What an Obscure German Novel Taught Me About Dictators

Jens Kruse in Politico:

I was born in Hamburg, Germany, in 1949, so I grew up playing cowboys and Indians with my cousins in the rubble fields of my native city. Family lore had it that my mother, who had survived the Hamburg firestorm of 1943, made me baby shirts from the sugar bags that came in American care packages. Her father had been sent to a concentration camp during the early days of the Nazi dictatorship because he collected dues for an illegal union; fortunately, he survived. Because of the housing shortage caused by the bombings, my parents and I, for the first 11 years of my life, lived in a one-room apartment. Suffice it to say my childhood was a daily reminder of the catastrophic consequences of the destruction of the Weimar democracy and the rise of Adolf Hitler.

The other constant of my early life was a presence of things American that went beyond the baby shirts with “SUGAR” stamped on them. Even though we lived in the British occupation zone, American movies played at the local movie theater where my mother worked, and Bill Haley & His Comets were my father’s favorite rock ’n’ roll band. My father had been a prisoner of war of the Americans, and while he almost never talked about the war itself, he talked frequently about those years from 1945 to 1947 in camps in Germany, Holland and France. The Americans, he said, treated and fed him well and taught him to drive a 2.5-ton truck. When my parents traveled to the U.S. for the first time for my wedding to a wonderful American woman—six years after I had visited the U.S. for the first time and three years after I had spent a year at Indiana University as an exchange student—he brought his decades-old POW driver’s license in hopes that my father-in-law would let him drive his car.

More here.

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