By Christa Holder Ocker
Published by Plain View Press
Published in 2009
This book was sent to me by a publicist for review. I was not paid for this review.
Lately, I've been having something of a World War II binge. I watched Band of Brothers from start to finish while concurrently being enthralled by the National Geographic documentary Apocalypse: World War Two. Then auf Wiedersehen landed on my doorstep. It was, as it turns out, the perfect complement to my self education in the horror of previous generations. Not only is it a memoir, it is a memoir of a young German girl and the impact that the war had on her and her family, a vice we don't often hear from. The story picks up in the final scenes of World War Two - the Russians are closing in from the East, the Americans and the British approaching from the West. Hitler's Germany is disintegrating and as a result, her people are suffering.
Some 50 million people died as a result of this war: soldiers blown up in trenches; civilians bombed in their homes; Jews, Gyspies and homosexuals persecuted and tortured for not fitting the ideals of a madman, and more. It's just too colossal a figure to give any serious emotional or intellectual consideration to. The horror is too much, the body count too high. No words can stretch far enough to do it justice. Which is where this book excels: it doesn't try to. It quietly tells the story of one girl and that's all. Occasionally there are facts about recognizable events from the war in the narrative: the bombing of Dresden, the liberation of the Treblinka concentration camp, the bombing of Hiroshima, but overall the narrative focuses firmly on the domestic and the interior. Something we can all relate to and process.
Forced from their comfortable home, Christa and her family are made refugees. They are homeless and at the mercy of those around them. Their mother's Prussian pride takes a beating, their stomachs are left empty and they endure the heartbreak of having to constantly say auf Wiedersehen to those they hold dear. Yet, through it all, their spirit triumphs - particularly Christa's. Her effervescent personality and headlong enthusiasm for life beams out from the pages as she falls in 'love' with one boy after the next, puts on puppet shows with new-found friends and prays fervently to God to get her out of attending school.
This book is a quick, yet satisfying read. I read it all on the evening that I received it and enjoyed every last page. If there were anything to criticize about this book, however, it would have to be its length. I got to the final pages and wanted to know more - it seemed that there could be so much more said and explored. What happened next? How did they cope with the next set of new circumstances? At 142 pages, there was certainly room for more story. Having said that, the 142 pages that we do get are very good. Holder Ocker writes beautifully and the character of her younger self is engaging and loveable. I'd recommend this book to anyone who is interested in WWII, loves memoirs or simply enjoys a good, well-written yarn from teenaged readers through to adults. You won't be disappointed.