Already hailed as "magnificent . . . some of the best historical writing about
the aftermath of the war I have ever read . . . stunning" (The Guardian),
Witnesses of War breaks new ground in its exploration of the lives and
the fate of children of all nationalities under the Nazi regime.
Children were at the center of Nazi ideology; now we have their history of those years. Their stories open a world we have never seen before. War came home to children as a set of events without precedent, spectacular and terrifying by turns. As the Nazis overran Europe, children were saved or damned according to their race. Precious few remained unscathed during the war, and most suffered a moment that overturned their lives. For some, it was the evacuation to become junior colonists in the East; for others, it was the onset of heavy bombing, the separation of families or learning to keep their parents alive by smuggling food, creating black markets and devising their own escape networks. Some herded women waiting to be shot. Girls manned flak batteries; boys confronted Soviet tanks.
Drawing on an untouched wealth of original material school assignments; juvenile diaries; letters from evacuation camps, reformatories and asylums; letters to fathers at the front lines; even accounts of children's games Nicholas Stargardt breaks stereotypes of victimhood and trauma to give us the gripping individual stories of the generation Hitler made.
The Home Front
Germans at war
Janina came out of the privy at the bottom of her grandparents' garden on the morning of 1 September 1939 to see two planes circling overhead. The sound of their machine guns opening up brought her parents, grandparents and brothers running out of the house to join her. Then they all rushed back inside again to listen to the radio. They just caught the announcement of the German attack on Poland, which had begun at daybreak, then the voice faded away as the batteries died. "Grandpa turned the switch off and looked at our anguished faces," ten-year-old Janina noted in her diary at the end of that long day. "He knelt in front of the picture of Jesus Christ and started to pray aloud." They joined him in the Lord's Prayer. Janina had been expecting to return with her ...
The positive note from this book is elegantly summed up by Ruth Kluger, writing in The Washington Post, who says "Reading about these years, one can only marvel that Europe recovered so thoroughly. The war children who survived to see a more prosperous world did not become a social burden (as many seem to have feared at the time) but became productive and responsible citizens. Their wounds were real enough, but they coped -- and cope -- with them privately, and with dignity. If there is any hopeful message to be gotten from this harrowing book, it is the wonder of human resilience."
Perhaps this can give us hope for the countless children affected by wars today, including the estimated 300,000 child soldiers fighting in more than 85 countries (according to Amnesty International, 2006). (Reviewed by BookBrowse Review Team).
Full Review (705 words).
About the author: Nicholas Stargardt is the son of a German-Jewish father and Australian mother. Born in Melbourne, he has lived in Australia, Japan, England and Germany. He studied at King's College, Cambridge, and is a fellow of Magdalen College, Oxford, where he teaches modern European history. Witnesses of War is his second book; his first, The German Idea of Militarism: Radical and Socialist Critics, 1866-1914 was published in 1994. He has written widely on the history of modern Germany, political and social thought and the Holocaust. He has two sons and is married to the historian Lyndal Roper.
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