BEING PRESENT: Growing Up In Hitler's Germany by Willy Schumann

BEING PRESENT: Growing Up In Hitler's Germany

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Here, Schumann (German Literature and Language/Smith College) presents an absorbing and thoughtful recollection of--and attempt to understand--his childhood and adolescence in Nazi Germany. The author, son of a pilot on the nearby Kiel Canal, gives a warts-and-all portrait of average, decent people. Worn down by defeat and unemployment, his family and their friends, though skeptical of the Nazis' ideological claims, welcomed not only the stability and prosperity they initially provided but also the restoration of German pride. But it was all, Schumann has concluded, a massive brainwashing exercise--in particular of the young, who were organized from the age of ten into paramilitary groups in which their natural inclination for adventure and heroism was deliberately manipulated. Living in a small northern town where there was only one Jewish family, Schumann was, he says, unaware of the camps until the war was over, and he suggests that most Germans never took the Nazi racial policies seriously. Born in 1927, the author was old enough to join the German Army in 1944 but--like many of his peers--put off enlisting, unable to believe that the war in Europe was ending; long subjected to strict military discipline, they could not conceive of a defeated army. The propaganda of Goebbels, Schumann notes, was effective right up to the end, when the Nazi minister held out the promise of new weapons that would provide final victory. ""It was simply not possible for us to believe the war was lost,"" Schumann reports. ""We were psychologically not capable of accepting the reality that the nearly five-year-long gigantic efforts of the German people had been in vain."" Merely serviceable prose, but what comes shining through here are both the author's integrity and his determination to describe just what it was like to grow up in a society in which ordinary life was increasingly sacrificed to the needs of a relentless ideology.

Pub Date: Dec. 1st, 1991
ISBN: 0873384938
Page count: 224pp
Publisher: Kent State Univ. Press