Last year and now this year, I have been reading a lot of books about the Holocaust. My husband, ever the anthropologist, always wants to know about the German side. What did the Germans feel? Not the Nazis, but the average German citizen. What did they know? What did they think?
To try to answer this, we watched the movie, Hitler’s Children. This powerful documentary interviews the children of Hitler’s top officers. The guilt many of them feel is palpable, even though their parents were the guilty ones, not them.
Uwe Timm, who was born in 1940 and was just a small boy during World War II, wrote the book, In My Brother’s Shadow: A Life and Death in the SS to learn more about his brother’s own experience as a German soldier. (His father was also a German soldier in World War I and II.) Unfortunately, by the end of the book, Timm seems to have more questions than answers.
Timm’s brother, Karl-Heinz, was 16 years older than him; his sister, Hanne Lore, 18 years older. Out of respect, Timm waited to write this book until all the members of his family–his mother, father, brother and sister–had died.
Karl-Heinz died in 1943, after suffering injuries in the war that required both of his legs to be amputated. His family never got true answers of how he died; in letters he seemed like he was on the mend after the amputation. What the family did get were Karl-Heinz’s belongings, including a diary he wasn’t supposed to have kept.
Written in brief sentences and words, with very little emotion, the diary seems to just create more questions for Timm rather than answers.
In the end, this book was most interesting for me at the personal level. Timm’s father was a difficult man who had a very close relationship with his oldest son, but had no interest in his only daughter. He and Timm had a difficult relationship. In later years, Timm’s father turned into an alcoholic.
Timm spends time examining what his family knew about what was happening to the Jews as well as the possible blood that may be on his own father and brother’s hands. Timm himself continues to feel the guilt, though he was only a small boy at the time.
History buffs will appreciate the middle of the book which delves heavily into German battles, strategies, and failures.
I give this book a 3.5 out of 5 stars on the Mom’s Plans’ scale.