Children were at the center of the Nazi ideology; now we have their history of those years. In this groundbreaking study-based on a wide range of new sources-Nicholas Stargardt details what happened to children of all nationalities and religions living under the Nazi regime. Their stories open a world we have never seen before. As the Nazis overran Europe, children were saved or damned according to their race. Drawing on an untouched wealth of original material-school assignments; juvenile diaries; letters; and 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.
Handicapped German children taken from their families before WWII, girls of all nations raped by marauding soldiers, Jewish children shoved into ghettos: as Stargardt shows in this well-researched and horrific history, the lives of children were ravaged by Hitler's goals and the war he produced. Like Lynn Nicholas in her recent and also excellent Cruel World: The Children of Europe in the Nazi Web, Stargardt, a historian at Oxford, tells his story through the children's eyes using diaries and oral histories as well as other documentary sources. To be a child during the war, he notes, could be both easier and harder than it was to be an adult. Children often proved more resilient in overcoming physical and mental injuries. At the same time, they lacked the ability to directly express the pain that was haunting their dreams. Perhaps most unusual is Stargardt's illumination of how the Nazi regime affected German children, from those (who today would be called at-risk children) sent away to be "re-educated" to the idealized Hitler Youth sent to die in battle; it's a sharp and taut account of misery. 16 pages of b&w photos, 6 maps.
Copyright (c) Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. -- PUBLISHERS WEEKLY.
Showing 1-1 of the 1 most recent reviews
1 . Very educational
Posted September 22, 2010 by Kerry Steinert , AmherstI loved this book. It was very interesting and educational, although it was disturbing at times. I found it to be a fascinating read because it covers several children's views of the war, ranging from children of SS officers to children trying to survive in the concentration camps. There were nights I had to skip this book and read something a little "lighter", because it can get a little depressing, but overall I was very happy I read it.
January 08, 2007
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Excerpt from Witnesses of War by Nicholas Stargardt
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 parents from the little village of Borowa-Gora, where they had spent the summer holidays with her grandparents, to Warsaw for the start of school on 4 September, and had been happily anticipating the set of new school books they had promised to buy her. The ten-year-old knew that something momentous had just occurred, but had no images yet of war. Even those adults who had lived through the First World War in Poland could have no conception of what the second would be like.
That September the start of the new autumn term was seriously disrupted across Europe. In Germany, schools remained closed at the end of the summer holidays and children hung around the gates to catch a glimpse of reservists as they poured in to register at these temporary mobilisation centres. In the rural calm of the Eifel, west of the Rhine, two little girls enjoyed the envy of all their friends for being allowed to stand in the village square with a bag of apples and throw them to the passing troops. Unfortunately, for many older children, like sixteen-year-old Gretel Bechtold, the excitement soon died down: the French fired no shots at the West Wall and soon she had to go back to school.
As street lights were turned off and windows blacked out, Germany's towns and cities were plunged into a night-time darkness they had not experienced at night since the pre-industrial era. In Essen, little girls started pretending to be the nightwatchman who patrolled the streets reminding people to conceal their lights by calling out "Blackout! Blackout!" All too soon classes began again. Dangling gas masks and satchels over their shoulders on the way to school, many children found they had to write assignments when they got there about blacking out and other measures of civil defence against air attack. What with trams and trucks colliding in the unlit streets and pedestrians missing their footing as they stepped off the kerb, the most significant change to strike one Hamburg boy, after four months at war, was the increase in traffic accidents.
In September 1939, there were no scenes in Germany reminiscent of the jubilation of August 1914, however short-lived and partial that mood of public ecstasy may in fact have been. Even strongly Nazi families were unsure how to view the outbreak of war. As fourteen-year-old Liese listened to the radio broadcast of the Fuhrer's Reichstag speech in Thuringia in central Germany, she squealed with pleasure. But after only two weeks of war, she was asking her father what he thought the chances were of bringing things to a speedy conclusion:
If we get into a real war with England, don't you think it will last at least two years? For once he starts a war the Englishman throws everything into it and mobilises his whole empire, for the Englishman has never lost a war yet.
Her father, a reserve officer who strongly supported the regime, agreed. As might be expected from someone with experience of the terrible blood-letting of the First World War, he told her that France remained the key. Meanwhile, Liese's mother purchased a good-quality radio, a Telefunken-Super, and they set up a map of Poland next to it so that--just like in schools across the Reich--they could mark the advance of the German troops on it with little swastika flags after each news broadcast.
When the German attack began at dawn on 1 September, the Wehrmacht found the Polish Army still in the midst of mobilisation. With the advantage of surprise, the Luftwaffe destroyed many of the 400 largely obsolete planes of the Polish Air Force on the ground, gaining immediate air supremacy. Thereafter, its 2,000 aircraft practised their new tactics of war, giving battlefield support to the German Army, while its sixty well-armed divisions swept over the borders from East Prussia in the north, Slovakia and the recently occupied Czech lands in the south, and along a broad front in the west stretching from Silesia to Pomerania. Defending such borders was impossible, and the Polish High Command abandoned its attempt to do so on 6 September. Even the attempt by the Poles to defend the major industrial and urban centres involved spreading their forty ill-equipped divisions and 150 tanks too thinly; the Wehrmacht could pick out its battleground and concentrate its 2,600 tanks there.