May 17, 2005

Summer Beach Reading: Children and Nazi Germany

Hm. It's not fashion week anymore.

Nicolas Stargardt's book, Witnesses of War, looks at the lives of children under the Nazis in WWII, Germans (Aryan and non-), Poles, Jews. It's a complicated and brutal subject, one that has been wilfully overlooked, sugarcoated, or denied for decades, apparently. Jewish children in ghettos played roundup and fought over who got to be the SS. German children were coddled and protected from the rigors of war, while eagerly supporting the Nazis' genocidal activities.

Making sense of how children who grow up knowing nothing but war, says reviewer Prof. David Cesarani, "requires seeing individual experiences 'within an overarching system of power". [Stargardt's] great achievement is to touch us with the experiences of all these children, while never letting us fall into 'facile moral and political equivalences between all the groups of people who suffered in the war and the Holocaust'".

It's messy and bleak in parts, Cesarani says, but "his concluding chapters contain some of the best historical writing about the after- math of war that I have ever read."

Hitler's Children [guardian books, via tmftml]
Pre-order Witnesses of War: Children's Lives Under the Nazis at Amazon US [amazon.com]

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