"Therefore if the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed."

Monday, April 30, 2012

April Books

How have I gone a full month and not written anything here?  I've been busy reading other blogs, articles, Facebook and enjoying the outside, watching my nephews...and just not in much of a writing/sharing mood it seems.  So this month apparently found me still fascinated enough with Germany to read several more books about the World War II era.  Well, some delved off a bit from that, but these books were all in the general vicinity of the WWII shelves in my library.  Some of these books have things I like to share on Facebook.  Perhaps you've seen some of these quotes there. Also I like playing "any guesses?" where people have the opportunity to figure out the correct answer - at least correct according to the book! 

On Hitler's Mountain
by Irmgard A. Hunt -- subtitled:  Overcoming the Legacy of a Nazi Childhood -- I found this at the local library and really enjoyed the story of this lady as she grew up in an ordinary Nazi family. Well, it was extraordinary, I suppose, in that they lived on the mountain where the Nazi leaders often met. It was also neat reading this since Samer visited Berchtesgaden the week after we left Germany and I'd seen his lovely pictures.  The mention of Salzburg, of course, brought back memories of our recent trip there.  The author described life in war-torn Germany, and even the months after the war as part of Germany occupied by Americans. I enjoyed her thoughts of the soldiers and her interactions with them. By the way, American cigarettes became THE way to buy needed items.  The locals would ask the soldiers to pay for souvenirs with cigarettes.  Good book!

A Woman in Berlin by Anonymous --  The diary of a young woman during eight weeks in Berlin. She talks of the Russians coming and how the women collectively dealt with rape and survival as they became a defeated nation.  It made me appreciate the blessing of food - why do I take this for granted? 

"As we walked out of the store a truck drove by with German troops, red tabs, meaning antiaircraft.  They were headed away from us, toward the center of town. They sat there mute, staring off into the distance. A woman called out to them, 'Are you leaving?' No one answered her. We looked at each other and shrugged our shoulders.  The woman said, 'They're just poor souls themselves.' 

These days I keep noticing how my feelings towards men - and the feelings of all the other women - are changing.  We feel sorry for them; they seem so miserable and powerless.  The weaker sex.  Deep down we women are experiencing a kind of collective disappointment.  The Nazi world - ruled by men, glorifying the strong man - is beginning to crumble, and with it the myth of 'Man.' In earlier wars men could claim that the privilege of killing and being killed for the fatherland was theirs and theirs alone. Today we women, too, have a share.  That has transformed us, emboldened us. Among the many defeats at the end of this war is the defeat of the male sex."  (pg. 42-43)

"Why are they so fixated on watches? It's not because of the monetary value; they don't ogle rings and earrings and bracelets the same way at all.  They'll overlook them if they can lay their hands on another watch. It's probably because in their country watches aren't available for just anyone and haven't been for a long time. You have to really be somebody before you can get a wristwatch, that is, before the state allots you something so coveted. And now they're springing up like radishes ripe for the picking, in undreamt-of abundance.  With every new watch he can present or give away back home, his status rises. That must be it. Because they can't distinguish a cheap watch from an expensive one. They prefer the ones with bells and whistles - stopwatches or a revolving face beneath a metal case. A gaudy picture on a dial also attracts them." (pg. 80)

After the Wall: East Meets West In the New Berlin by John Borneman -- an anthropologist talks to individuals in East Germany many of whom feared the change coming; This was an interesting look at differences in socialism and capitalism - the pluses and minuses of each.  An interesting thought was how socialism created dependency, but the problem was a people who demanded more than East Germany could provide. For example, one lady wanted white, closed-toed shoes, but never could find them and her government wouldn't drop them at her door (although they did send tennis shoes for her boys and other things requested on occasion.)

The discussion of how "socialism and capitalism both sought to manage the basic populations under their control through...the creation of needs" was interesting. Capitalism tells you what you need by "furnishing a stunning satiation, an addictive array of goods and services.Socialism worked through a system of fear, deprivation, and punishment.  The two approaches interlocked. The end result of each was dependency."   (pg. 82) 

Life and Death in the Third Reich by Peter Fritzsche  --  

Germany's "racial warriors" had three primary tasks:

1. increase the birthrate - they offered "tax incentives and interest free loans to reward childbearing marriages" BUT
since generally the "healthy and well-educated Germans tended to restrict the number of children in order to maximize their own quality of life" and "supposedly less healthy, less able Germans had higher birthrates," they often "targeted allegedly unfit citizens" who had too many children that "weakened the overall racial health of the nation"

2  weed out the unhealthy section of the population, primarily through sterilization

3. "eliminate foreign matter from the racial stock of the German people"    (pg. 85-86)

Last 98 days of war in 1945 -- 1.4 million German soldiers dead; about 14,000 every day

"An average of 127 German civilians died every day in air raids in 1944, and more than 1,000 every day in the raids of 1945."  (pg. 291)

‎"God is not accountable to us for the senseless harm we cause one another,...We are accountable to Him!" -- Etty Hillesum;

born 15 January 1914 in Middelburg
murdered 30 November 1943 in Auschwitz

Dutch author and mystic; Nazi victim

"German readers after 1945 also developed more historically specific explanations of the catastrophe of Nazism.  They increasingly saw themselves as victims of a brutal war imposed on them by a politically fanatical minority that had misled and betrayed a patriotic majority and misused the tribulations that most Germans felt had been inflicted on them after World War I. They were appalled at how the war ended rather than how it had started; they focused on Stalingrad and German prisoners of war in the Soviet Union, Dresden and the air war against civilians, and the expulsion of Germans from eastern Europe in 1945.  This perspective was obviously politically expeditious, since it not only downplayed the active roles that Germans had played in the crimes of the Nazis but turned Germans into victims first. It conceded that Germans might have been complicit, but complicit because they were morally weak, not because they were criminally motivated."  (pg. 301)

