7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
I really enjoyed this book, and found it as compelling read a read as fiction. I often lose interest in non-fiction after a while, but this was a fascinating story. There is so much information available about the British and the allies in the second world war, that it makes a change to read about it from the German perspective. Having said that, Wolfram's family certainly was not a typical German family, and they resisted the rise of Hitler as much as they could, unlike other people from their town who embraced the ideology wholeheartedly. Wolfram's experience of war was a harrowing one that he was very lucky to survive, as the Nazi war machine began to come off the rails in the latter part of WW2.
10 of 12 people found the following review helpful
Wikipedia confirms Wolfram Aichele as a Bavarian "internationally acclaimed artist" with reference to many exhibitions and paintings in collections throughout the world. Wikipedia also confirms Englishman Giles Milton as a best-selling author "who specializes in the history of exploration" with books published in numerous languages world-wide. He married a daughter of Wolfram Aichele and for some time was unaware of his father-in-law's extraordinary wartime experiences. After family meetings and some 60 hours of recorded interviews, plus information from letters, diaries etc., from communications with neighbours and contemporaries, and other research Giles Milton wrote `Wolfram' as a true story of the build up of the Third Reich and execution of the Second World War from a German perspective.
It must be acknowledged that details of how Hitler came to power and how the Nazi regime infiltrated society and ruled the German population are presented in factual manner, and the devastating destruction of Wolfram's home town, Pforzheim, in an RAF incendiary bombing raid is authentically recalled. However the main thrust of the book `Wolfram' is the telling of Wolfram's experiences of boyhood, Hitler Youth, conscription to the military, service in the Crimea and in Normandy, prisoner of war, and return home, together with commentaries on artistic influences and personal ambitions. This true story is like fiction and it provides an emotional and compelling read at a pitch that far exceeds many novels. Yet `Wolfram' cannot avoid being a statement on the plight of `ordinary' Germans under the Nazis, and from this angle it is prudent to query influences from the close relationship between German subject and son-in-law author. Has Giles Milton glossed over events in acceptance that Wolfram and his family did not discover the full horror of Nazi atrocities and the nightmare of extermination camps etc. until the war ended? Surely the destruction of Jewish properties, the deportation of Jews, book-burning, suicides of local doctor and wife, etc. should have made them more aware and challenging. Whatever the readers' views on this being realistic or reasonable the book `Wolfram' remains as an intriguing and important historical commentary.
on 12 December 2011
It must have been a sweet day indeed when Giles Milton, the author of several excellent and painstakingly researched narrative histories, realised he had a book to write from within his own family. The titular Wolfram is his father in law, who served in the Second World War as a part of the Nazi war machine.
This is the story of the most enormous event of the last century whittled down to the viewpoint of several families living in and around a town called Pforzheim. The idyllic, if financially stretched, 1920's rather rapidly give way to the rise and eventual empowerment of Hitler; and indeed, the changes that insidiously creep into every day life as a result form an early highlight of this book. Pforzheim was a small town, certainly no great industrial centre, and it is fascinating to read how, even here, no single citizen would remain untouched by the regime.
Surprisingly, Wolfram's war was actually not as dramatic as the book's title and cover would suggest, for he would see little action himself for a variety of reasons. The real tragedy of this particular tale is the civilian horror of the Allied bombing; although clearly not as famous as Dresden, Pforzheim would be similarly turned to rubble, and Milton describes the event with the same heartbreaking clarity that made his book on Smyrna so affecting.
Nevertheless, 'Wolfram' is not without its issues. Whilst singling out individuals for whom the Nazi Party held little attraction, it nevertheless skirts around the uncomfortable opposite....that for an enormous number of people, the regime held a tremendous attraction, even in the face of pogroms, book-burnings and Fuhrer worship. Perhaps this is a psychological history worthy of its own book, but its omission here seems disingenuous.
