Books, Non-Fiction, World War II

Book Review – Between Two Homelands

A collection of letters assembled by Hedda Kalshoven, daughter of Irmgard Gebensleben, these letters span vital decades preceding start of the The Third Reich, and the time immediately following the fall of Hitler’s regime.  Irmgard was a young girl of thirteen in 1920, when she was sent to The Netherlands on a “war-children transport” to a foster family.  This ended up being the most important relationship in her life, as her foster family stayed in touch throughout her teenage years, even sending her an allowance when German money became overinflated and worthless.  As a young adult, Irmgard married their son, August, and moved to The Netherlands permanently.  However, she remained in close contact with her (actual) German family, which is represented in these numerous letters.  The letters span from homey, loving anecdotes about daily life to political information about the Weimar Republic and Hitler’s rise to power.  Irmgard’s father was a lower level bureaucrat in the NSDAP, in their hometown of Braunschweig.  Her mother was something of a socialite, who followed Hitler faithfully, joining many Nazi organizations, for the good of the Fatherland.  Irmgard’s brother, Eberhard, served in the military, who, unfortunately for him, fell in love with a Mischling of the second degree, Herta, who was one-quarter Jewish, having one Jewish grandmother.  Sadly, when petitioned to marry her, it was denied, and his standing in the NSDAP was called into question.

The forward was a bit long, but the letters were interesting, as it gives a side rarely seen in books dealing with Germany during World War II.  There are very few mentions of the Holocaust, although the few mentions there are of Jews, are not favorable, from the family members who supported Hitler (other than Eberhard).  These letters highlight the hardships Germans suffered through after the hated Versailles Treaty and during the Weimar Republic.  This was all turned around once Hitler finagled his way into a top spot in the government, and suddenly all was goodness and light in Germany.  This was not an attitude restricted to the Gebenslebens, most Germans who supported Hitler revered him as the savior of the Fatherland.  And indeed, he did manage to turn things around for a while, as is supported in the correspondence between Irmgard and her mother and grandmother.  She also corresponded with her foster parents, brother, father, some cousins, and several family friends.  Irmgard’s attitude, since she lived in Holland, was quite different than that of her family, and a few letters are slightly tense.  There are also journal entries from Irmgard, Eberhard, and Irmgard’s eldest child, Hedda.  As Hitler’s regime led to World War II, the glowing letters of affluence in Germany became grimmer and grimmer, as things fell apart in The Third Reich.  There were some interesting factoids I had not really read elsewhere, such as the One-Pot Sundays Germans were expected to prepare.

Great book, especially if you are interested in this period of history.  I received this as  Netgalley pre-release, and it will not be available until June 29, 2014.  It is available for pre-order now on Amazon, however.

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