Ester and Ruzya: How My Grandmothers Survived Hitler's War and Stalin's Peace by Masha Gessen -- The author shares the stories of her Jewish grandmothers growing up in Russia.  I particularly enjoyed the descriptions of one grandmother who worked as a censor doing things the author said would have blacked out most of what she (Masha) does since she is a western journalist living in Russia as of this writing.  By the way, who knew Hungarian was such a difficult language?

Under Hitler's Banner: Serving the Third Reich by Edmund Blandford -- this books tells the story of 13 ordinary Germans; each chapter is one person's tale about how they came to serve Germany during Hitler's time. It was pretty interesting to read the lives of mostly ordinary people who came to be a pilot who bombed England, an U-boat crewman (telling about the dangers of that task and how close they came to the US coast), a bridge builder for the military, spies (two women - one was a cook who was recruited to spy for Germany against the Italians??), nurse, wife of an SS officer among other things. One of my favorite stories was from the Eastern Front by a guy in the anti-tank infantry. Oddly none of these people seemed evil and I'm not sure if I liked that or not.

Why My Father Died: A Daughter Confronts Her Family's Past at the Trial of Klaus Barbie by Annette Kahn -- When I first started this book, I was underwhelmed. I had a hard time following the details - might have been the distractions of my baby nephew and Facebook - so I thought of not finishing it, but I'm glad I stuck with it.  I sat here today reading testimonies of people who were testifying against this monster and was crying off and on the whole time.  In fact, it prompted me to note this to a friend who happens to currently live in Germany, but is not German.

Reading this book (and the others I've read recently) reminds me why I grew up not liking Germany. It's funny because when Leslie was here and I told her what you said about people not touring Germany a lot, she suggested it was because they still hold the Holocaust against them. I can certainly see why after the books I've read. I have to remember to separate the people now from the monsters back then. And I do know there were a few good people back then.And some who were just ignorant. A German soldier on a train taking prisoners from France to Auschwitz was pale upon arriving. The lady heard him tell his fellow soldier he thought it was only like a work camp - a gulag -, but when he saw the gas chambers and smelled the stench of death, he said, "The world will never forgive us for this." I've been crying all day reading these testimonies. Especially when I picture those little children...carted away to their deaths, fear in their eyes, crying from hunger and separation from their parents. I think of little Zach and my Michael, and I **cannot** understand that kind of cruelty. Surely those monsters were demons in German bodies.

Also I found this link about Klaus Barbie and noted on Facebook:

The current book I'm reading is about the trial of this monster. I am completely dismayed to read of his crimes and then find out "With the aid of the Americans, he fled from prosecution in France in 1950 and relocated to South America together with his wife and children." He lived in Bolivia and was friendly with dictator Hugo Banzer. Finally the man was tried in France in 1987 after "He lived in Bolivia as a businessman under the name Klaus Altmann from 1951 onward. Though he was identified in Bolivia at least as early as 1971 by the Nazi hunters Beate and Serge Klarsfeld, it was only in February 1983 that the Bolivian government, after long negotiations, extradited him to France to stand trial. This caused the U.S. to offer a formal apology to France in August 1983." Sometimes I really really really really hate what my country does! GRRR!

I am grateful to France for prosecuting this guy.  The Germans didn't really want to go to the trouble (!!!). The Americans employed him at one time (!!!). The Bolivians housed him.  Thank you, France and the Nazi hunters.

And after reading these, I decided to return to some of the books I received for Christmas. I could have continued on with library books, but why get books as gifts if you fail to read them in a timely manner?  I'd read half of them, but was at a standstill on the others. Now I have no library books at the house, but plenty of others that I need to read. (Update on that to come.)

Behind the Veil of Vice: The Business and Culture of Sex in the Middle East by John R. Bradley -- If you're thinking this book exposes the tawdry side of the Middle East and then condemns those people for being hypocrites. You know pretending to be all-pious Muslim and wearing all those modest clothes - covering hair, face, even hands in some cases, praying five times a day and all that. Well, this book does expose sexual practices like prostitution, temporary marriages and child brides and pederasty and pornography sold in souks, but the author is very much pro-sex culture and comes across more scolding of people trying to change it. (He labels himself in the conclusion as both "secularist" and "libertarian" so his positions make better sense.) Granted,he is against child trafficking and child marriages, but thinks numbers reported there are exaggerated because studies are not documented well.  The other stuff he believes is fine and holds up Tunisia's treatment of prostitutes - legalizing and caring for them - as an example to many other places in the world. (He'd talked so highly of Tunisia as a positive example - "the Arab world's most prosperous and peaceful country" - that I had to wonder what the author thought of the "Arab Spring" beginning there not too many months after this book was published.)   The author thinks we can learn from Arabs about homosexuality by treating this as a private matter and not something we must bring up in public and political arenas. This was the chapter on pederasty and how common and acceptable this older man/young boy sex is in a culture that doesn't divide people by age such as we do in the West, but by sex.