A Critique of German Boy: A Child in War Essay
A Critique of
German Boy: A Child in War
Much has been said about World War II and how it has affected the lives of countless Jews. But very seldom do we hear or read about stories on Germans and how the fall of the Third Reich has affected their lives.
German Boy: A Child in War does just that. The boy and his mother must prevail over hunger and despair, or die. In this gripping account a boy and his mother are wrenched from their tranquil lives to forge a path through the storm of war and the rubble of its aftermath. The fact that the story is being told from the perspective of a ten-year-old, this book is rare and interesting. And this is what gripped me from the beginning of the book.
As the Third Reich crumbled in 1945, scores of Germans scrambled to flee the advancing Russian troops. Among them was a little boy named Wolfgang Samuel, who left his home with his mother and sister and ended up in war-torn Strasbourg before being forced farther west into a disease-ridden refugee camp. German Boy is the vivid, true story of their fight for survival as the tables of power turned and, for reasons Wolfgang was too young to understand, his broken family suffered arbitrary arrest, rape, hunger, and constant fear.
In the Third Reich young Wolfgang Samuel and his family are content but alone. The father, a Luftwaffe officer, is away fighting the Allies in the West. In 1945 as Berlin and nearby communities crumble, young Wolfgang, his mother Hedy, and little sister Ingrid flee the advancing Russian army. They have no inkling of the chaos ahead. In Strasburg, a small town north of Berlin where they find refuge, Wolfgang begins to comprehend the evils the Nazi regime brought to Germany. As the Reich collapses, mother, son, and daughter flee again just ahead of the Russian charge.
In the chaos of defeat they struggle to find food and shelter. Death stalks the primitive camps that are their temporary havens, and the child becomes the family provider. Under the crushing responsibility, Wolfgang becomes his mother’s and sister’s mainstay. When they return to Strasburg, the Communists in control are as brutal as the Nazis. Despite his best efforts, his mother still found herself forced to do the unthinkable to survive, and her sacrifices became Wolfgang’s worst nightmares.
Somehow, with the resilience only children can muster, he maintained his youth and innocence in little ways–making friends with other young refugees, playing games with shrapnel, delighting in the planes flown by the Americans and the candies the GIs brought.
This is the story of how a mother and her young boy who finds ways to survive the aftermath of the war. In the violent atmosphere of arbitrary arrest, rape, hunger, and fear, the boy and his mother persist. Pursued by Communist police through a fierce blizzard, they escape to the West, but even in the English zone, the constant search for food, warmth, and shelter dominates their lives, and the mother’s sacrifices become the boy’s nightmares.
I have to say that there is a certain poignancy in this book that makes it very memorable for me. The fact that I was able to live a normal childhood makes it very difficult for me to even begin to comprehend the kind of life that the author and his mother had after the collapse of the Third Reich.
It seemed to me that Anne Frank is the representation of the children that were affected by the Second World War. After reading her story, it was almost inconceivable that German children like Wolfgang Samuel underwent almost the same fate as Anne Frank. And just like many of us, we have been made aware of the horrors of Auschwitz but we seldom hear the stories of people on the other side of the spectrum. It was difficult, indeed, for someone like me to believe or even contemplate on the life of Wolfgang Samuel and his family.
What is also interesting for me is the evolution of the relationship between mother and child as the story progressed. Although the author had earlier viewed his mother as self-centered and unloving, he describes how his image of her changed during their years on the run, when he saw her make heroic efforts to keep her children alive. Attractive to men and clever, Hedy used her wits and charm, exchanging sex for food for her children. Their situation improved after the author’s father found them and managed their transportation to a barracks in the American zone. Samuel’s parents divorced and, in 1950, Hedy married a U.S. Army sergeant. The author moved with them to the U.S., where he completed his education and began a 30-year career in the air force.
University Press of Mississippi (2006): German Boy
Available at: http://www.upress.state.ms.us/catalog/fall2000/german_boy.html
[cited on December 12, 2006]