A BACKWARD LOOK: Germans Remember by Daniel Lang
Kirkus Star

A BACKWARD LOOK: Germans Remember

Email this review


Brief and highly personal, this collection of articles that first appeared in the New Yorker traces Lang's travels and interviews with Germans of today and records, movingly, the variety of responses to the Nazis that he uncovered. Lang's interest was first aroused by the 1975 publication in Germany of Mit 15 an die Kannonen, a work that had grown out of a secondary schoolteacher's efforts to acquaint his students with their Nazi past; it consisted of a series of reminiscences by veterans of the Flakhelfer, a corps of 15-year-olds who were enlisted in 1943 and 1944 to help with anti-aircraft defense. For Lang, the book underlined the awesome chasm separating those who had lived under Hitler and now chose to repress their experiences and those who had been bom afterwards and remained largely ignorant of their nation's recent past. Older Germans presented Mit 15 an die Kannonen to their children in an effort to make them understand what life had been like under the Nazis, but by and large they reaped the sour rewards of their previous general silence on that subject: their children were either uninterested or condemned the older generation. Lang, however, goes farther than simply describing this critical generation gap for he senses in himself elements of the tremendous and widespread suppression of all thoughts of the past--the cloud, or Nebel, that one woman he interviewed claimed all Germans carry in their heads. As he puts it, ""the more I looked back on the Nazi era, the more murky and knotted were the thoughts it summoned,"" and he notes almost with horror how easily time transforms all events. Listening to German children recite answers to questions about Nazism, he muses, ""almost tangibly, dust seemed to be settling on events that would always be a part of my life; it was as though they were being torn from me. . . converted into mere history, remote and receding."" It is a mark of the excellence of this short book that without fanfare or pretension it forces the reader to ask, yet again, if there is any meaning for us in our past.

Pub Date: March 18th, 1979
Publisher: McGraw-Hill