: May 26th, 2006
ISBN: 978-1-4196-3341-6
Program: Kirkus Indie
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