In this debut, a survivor recollects his childhood in Germany during World War II.
Tradowsky was only 3 years old in 1938 when Germany annexed the Sudetenland and 9 when Allied forces defeated the Nazis once and for all. In this remarkable, if slightly overlong, memoir, the author chronicles these first years of his life, concluding with the American occupation of Germany in the immediate aftermath of the war. Tradowsky’s parents, a theater director and a homemaker, opposed the Nazis but were not intensely political, and his early childhood seems to have been largely untouched by the war. With great lucidity and emotional acuity, he recounts bike trips to the Black Forest, the birth of his younger sister, his family’s move from Berlin to Strasburg and his changing relationship with his parents. Both Walter and Annemarie Tradowsky come across as real, complex characters, and the author treats them lovingly but fairly; although they were clearly dedicated parents, neither managed to escape inevitable child-rearing failures. Young Michael’s idolization of his father ends, for instance, when Walter punishes him for lying by refusing to speak to him for days—even after Michael has apologized. “Ever after, our relationship was tarnished with a bit of reserve, a tiny remnant of distrust,” Tradowsky writes. Although these peacetime chapters are engaging, the book inevitably picks up in its second half, when the war finally reaches the Tradowsky family, ultimately displacing them and forcing them to live as refugees. This memoir is most notable for its detailed depiction of an average German family’s life during wartime; it can be easy to forget that many German citizens had no affiliation with the Nazis. The author’s parents were not self-sacrificing heroes of the resistance, but their struggle to preserve some kind of normal life for their children as a war consumed their entire nation is admirable.
A moving memoir about a German family’s wartime experience.