BOOKS: by Michael Daniel (reviewer)News Weekly
'GERMAN BOY: A Child in War', by Wolfgang W.E. Samuel
, June 1, 2002
GERMAN BOY: A Child in War
by Wolfgang W.E. SamuelHodder and Stoughton
Available from News Weekly Books for $24.95 (plus p&h)Wolfgang Samuel's account of his childhood is extremely engaging, to the point where it is hard to put down. The narrative begins in early 1945 when Wolfgang's mother is urged by a Lieutenant to flee their home in Sagan in the wake of the impending Russian advance.
After a brief stop in Berlin, Wolfgang, his mother and sister then flee to Strasbourg, where his maternal grandparents lived. They finally flee further west from the Russians as the war ends.
Samuel paints a vivid picture of Nazi Germany in its final days: relentless bombing raids by the Allies, fear of falling into the hands of the Russians, delays with a transport infrastructure on the point of collapse and soldiers trying to desert or surrender to the Americans and British.Victory
While many realise that Germany has lost the war, some, including teenagers, tenaciously cling to the belief that victory for Germany is just around the corner. Thus, Samuel is forced to join a Nazi youth group and collect propaganda pamphlets dropped by the allies.
When the war ends, the family are temporarily in an area controlled by the Americans, which then reverts to Russian control.
They return to Strasbourg, only to find the grandparents' house burnt out. Finding alternative accommodation, the family endure incredible privation.
Not only does the mother do the unspeakable to keep her children from starving, but they must survive in an atmosphere where Soviet soldiers and their sympathisers, round up and punish anyone they think was connected with the Nazis.
Thus, Wolfgang's grandfather is arrested because he beat Russian prisoners towards the end of the war with the family learning later that he died an agonising death.
One of the most suspenseful points of the narrative occurs when Wolfgang's father, a former Luftwaffe Captain, appears to take his family out of the Russian zone. Within a couple of hours of his arrival, the family are forced to flee, fearing that his presence has been detected by an informer. After elaborate subterfuge, their bid to escape is successful.
While the family experiences freedom in the Western zone and Wolfgang is able to continue his education there, the family faces a bleak economic future, living in substandard accommodation in former barracks,with food still hard to obtain and clothing virtually unobtainable.
Although a German, Wolfgang and other refugees are regarded as outsiders and trapped in such conditions. However, the establishment of a stable currency aids the people immensely.
The latter sections of German Boy
discuss Wolfgang's mother's growing relationship with an American sergeant, Leo Ferguson, which culminates in their marriage. The work ends with their emigration to America.German Boy
is a moving account of the experience of the plight of the German people, most of whom, particularly women and children, were innocent of war crimes, in the wake of Germany's collapse and the destruction wrought upon her, particularly towards the end.
The Samuels can be said to be representatives of over 14 million German people who struggled to survive as refugees, whose plight has often been overlooked in the West.