Secondly, as a history of the war era it is extremely sketchy. This may not have been Milton's personal mandate admittedly, but those who have enthused over his earlier works (myself included), will find this a very slight, almost essay-like treatment and can be finished in a couple of sittings. No mention is made of The Nazi-Soviet Pact at all, nor of any grass-roots reactions once Hitler decided to betray it and invade Russia. Both of these events would have had an enormous impact upon German families, and yet the first we hear of the Eastern front it is already well under way. Also, the Dutch Communist Van Der Lubbe is here matter of factly implicated as the lone arsonist who torched the Reichstag, which has always been the Nazi Party's explanation; and one that, down the years, has always been held deeply in contention.
However, the book as a whole is a highly readable and touching account and, in a similar sense to Letters From Iwo Jima, manages largely successfully to flip the World War on its head. For this reason alone, in the name of understanding conflict from all sides, it deserves to be read.
I am sure that as well as the extremes of good and evil under the Third Reich there was every shade of grey as well as the banal. Much of the population probably had little opportunity but to go about whatever existence was imposed upon them. I also accept that no account can be unbiased because we all have selective perception and can, unconsciously, edit the past.
However, I couldn't get past the concern that this account of a child growing into an adult under the Third Reich might have been partial. Writing about a member of one's wider family (in this case Giles' father in law) provides the potential for inadvertent filtering of the picture at several levels. Wolfram may have been selective in what he shared and the author was not there to prove or disprove the nuances. In addition Giles might have been protective of Wolfram's image in the eyes of his daughter (Giles' wife) to the extent that he may not have challenged events or impressions as given.
I am not suggesting that Wolfram was other than a good sort but it is argued that everyone has an 'Id' - a darker, baser side to their being - prejudices, attractions or amoral drives. One would have thought that the hyper environment of Hitler's Germany would have caused a mass of such contradictions to surface in the consciousness of those who endured that time. I saw nothing of this in Wolfram. He variously disapproved of that which we would expect him to disprove of or was simply unaware. In short, we hear the account that a good person would be expected to give. This made me uncomfortable - this absence of any fundamental internal conflict.
There is no one reality and everyone has their own perspective. It is appropriate to hear from and about all the protagonists but I started to wonder whether I was learning about Wolfram or merely what Wolfram wanted me to know. He may well have been a benign and powerless subject of a regime whose code he rejected, but would we have been told if it was otherwise? That said, one can only get close to a common reality by listening to many accounts and this was a readable story even if I did not feel that I was necessarily hearing everything about the witness.
It could be that I am prepared to believe the bad more than the good on this subject but a book that got closer to the mark in my opinion was Martin Davidson's The Perfect Nazi: Uncovering My SS Grandfather's Secret Past and How Hitler Seduced a Generation, which centred on his grandfather but also provided a broad tapestry of events.
This book is about a young man who grew up in Germany at the time when the Nazi party came to power and who went to war as a soldier while still in his teens. I was reminded of the brilliant book by Roger Moorhouse about wartime Berlin, in which he stated that there had been many books about how the minority died, but very few about how the majority lived. Wolfram was a boy who was obsessed by art (and who later became an artist). He lived in a village, near a small town, with his family and was isolated from the worst of the atrocities taking place in the cities of 1930's Berlin. However, saying that, you are very aware that Wolfram is the author's father in law. To say that the author takes pains to point out that Wolfram, his family and friends, were not aware of the extent of Jewish persecution and what it led to, doesn't really ring true. When the local doctor and his wife kill themselves because they are to be 'resettled', when the entire town is full of broken glass after the infamous Kristallnacht, when the synagogue is burnt, when Wolfram himself sees Jewish slave labourers from the train he is travelling on, etc etc, you have to feel that although there was perhaps little these people could do, in fact they did turn their faces from the truth. The boys who went to war were young and, often not Nazi sympathisers, but it is hard to feel sympathy for their plight when you are aware (with hindsight admittedly) that their Jewish neighbours have suffered far worse under the Nazi regime. I think the author being so closely related to the subject of the book causes a bias and lack of objectivity which somehow makes you feel less, rather than more, empathy with him. Wolfram himself certainly has a story to tell and it is an important one, but it may have been better if someone else had told it.
