BY HARTMUT WEGNER ‧ RELEASE DATE: FEB. 12, 2020
A German-born American citizen reflects on his upbringing during World War II as well as his later life as an immigrant in the United States.
In a dry, practical voice, Wegner begins with a frank admission that he’s not a professional author but that he’s purposefully eschewed using a ghostwriter because he prefers to speak in his own words. He then offers a harrowing account of the 1945 Soviet invasion of Berlin, during which he witnessed his sister’s rape at the hands of Russian soldiers. Much of the book’s first half maintains a precarious balance between the author’s everyday memories of childhood and recollections of the stark brutality of war. Wegner unflinchingly describes murders, prison marches, and air raids as well as his and his family’s daily struggles. Occasionally, he muses in a detached tone on how quickly Germans acclimated to their conditions as well as how easily power imbalances gave way to atrocities. In several sections, the author specifically attempts to emulate Herman Wouk’s works, discussing the historical context surrounding Adolf Hitler, the war, and the United States’ involvement in it. These sections are somewhat informative but often fairly simplistic and full of conjecture that feels out of place; they also slow the narrative momentum. The second half summarizes Wegner’s adolescence in postwar Berlin and eventual immigration to America. Throughout, Wegner breezes through segments that more seasoned memoirists might have explored more deeply, and he doesn’t dwell much on the internal lives of the people around him. Still, Wegner’s lived experience is one worth sharing, as few are present to recall it.A sobering, if not always enthralling, glimpse into everyday realities of the Second World War.