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A boyhood in Nazi Germany...
on 24 February 2014
Historian and author Joachim Fest has written a memoir about his boyhood and life up til the age of about 24. The book was published, in cooperation with an interpreter and an historian, in 2006, the year of his death, at the age of 80. His memoir gives a different side of life in Nazi Germany in the 1930's and 1940's. His parents - his father in particular - were against Hitler and lived a circumscribed life under the Nazis.
The Fest family were members of the Catholic upper-middle class. Fest's father - Johannes - was a teacher and school administrator who lost his job and was prohibited from holding a paying job because he would not cooperate with the new Nazi regime. The family lived in a suburb of Berlin called Karlshorst. Fest was one of five children - 3 boys and 2 girls - and survived in those years with the help of family money and assistance. Most of the family survived the war and the Russian occupation of Berlin at war's end and were reunited.
Okay, what did the Fest family do to show their displeasure with the regime? The Fests were not Communists or liberals. Johannes (Hans) Fest was a member of the Zentrum (Center) Party and was active in positions in the Weimar Republic. This perhaps put him into an interesting category of non-Nazis in Germany. Besides losing his job and being serially harassed by Nazi officials, their lives never seemed to be in danger during the era. No one was hauled off by the government to camps and the Fest sons were not forced to join any Hitler-Youth organisations. They had Jewish friends who "disappeared" and who they tried to help out, but it seems the family was basically left alone. The sons were sent to a Catholic boarding school near Freiburg during the war and the two older saw service in the last months of the war, after being drafted from their studies. I read nothing about any of the family doing anti-Hitler work, other than Joachim carving some caricatures of Hitler in a class desk in Berlin.
Joachim Fest went on to become one of post-war Germany's most noted historian and biographers. He was always quick to point out that it was impossible for most Germans not have known what was going on by the Nazis, both inside Germany and in the occupied lands. He says his family heard stories and reports about what was going on in the occupied eastern countries, particularly against the Jewish population. What does he say in his memoir? He alludes to various friends who told the family about such happenings but what does his family do, besides live quietly under Nazi rule and try not to draw too much attention to themselves? But, and this is a big "but", what did MOST German Christians do during the Nazi era? How many really were protesting or conducting any form of sabotage? How many were putting their own lives at risk to protest? Not many, not many...
Fest was an excellent writer and his memoir is interesting. I wish he could have made a better connection between his family and their survival with what that said about the Nazi state.