Wolfram Aichele was nine when Adolf Hitler's National Socialist party gained power in Germany. Now eighty-six, `Wolfram: The Boy Who went To War' is the story of growing up under that regime and ultimately being conscripted into the forces of the Third Reich. Though written by his son-in-law, Giles Morton, from sixty odd hours of interviews, this book isn't solely about the subject of the title; it also concerns itself with his immediate family and neighbours and their own fight for survival, and not only from Allied bombing raids.
It makes for an interesting read, if only to realise that even civilians of the Axis suffered as much as those in England and elsewhere did. Whereas those in the UK struggled to feed themselves, Germans had to contend with the added fear of visits by the Gestapo, the SS and leaders of the local Nazis, which could result in, at the time, occasions of unintentional black humour; the Aichele family, like all others, were ordered to raise the Nazi emblem up their newly erected flagpole only to watch in silent delight as it wrapped itself around the tarred pole where it remained. However, if you didn't conform to the `requests' from these visits....
Whilst Morton manages to paint a picture of suffering and fear, he does lapse into occasional superfluous prose. The section about a rear gunner in a Lancaster bomber flying on a mission does seem out of place. Yes, their intended target may have been Pforzheim, a town a few miles from where the Aichele family lived, but it spoils the pace of the narrative. What the author does do is educate the reader to how long it took captured Germans to return to their homes. Indeed, he documents how one of his future uncles escaped from a POW camp in June 1946. That there were still POWs more than 12 months after hostilities ended was certainly news to me. It ends with Wolfram's return to his home village of Eutingen in the summer of 1946. As with most books about warfare, `Wolfram' continues the well trodden path in informing the reader that the only people who suffer most are those that would rather be left to get on with their lives.
Well worth investigating.
9 of 11 people found the following review helpful
It is always fascinating to read accounts of life in the Third Reich from the perspective of someone who was not at the centre of power. This is the experience of the author Giles Miltons' father in law, from his childhood under the Nazis, with his family as "outsiders" under the regime, through to his experiences at war. It is easy to dismiss books such as this as glossing over the reality of the protagonists' account, and in this case, being biased, as it is about a family member, but it is also easy to tar everyone who lived under that dictatorship as an evil nazi. I tend to believe that this is a genuine account, rather than take the easy option of dismissing offhand the reality that there were people in Germany who opposed the Nazis, but under a climate of fear, had little option but to obey. This is a well written, and fascinating account, and needs to be read with an open mind.
Whilst this book records the early life of an extraordinary individual, my view is that it would be more widely read if more was made of this unique view of 'middle Germany' during Hitler's rise to power, the effects of war on the German population, and the plight of a reluctant Wehrmacht recruit. After all, there are many volumes recording the winner's story from the allied side, but very few that illustrate the other side. Ulrich Steinhilper's "Spitfire On My Tale" trilogy is the only other I can think of, and it was equally fascinating. The Wolfram book is an enlightening read, but not because of the eponymous hero I'm sorry to say, but because of the scenarios in which it set.
This is the story of Wolfram, his family and their friends throughout the Second World War. It's an amazing slice of life, showing the differing attitudes of ordinary Germans at the time, and how their lives changed. It's really well written and draws in the history of what was happening at the time with the lives of those in the book. Loved this book, it was liek nothing else I've read before on the war, and I'd love to read more in this vein.
Wolfram is the tale of a boy, a boy who went on the be the father in law of the author, who grew up in Nazi Germany.
In telling that tale this book offers a fascinating insight into middle-class Germany both before, and during the war. It is a seldom told tale, and one that offers an at times chilling and at times inspiring perspective on the war and its architects, and those who both agreed and disagreed with his doctrines.