Debut editor Claire Ohlsson Geheb collects the correspondence of her German father-in-law and his relatives in this debut biography.
In 1900, Willy Geheb was the fourth child born to a blacksmith and his wife in what is now the state of Saxony-Anhalt in Germany. He grew up there, served in the German military during World War I, and saw the early years of the Weimar Republic. He immigrated to Brazil in 1923, then lived in Mexico before finally settling in Chicago and raising a family of his own. He continued to write letters home to his German relatives, receiving news of the republic’s economic troubles, the rise of Adolf Hitler, and the horror of World War II and its aftermath. After he suffered a stroke in 1980, a chest of the German-language letters as well as his personal diaries was discovered by his son, John. He and his wife, the credited editor here, finally secured the services of a translator in 2013, and they published the material in English to offer readers a unique view of 20th-century German history as seen from the perspective of a single family: “The Geheb family personalities, beliefs, relationships, daily activities, employment, and life styles described in the letters bring the history and living conditions of the times to life,” says editor Geheb in an introduction. Indeed, the letters of the Geheb family members, and of Willy in particular, are filled with moments of warmth, humor, and charming specificity, as when Willy describes quitting a job as a chef because he was getting “fat.” Willy is also capable of disarming profundity when commenting on current events: “Dear Father,” he writes in March 1927, “it is certainly to your credit to take the fate of Germany to heart, but look at the history of the world, and ask yourself, where are the mighty kingdoms now?” His accounts of the final days of both world wars are particularly compelling.
A charming portrait of a German family caught up in the sweep of history.