How does a young German who has been a member of the Hitler Youth and has competed in Nazi-organized athletic competitions become, over the span of two years, an eighty-pound, tuberculosis-stricken concentration camp escapee?
In this larger-than-life memoir, Walter Meyer leads readers from one harrowing moment to the next as he recounts his experiences during and after Hitler's reign. As a teenager, Meyer refused to conform to institutional rules. While serving in the Hitler Youth, he rebelled by joining a subversive group that focused its efforts on pranks against the youth organization. During World War II, Meyer was arrested, interrogated, and beaten for stealing shoes, but he received a sentence of one to four years, as opposed to the standard penalty for looting—death.
The sixteen-year-old Meyer's refusal to conform to prison regulations and his foiled escape attempts resulted in solitary confinement on several occasions. His fiery spirit eventually landed him in a Nazi work camp. Unbeknownst to his family, Meyer became a concentration camp prisoner. Transported to Ravensbrueck, he was forced to work under grueling conditions in a quarry. He struggled to reach his daily work quota so he could dine on watery broth and bits of bread. In these subhuman conditions, Meyer developed tuberculosis. Knowing he would soon die in the camp, he again plotted his escape. This time he succeeded.
Upon returning home to Duesseldorf, Meyer despaired at the destruction of his hometown. He lamented the pallor that had spread throughout the town and the country itself. After recovering his health, he regained his youthful lust for adventure. His postwar travels began with his infiltration of the Russian-occupied zone of Germany to retrieve his family's possessions. Meyer then began a whirlwind odyssey, ducking into train cars and stowing away on ships, occasionally landing in jail for traveling without a passport—from France to Spain, Belgium to Holland, and finally to South America--in pursuit of something other than the aftermath of war.
Meyer's memoir gives insight into the climate in Germany during World War II and in the defeated nation after the war. His experience as a non-Jewish survivor of the Nazi concentration camps provides an enlightening and varied perspective to the Holocaust dialogue.