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The End
Hamburg 1943
Hans Erich Nossack
University of Chicago Press, 2004
One didn't dare to inhale for fear of breathing it in. It was the sound of eighteen hundred airplanes approaching Hamburg from the south at an unimaginable height. We had already experienced two hundred or even more air raids, among them some very heavy ones, but this was something completely new. And yet there was an immediate recognition: this was what everyone had been waiting for, what had hung for months like a shadow over everything we did, making us weary. It was the end.

Novelist Hans Erich Nossack was forty-two when the Allied bombardments of German cities began, and he watched the destruction of Hamburg—the city where he was born and where he would later die—from across its Elbe River. He heard the whistle of the bombs and the singing of shrapnel; he watched his neighbors flee; he wondered if his home—and his manuscripts—would survive the devastation. The End is his terse, remarkable memoir of the annihilation of the city, written only three months after the bombing. A searing firsthand account of one of the most notorious events of World War II, The End is also a meditation on war and hope, history and its devastation. And it is the rare book, as W. G. Sebald noted, that describes the Allied bombing campaign from the German perspective.

In the first English-language edition of The End, Nossack's text has been crisply translated by Joel Agee and is accompanied by the photographs of Erich Andres. Poetic, evocative, and yet highly descriptive, The End will prove to be, as Sebald claimed, one of the most important German books on the firebombing of that country.

"A small but critical book, something to read in those quiet moments when we wonder what will happen next."—Susan Salter Reynolds, Los Angeles Times


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German Women Recall the Third Reich
Owings, Alison
Rutgers University Press, 1993
From Publishers Weekly
A vivid picture of Germany under the Nazis emerges from this collection of unsettling interviews conducted by freelance TV writer Owings with 29 women of diverse backgrounds, both Aryan and Jewish. Among the women whose lives in Germany's war-torn homefront are chronicled are the widow of a resistance leader and the wife of an SS guard, who refers to her husband's work in the Ravensbrook and Buchenwald "manufacturing plants." Not only did Hitler attract the young but, according to one supporter, "he understood how to fascinate women." Some of these women claim that they privately protested mistreatment of Jews and prisoners and risked their lives to assist them. Only one non-Jewish woman, however, admits to "hearing" that Jews were gassed. 

From Library Journal
Owings, a freelance television writer who is neither a German nor a Jew, has compiled and edited a groundbreaking set of oral histories. She interviews women from many spectrums of the Third Reich: Germans, Jews, individuals of "mixed" parentage, a countess, a camp guard, women who hid Jews, Nazi supporters, Communists, and other women who witnessed and participated in everyday and extraordinary events. Owings has tried, as much as possible, to quote her interviewees directly yet still manages to create an even and engaging text. This volume is an excellent companion to Claudia Koonz's Mothers in the Fatherland: Women, Family Life, and Nazi Ideology , 1919-1945 ( LJ 11/1/86). Highly recommended.

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Good-bye to the Mermaids
A Childhood Lost in Hitler's Berlin
Karin Finell
University of Missouri Press, 2006
Good-bye to the Mermaids conveys the horrors of war as seen through the innocent eyes of a child. It is the story of World War II as it affected three generations of middle-class German women: Karin, six years old when the war began, who was taken in by Hitler’s lies; her mother, Astrid, a rebellious artist who occasionally spoke out against the Nazis; and her grandmother Oma, a generous and strong-willed woman who, having spent her own childhood in America, brought a different perspective to the events of the time. It tells of a convoluted world where children were torn between fear and hope, between total incomprehension of events and the need to simply deal with reality.
            In one of the relatively few recollections of the war from a German woman’s perspective, Finell relates what was for her a normal part of growing up: participating in activities of the Hitler Youth, observing Nazi customs at Christmas, and once being close enough to the Führer at a rally to make eye contact with him. She tells of how she first became aware of the yellow star that Jews were forced to wear, and of being asked to identify corpses from a bombed apartment house. She also depicts the lives of people tainted by Hitler’s influence: her half-Jewish relatives who gave in to the strain of trying to remain unnoticed; a favorite aunt who was gassed because she was old and had broken her hip; and a friend of the family who was involved in the abortive putsch against Hitler and hanged as a traitor.
            When American and British forces intensified air raids on Berlin in 1943, Finell observed the stoical valor of women during the bombings, firestorms, and mass evacuations. Not yet a teenager, she witnessed the battle for Berlin and the mass rapes perpetrated by conquering Russian and Mongolian troops. Order was restored after the American and British troops arrived. The Marshall Plan jump-started an economic recovery for West Germany, provoking the Russians to blockade Berlin. From 1948 to 1949 the Americans and British kept Berlin’s residents alive with the airlift. But even though food was flown in, the people of Berlin continued to go hungry. Deprivation forced Berliners to look inward and face their collective guilt as they withstood the threat of Soviet occupation during these postwar years.
            This eloquent and touching story tells how a decent people were perverted by Hitler and how a young girl ultimately came to recognize the father figure Hitler for the monster he was. From a time of innocence, Karin Finell takes readers along a nightmarish journey in which fantasies are clung to, set aside, and at last set free. Good-bye to the Mermaids presents us with the revelation that human beings can survive such times with their souls intact.

