Wednesday, 23 April 2014

Read in 2014 - 14: Jugend zwischen den Kriegen

„Jugend zwischen den Kriegen“ means „Youth Between the Wars“, and that is exactly what this book is about.

Its author, Hieronymus Hirschle, never set out to become an author, and his writing style is charmingly simple, as if he had just wanted to put everything he remembers of his childhood and youth into writing – which is what he did. His written memoirs were found by his daughter after his death, and published in three volumes. This one, dealing with the years 1921 to 1941, is the first.

Hirschle is a Swabian surname and literally means „little stag“. Hieronymus is an oldfashioned Catholic name, the name of a Saint, and its young bearer never really grew to like it; he always had to spell it out for people in order for them to write it correctly, and he much preferred simply being called „Mus“ by his school friends. 

The Hirschle family lived near the village where my Uncle lives, the same Uncle who gave my Mum the book by Ruth Ozan, which I have posted about here. A close relative of Mrs. Ozan’s used to live across the road from my Uncle, until she died a very old lady some time ago. Ever since my Uncle bought a house in the village, he has developed a keen interest in local history. „Jugend zwischen den Kriegen“ deals not just with Mr. Hirschle’s personal history, but also reflects the situation of the village and its inhabitants in those years, as well as the wider picture of what was going on in Germany. As my family and I know the village from many visits to my Uncle and Aunt, we were interested in reading this book as well as the one by Ruth Ozan.

When Hieronymus is born into a modest farming family, the youngest of five children, the event is described as not being much different to the birth of a calf or a piglet. No fuss is made, it is a joyful event, but just normal day-to-day business on a farm. Nonetheless, the Hirschles are a loving, close-knit family; how much the parents love each other and their children is brought home poignantly to little „Mus“ when one of his older brothers dies at the age of 12, and he finds his mother weeping harder and more bitterly than he has ever seen before.

Growing up on a farm in the 1920s meant a lot of hard physical work, rising before dawn, but nobody wasted a thought about it – it was just normal life for them. They were poor, but did not walk hungry because the farm yielded enough to feed the family. And Hieronymus‘ mother took her faith seriously; she considered it her Christian duty to really love all men and treat them as equal, helping those who were poorer than herself with food. She stood up against injustice when she witnessed it, and never stopped buying from Jewish merchants when Germans were discouraged from entering Jewish shops. She taught her children many a lesson in altruism, and had the deep love and respect of them all. In fact, the love for his mother is central to Hieronymus‘ life, and extends to his home village, to „his“ woods and fields, paths and trees, flowers and animals. He is a patriot in the best sense of the word, and does not understand how his noble sense of belonging and his love for his Heimat (there is no real equivalent to this word in English, I think) is abused by the Nazis and turned into something utterly wrong. He has learned from his parents, and feels in his heart, that it is wrong to act against others simply because they have a different background, come from a different country, speak a different language or look different, but he still joins the army as a volunteer, thinking that it is his duty to defend his beloved Vaterland.
It does not take him long to understand that there is nothing really glorious about the war, but it is just when he begins his life as a soldier when this first book ends.

To read how farming folk, villagers and small town residents used to live in the 1920s and 1930s, described not by some historian, but as the vivid memories of a boy who was there, was something I enjoyed very much. There are many touching scenes and thoughts expressed in the book, and I keep thinking of this and that, recalling what I have read. 

The second volume will mainly speak about the war, and how Hieronymus Hirschle ended up as a Prisoner of War, which I am sure will not make for such idyllic scenes as the first part of the trilogy. But I am looking forward to reading it, because I am sure that „Mus“ will not have lost his belief that there is some good in everyone, and something to be learned from every situation.

18 comments:

  1. Your review of the book will surely lead others to read it. Even as a child, I loved reading autobiographies. Reading them led me to have heroines such as Jane Addams Hull of Chicago.

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    1. In this case, I doubt many will read this book because of my review - to my knowledge, it has not been translated in English and is only available in German, and I have very few German-speaking readers.
      Yes, autobiographies are special, I enjoy them, too. Right now, I am reading another one, this time of Chris Hadfield, Canadian astronaut.

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  2. My Sweetie and Brother-in-Law, The Mouth, both have a deep interest in the history of this era, so i will look into getting this one as a gift for them.

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    1. Do they read German? Otherwise, this book won't be of use to them; it is only available in German, as far as I know.
      What an unusual nickname for your Brother-in-Law, I wonder how he got that :-)

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  3. I know I would love this book very much! Of course, I would have to read it in English as I cannot speak or read German! I find that the descriptions of farm life in the 20's and 30's are very much what my Dad has told me of his childhood here in Georgia. My Dad had problems getting a copy of his birth certificate as an adult as the state of Georgia had his date of birth several days after the date that have been told was his birthdate of April 24th!! Luckily, the US Army had his correct date of birth, so that was how it was finally resolved and he was able to get his birth certificate! (Dad says that being born in April, it would have been busy planting time, and the birth might have been delayed being recorded, he was born at home.)

