Reminiscences of total war by now-elderly Germans who were children in the 1930s and ’40s.
An outgrowth of retired US Air Force officer Samuel’s German Boy: A Refugee’s Story (2000), this volume is a straightforward oral history that gathers the recollections of 27 men and women whose childhood and, in some cases, adolescence were marked by aerial bombardment, privation, occupation—and, Samuel writes, who “grew up to be productive and thoughtful citizens, many of them reaching senior positions in business, academe, the military, the arts, or public service.” Several common themes emerge in these brief essays. Historians may take issue with some (for instance, the old and questionable protestation that ordinary Germans did not know of the ongoing campaign to exterminate Europe’s Jews); others are familiar tropes in the childhood-in-wartime genre (“I hope there never again is a war,” in the words of one woman, a survivor of the bombing of Dresden. “I don't like anything about war.”) Still others resound with childish innocence: memories of the ordinariness and friendliness of the American GIs who came to live among the defeated Germans, wonder at the sight of blacks (“I only knew about Negroes from an old children’s book I had, Der Struwwelpeter. I didn’t know that people existed who looked other than I”), awe and fear at the arrival of “little men from the east, Asians”—that is, the Red Army. Few express outright shame for the nation’s past crimes, but most color their reminiscences with muted regret; Samuel observes that none of his respondents spoke with hatred or a desire for revenge. He adds that their assumption of early responsibility—for many lost a parent or parents in the war—“and the attendant development of personal initiative may have contributed to the high level of achievement and productivity of this group of German children,” and of postwar Germany.
Of modest interest to historians and readers interested in having the German view of the war.