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A Hitler Youth in Poland
The Nazi Children's Evacuation Program During World War II
Jost Hermand
Northwestern University Press, 1997
Jost Hermand's A Hitler Youth in Poland is an invaluable first-hand account of his experience in Nazi education camps for German children, four in Poland. An important addition to the growing record of the childhood experiences of so-called Kriegskinder (children of war) in Germany during the Nazi regime, A Hitler Youth in Poland is a memoir of Germany's Kinderlandverschickung (KLV) program, by which German children were evacuated from large cities to countryside camps designed to toughen and prepare them for future careers in the military.

During the Nazi era, millions of German children between the ages of seven and sixteen were taken from their homes and sent to Hitler Youth paramilitary camps to be toughened up and taught how to be "German." Separated from their families and sent to the far-flung corners of Europe, these children often endured incredible abuse by the adults in charge. In this memoir, Jost Hermand, a cultural critic and historian who spent much of his youth in five different camps, writes about his experiences as a small, unathletic boy thrown into a "wolf pack" governed by brutalization, dreary routine, and sadism.

Intelligent and persuasive, A Hitler Youth in Poland should be read by anyone interested in psychology or the history of everyday life in Hitler's Germany and the mental scars of adults born during the Nazi regime.

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Requiem for a German Past
A Boyhood among the Nazis
Jurgen Herbst
University of Wisconsin Press, 2002

Jurgen Herbst’s account of growing up in Nazi Germany from 1928 to 1948 is a boy’s experience of anti-Semitism and militarism from the inside. Herbst was a middle-class boy in a Lutheran family that saw value in Prussian military ideals and a mythic German past. His memoir is a compelling, understated tale of moral awakening.


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To Lose a War
Memories of a German Girl
Regina Maria Shelton
Southern Illinois University Press, 1982

Martin Blumenson refers to this book as a “sensitive, beautifully written personal memoir,” and calls it a contribution to under­standing, “particularly to Americans who know little of how World War II and its immediate aftermath disrupted the lives of those who survived the defeat of Germany.”

Vividly, humanly, Shelton tells her story from the point of view of a teen-age German girl, one who witnessed her country’s surge to power and who felt the ignominy of both Germany and Ger­mans after the fall. She reaches a point during the war when “Sometimes the way we now live seems unreal, as if we were marionettes, with orders and permits and schedules attached to us instead of strings.”

But after the defeat of Germany life gets considerably worse. The victorious Russians evict the natives from their homes. They sneer and leer at the women who must venture forth for food. In this defeated land “the nights become unbearably long; without any physical activity by day, sleep refuses to come. I yearn for sleep, be it temporary or eternal. Death is becoming a friend; the enemy has a new name now: Rape.”

Then comes the dreaded order to evacuate all Germans from Lower Silesia: “How can a whole people be uprooted, disowned, tossed aside like useless flotsam—how? With the stroke of a pen, with a new line drawn on a map, we are sentenced to homelessness.” Not knowing where they will be sent, they plod out into darkness and cold with the other Germans, their worldly goods reduced to what they can carry. Embittered, they are herded into vermin-infested freight cars, still unaware of their destination.


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