Sunday 6 July 2014

Read in 2014 - 22: Heimkehr und Neuanfang

The third and last part of Hieronymus Hirschle's memoirs covers the years 1946 to 1960 and is, once more, not just an account of one family's life, probably not unlike that of many other families, but also gives a good idea of what it was like to live in Germany after the war, with all the political, economical and social develolpments.

If you are interested, my reviews of the first two books are here and here.

Hieronymus ("Mus") is back home with his parents, and a little lost as to what to do with his life now. He is still a young man of 25, and is actually hoping for a possibility to enter university, but it is not to be, much to his disappointment.
While he was a PoW in Canada, the promise was that prisoners who worked hard would be released sooner - that promise was not kept, and Mus now learns of former comrades who used the time in prison camps for studying and that time now counts as if it was spent at uni. He is deeply disappointed by the treatment he and all the other young men who fought for what they thought was a good cause receive; not just by the government, but also by the general public.
During his war and PoW years, he has turned into a pacifist and can not believe it when Germany is setting up an army again, only a few years after the war. He feels the unfairness of the "Währungsreform" (currency reform; the Deutsche Mark, or D-Mark, was introduced in 1948, and every man, woman and child received the exact same amount of money to get them started. But of course those manufcaturers and retailers who had been hoarding goods, waiting for the economy to get into less troubled waters again, had a huge advantage, and many became very rich in those first few years after the Währungsreform) and unjust treatment at work, where those who suck up to the bosses, frequenting the same church on Sundays, are given the jobs with better working hours and even find themselves high on the list for newly built houses.

Mus does not want to suck up to anyone, and he does not mind hard work; he has been used to that all his life. But he does want to spend time with his young wife and their little son, and most of all he wants for them to live together in a proper flat: for the first years of their marriage, he still lives in Stuttgart at the home for single men provided by his employer, while his wife and baby son live with her mother in Ellwangen, a train ride of nearly two hours away.
What to do on weekends and days off? Mus is torn between the needs of house hunting and seeing his family, and I am sure those were difficult times for them all.

Eventually, a flat is found, and as time goes by and a little girl is born and all the family is healthy and happy, Mus founds happiness in his private life, although never being entirely happy with how his professional life never really got off the ground and none of the dreams of his youth in that respect come true.

As in the other books, the author is very frank and does not shy away from talking about the brief but intense love affairs he had prior to his marriage, or the tricks he was up to in the time right after the war to merely survive (and help others to do the same). He is involved in the smuggling of groceries, an occupation many people found necessary to get hold of even the most basic things such as flour and eggs. To quote from the book,

Ein paar Eier und etwas Mehl genügten 1948, um einen ganz gewöhnlichen Werktag zu einem Fest werden zu lassen. Leider haben wir alle diese Tatsache nur allzu schnell wieder vergessen.

("A few eggs and some flour in 1948 were enough to turn an ordinary day into a celebration. We have sadly forgotten this fact way too quickly.")

I very much liked the accounts of the years when Mus and his wife and children were enjoying happier times in their new, modern flat in Stuttgart. The descriptions of their daily life and of special occasions such as birthdays, carnival and Christmas are like browsing a family album - even without the pictures. For the author's children, Angelika Schneider (née Hirschle) and Ulrich Hirschle, it must have been very touching to read their father's memoirs. Together, they had the books published, and I recommend them to anyone who can read German - especially if there is some affinity with the places mentioned, such as Stuttgart, Ellwangen, Hohenberg and others.
I am actually a bit sad that I can not accompany "Mus" any further. He died in 1985, and it would have been interesting to read his account of the years after 1960, with my own memories of the 1970s and early 1980s to compare.


  1. I found your book review interesting. In England - as I am sure you have preciously discovered - we have a perception that Germany swept memories of World War II under the carpet or locked them in a secret cupboard under the stairs - whereas in our country even seventy years after the event you are never far away from written memoirs, dramas, interviews, poems, films about that awful conflict. Good to know that Hieronymus Hirschle at least found a way to shine a human light upon what happened and the consequences.

    1. This is odd - nobody who has lived in Germany even for a short time can escape the German obsession with their own dreadful history of the Third Reich and WWII. I wonder how the English perception of us keeping it all in a secret cupboard has come about?
      Just to give you an example: At German schools, there comes a time in the lives of all students when you get flooded with Third Reich and WWII in nearly all subjects. In German, you read short stories by authors who survived the war or suffered Nazi persecution. In history, you learn - well, the history, of course; dates and places and timelines etc. In what is called Gemeinschaftskunde (that would be something like socio-political studies, I guess) your teacher goes on endlessly about how it was possible that from a multi-party government the political landscape turned into a huge one-man-show. In religious education, of course you learn about the sad role the churches have played, but also about the courageous acts of individuals. In short - there is no way a young person can grow up in Germany and NOT hear, read and learn about the infamous role this country has played, and is never allowed to forget (and should not forget).

    2. Ask your mother about this, Meike....I have a memory, from conversation with my German sil, (born as I was in '45) that for the first ten or even 15 years after the war, not so much was taught in schools, etc. But once they began, it did become an obsession. And still is. Probably almost too much is taught about that era now. One should never forget, but there are a lot of other things which happened in the world.

    3. If I remember correctly, my Mum said that for them, history lessons ended shortly after WWI and nothing was said about the Nazi regime.
      And you are right about the "too much" - during that time at school when you hear about it from all sides, you tend to get fed up with the whole thing. It can have the opposite effect of what they want to achieve.

    4. You are right: When I went to school (I am born 1944), German history ended in the year 1933 and began only in 1945! The reason was, that we had a lot of old teachers, who were involved themselves in Hitler's regime. We had one young teacher, she told us about this time, let us hear Hitlers horrible speaches, but she was not estimated at our school, so she had to leave! In the meantime, she wrote very interesting books about those times, I have got them all, signed by herself for me. Maybe Meike will read one and write a review in her blog.
      I think, to silence about the holocaust is as bad as to overdo, because it could come to the opposit.
      It's for sure, that when anybody is using a symbol or words from National-Socialisme, one will et punished immediately, and I think, that is o.k.

  2. Perhaps his children would be willing to share their memories of their father in those years. It wouldn't be the same, but it could still give an idea of how his early story played out in the remainder of his life.

    1. That's a good idea! I'd love to get in touch with the "children", just like I have managed to get in touch with Ruth Ozan, her daughter and one of her nieces.

  3. I believe I enjoy the memoirs of an "ordinary" person to those of Kings and Queens and celebrities of any sort. These sound very interesting and though Mus never achieved what he had once dreamed of doing, he made a happy life for himself and his family. Did you ever read The Ark or Rowan Farm by Margot Benary Isbert? I believe they were first written in German. The are fiction, perhaps for young adults, but provide a fascinating picture of the first years at the end of the war......

    1. Kristi, I've read and loved the books you have mentioned! They are very good, aren't they. Yes, I think you are right, they were originally written in German, which is how I read them a long time ago, I was still a Gymnasium (high school) student back then.