Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Dorchen: A Childhood Lost in War-Torn Germany

About the book
Dorthea Maria Dietrich ("Dorchen" to her family) was just a child of eleven when Germany declared war on Poland in September 1939. She was an ordinary German schoolgirl from an average family thrust into the extraordinary circumstances of war. Her memoir vividly describes the price she, her family, and all the German people paid for Hitler's ambition. Relived through her memories, it is truly a story of childhood innocence lost, but also of survival through grit and courage. She endured air raids, bomb shelters, military training, capture, imprisonment, rape and harrowing escape. The author has created a razor-sharp, clear-eyed and tense narrative about her life during this frightening time, as well as the story of her early struggles as a German war bride settling into a new life in America. This is Dorchen, and she is a remarkable woman.

My thoughts
This book was recommended to me by the Historical Novel Society on Facebook. I asked the members to recommend a WWII memoir written by one of the Germans. There are numerous memoirs by the Holocaust survivors that are widely publicized and discussed. Until recently, it seemed almost distasteful to talk about the experiences of German children who found their lives turned upside down. Anne Frank's diary is still considered one of the monumental accounts that overshadows all others. In fact, I had a few fellow Russians sneer and say, "Who cares about the experiences of a girl from the Hitler Youth?" Personally, I don't like to sneer at anyone's experience. I don't believe that there is such thing as a "secondary experience". I was grateful for the opportunity to see WWII through the eyes of an ordinary German girl, feel her confusion and ambivalence as she was forced to make gut-wrenching choices. I really hope that those who read this book do so without prejudice or grudges. Try not to roll your eyes when Dorchen describes unfortunate events (like having family dogs put down) that seem trivial in the scheme of a global tragedy but nevertheless are extremely traumatic to a child. For a schoolgirl who had never seen a concentration camp, it must have been horrifying to see her father take her beloved dogs into the woods to be shot and buried. It takes her father quite a bit of effort to assure her that she is not next on the list to be shot. That was just one of her first run ins with the war. After experiencing hunger and anxiety, after losing several family members, she goes on to join the army against her parents' wishes and proves herself a rather incompetent soldier. Luckily, she never sees actual combat - the war ends. Yet Dorchen's misfortunes are far from over as she finds herself captured by the Allies. The narrative style is very simple, candid, unembellished. She conveys her feelings without any unnecessary adjectives. Her memoir is a very humbling and eye-opening read for those interested in the German youth experience. 

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