DARKNESS OVER THE VALLEY: Growing Up in Nazi Germany by Wendelgard von Staden

DARKNESS OVER THE VALLEY: Growing Up in Nazi Germany

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Von Staden--born Baroness yon Neurath--has written a slim memoir of her youth in Nazi Germany which, though also the story of a participant (not a victim), lacks the scouring moral reproach found in Christa Wolf's A Model Childhood (1980). Since the von Neuraths were gentry (an uncle was a prewar Foreign Minister), they were caught by the Hitlerian frenzy only very electively; there was no underclass social hysteria to their acceptance. And indeed, Wendelgard's singing of barbarously romantic songs of death and battle with the Hitler Youth reads like a lark Of idealistic adolescence. But when a concentration camp, Camp Wisengrund, began to rise near the village, the mother of the family grew uneasy. Inmates brought to the von Neuraths' estate to work the fields were in inhuman; shape; the mother covertly pressed food on them and asked for information in return. The SS was beyond persuasion, but she tried to enroll the non-SS camp commandant in a plan to save all the remaining inmates' lives from bombing by the approaching Americans: they were to be hidden underground in experimental aircraft shafts. The rescue-effort never came to pass, and when the Allies finally did march in, the mother was arrested for earlier Nazi activities. This unfairness is the dramatic centerpiece of the book. Wendelgard saw the released prisoners trying ""to eat, to put on clothing, to simply walk around. They dragged themselves among the intimidated villagers, who huddled together in rooms or remained crouching in their cellars. They crawled on top of overturned trunks and over personal belongings that had been trampled underfoot."" The focus, while well-meaning, always seems a little skewed. In the end, the book seems to be more about the ravaging of privilege--even the privilege to ""make a mistake""--than about the real Nazi horrors.

Pub Date: March 30th, 1981
Publisher: Ticknor & Fields/Houghton Mifflin