Book Review: Surviving The Fatherland by Annette Oppenlander

If nearly all of your relatives in Europe died in massacres and concentration camps your natural reaction when reading of the suffering of Germans during and after World War Two, might reasonably be “As ye sow, so shall ye reap.”

Looking at these events from a broader perspective, however, one sees that Germans were also victims of their own monstrous regime. Surviving the Fatherland tells the story of World War Two from the point of view of two children who lived in Solingen, a town that was heavily bombed by the allies during the war. Lily sees her father go off to the war, leaving her, her mother and her young brother in poverty. She idolizes her father, while her mother is a neurotic woman who makes no secret of the fact that she loves her son far more than her daughter.  Later she is shocked to learn that her father could have gotten a deferment but volunteered to go. Gunter’s father was drafted, and toward the end of the war, his brother was as well. By the end of the war, he realizes the madness of it all and takes extraordinary measures to avoid conscription. In the end, Lily learns how to be a good mother from observing her own mother’s failings, and Germany learns how to be a good country from the pain of their experiences.

Surviving the Fatherland tells the stories of these two families in great detail and stands as one of the best World War Two memoirs I have read. It is fictional but based heavily on the experiences of the author’s parents.

In the large picture, this grim story should give the reader hope. Germany emerged from this trauma to become an exemplar of freedom and democracy. They have faced up to their dreadful past and now handle their social problems in a rational manner, providing healthcare and higher education to their citizens and providing a high standard of living, while the U.S. is, increasingly, a failed state. Their leader, Angela Merkel, is presently considered the leader of the free world, while the present leader of the United States is definitely not. Germany learned the hard way, and the United States will learn the hard way.


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