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    1. Dear Kay, I am sure you'd love this book, but it is not available in English (at least not to my knowledge). The way the average farming family lived was probably relatively similar in many parts of the world in those days; it were tough times with the wold economy in crisis (which of course made it much easier for the Nazis to rise to power). The biggest difference between growing up on a farm in Georgia and in the Swabian countryside was probably space - there is just so much more space in the US, and distances between one place and the next are so much bigger than over here.

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  4. I hope they will translate this into English some time. I would be so interested in reading it, but I am pretty sure my German is not up to the task....When I was a little girl we used to visit my grandfather's brothers who had small farms in western Michigan. Even in the late 40s and early 50s it was rather a different world! But as a child I loved it!

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    1. I am sure you'd like it, Kristi, but you really should only tackle it in German if your grasp of the language is rather firm. There is a lot of local dialect in the book as well, which would make it challenging in parts for non-Swabians.
      When I was little, we spent many a holiday in an ancient farm house in rural France, and played with the neighbouring farm's children. Their life was very different from our own, too, but we loved it!

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  5. Hello Meike:

    This sounds absolutely fascinating and were it to be available in English, which we know not to be the case, this is something which would certainly find a place on our book list. It is always of interest to us to learn what everyday life was like for those 'ordinary' families who grew up and lived in Germany during the years which saw the rise of Nazism.

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    1. Hello Jane and Lance,
      I was really sorry when the book ended and I am glad that I now have volumes II and III on my "to be read"-shelf. Maybe one of the most touching scenes for me was when "Mus" had to say good-bye to the beloved farm dog for the last time, when he left the farm to start life as a soldier, and the dog was so very sad to see his friend go away.

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  6. It sounds really interesting. You are right, it's so much better to read books in their original language. I can manage with French, but when I read the Russian ones, it's pretty tough, because I studied it many years ago.

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    1. French is too much a challenge for me; I suppose I'd manage (easy) Italian, but there are only a few words in Russian I know, and can't read the entire Cyrillic alphabet.

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  7. You have reminded me that I really must buy and watch "Heimat" again.

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    1. I seem to remember that you and I have been talking about "Heimat" before, Graham. It's been so long since I watched the series on TV and read the book. I wonder what the actor's voices are like in English, and what they have done to transport the idea of the village folk talking in Hunsrück dialect.

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    2. We have discussed it before Meike. I put on my Amazon Wish List to remind me and it's now dropped in price so I shall get it when I get home. It will probably be a winter watch though. There was no dubbing into English. There are sub-titles. That was one of the things I liked because it sounded 'authentic' and I had to concentrate. I just hope that I like it as much as I did the first time. I think it was one of the most-watched TV programmes when it was first shown in the UK.

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    3. Subtittles is much better than dubbing. I wish they'd do that more often with films and series here. It surprises me that it was so popular in the UK, I never even thought it would be interesting to anyone outside Germany.

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    4. I not only remember its popularity (we were glued to it) but the Amazon.UK site has this to say "Five years in the making, Heimat is one of the most compelling and highly praised dramas in television history. This epic tale of a family and their rural life in a small German village is told against the changing backdrop of a country's turbulent history from 1919 to 1982. From the aftermath of the First World War, economic hardship, the rise and fall of Nazism, the Second World War and the decades that followed, life in the village goes on and the values and aspirations of the people at its heart are wonderfully brought to life in this gripping saga of an ordinary family living through extraordinary times. Edgar Reitz's astonishing 15-hour masterpiece appeared in 6th place when BBC2 ran a 40th birthday poll celebrating the station's greatest programmes and was 10th in Channel 4's 50 Greatest TV Dramas. It has captivated audiences all over the world and will continue to be hailed as one of television's most rewarding and unforgettable experiences."

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  8. Ruth S. Ozan4 July 2014 16:30

    Jugend Zwischen Den Kriegen...Is very tempting to me. As you know, I am somewhat familiar with the area and do read and understand German and most of the Schwaebisch ...in every day conversation. My own 'production' of German has decreased over the years since I am old as well as completely 'out of practice' . The few people I communicate with here in Florida have been here for years and speak English more easily than long-remembered German...which young people during my last visit in Germany described as "Alt Deutsch". I'd like to get a copy of the book and TRY to translate it into English. (I have University degrees and taught both languages during some 26 years here and there) So...let's see

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