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The Past Is Myself Paperback – 16 Sep 1988

4.4 out of 5 stars 35 customer reviews

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The Past is Myself & The Road Ahead Omnibus by Christabel Bielenberg
Check out the new Omnibus edition
Including both The Past is Myself and its sequel, The Road Ahead, the Omnibus edition also features newly-discovered additional text.

Product details

  • Paperback: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Corgi; New edition edition (16 Sept. 1988)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0552990655
  • ISBN-13: 978-0552990653
  • Product Dimensions: 12.8 x 1.7 x 19.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (35 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 91,856 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description

About the Author

Christabel Bielenberg, a niece of Lord Northcliffe, married a German lawyer in 1934. She lived through the war as a German citizen and wrote about her experiences in her memoir, The Past is Myself, and in its sequel, The Road Ahead. The Past is Myself was adapted for television by Dennis Potter under the title Christabel. In 1988, the Federal Republic of Germany awarded her the Commander's cross of the Order of Merit for her contribution to German-English understanding. She and her husband, Peter, have three sons and live in Ireland.


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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Christabel Bielenberg's account of her life in Germany from the time of Hitler's extraordinary rise to power and influence to his ultimate downfall makes compelling reading. Born to a wealthy and politically influential Irish/English family Bielenberg marries and commits herself to her husband's country - Germany - five years before the outbreak of World War II. She finds herself caught up in the horrors of Nazi Germany, sustained by her husband's group of friends who, refusing to believe that Hitler speaks for all Germans, work secretly throughout the war to keep alive channels of communication with England. Involved in the July 20th plot of 1944 to assassinate Hitler, Bielenberg's husband is imprisoned, all but sharing the fate of his co- conspirators. The account of his rescue is thrilling reading, but the overall theme of the book is that no nation has a monopoly on good or evil, that humanity and inhumanity co-exist in every race, and that goodness can be found in the most unlikely places. One of my all-time favourite books.
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This is an absolutely wonderful book describing the life of a young English woman living in Germany, mainly Berlin, during the war. Our view of WW2 is coloured by all the propaganda we have read. This book shows that people are just people, at least when they are out of uniform. She lived the same life as any other resident of Germany with all its restrictions and dangers during the war, but no more than everyone else. Hardly the usual view of Hitler's Germany. I have read it twice and am now ordering a copy for a friend.
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This is one of the most powerful autobiographies I have read about Nazi Germany, and believe me I have read many. Reading the reviews on Amazon I am amazed though that no one seems to mention (or remember?) the BBC TV series based on Christabel Bielenberg's story. It starred a very young Elizabeth Hurley. When the series hit the tv screens in the eighties it made a big impression on me, not in the least because of the excellent soundtrack. I am very sad to find that the soundtrack nor the series are available on CD/DVD - I have looked everywhere. Christabel Bielenberg sadly died in 2003, but her story is out there, a strong testimony of one of the darkest times in man's history. Highly recommended.
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I bought it by chance from an airport bookshop on my way to Sweden, and then could not put it down. When I'd finished it once I read it again, and every few years I come back to it. It will always be kept on my shelf of favourite books. My mother, who had been bombed in Liverpool, particularly enjoyed it. It is not only a joy to read, but it educates in the best possible way, and shows how not all Germans were Nazis, as is commonly assumed nowadays. It starts with Christabel leaving England and marrying into a family of Hamburg lawyers. Their friends, all at the very start of their professional careers as doctors, lawyers, officials etc, are a fun loving bunch, and are quick to express their growing disquiet at the rise of Hitler. As it becomes more dangerous to show dissent, they then have to conform or fall automatically under suspicion, and so they have to juggle carefully between showing loyalty to the regime and their country, and helping their friends in the German Underground movement. The story follows Christabel as she struggles to hold her family together after her husband Peter's arrest by the Gestapo.

So many personal stories from Nazi Germany ended in despair and destruction, but this is not one of them. It is very dark in parts, and the sudden news of her friend Adam's trial and brutal execution as a result of the purge after the July 1944 bomb plot against Hitler is particularly harrowing. Other people's tales are brought in too, such as the SS officer who cannot sleep because of the dreadful things he has done, and the jolly innkeeper who waits for news of her son, destined to leave his bones in Russia. The sheer humanity of this book is so deeply moving but at the same time inspirational.
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I found this book very interesting, as it describes the every day life in Nazi Germany between 1933 and 1945 as seen by a housewife and a mother of little children - which is a point of view rarely seen.

Now granted, Christabel Bielenberg was not exactly a typical German woman, being born in English aristocracy and becoming a German citizen only after her 1934 marriage to a young lawyer from Hamburg. Together with her husband and almost all their friends they were also fervently anti-Nazi from the beginning - which ultimately led to her husband being investigated and detained by Gestapo in 1944. But even if her point of view was not typical to most of the Germans, she still shared the joys and sorrows of every day life under Nazi regime and her humble and very moderately worded testimony is a very precious and very interesting one. This book is slow paced and sticks to the facts, but still I read it with as much pleasure as if it was a good novel.

There are some particularly interesting moments, like the interrogation of Ms Bielenberg by Gestapo in 1944, or her conversation in a train with a fellow voyager who happened to be a Latvian Waffen SS officer - a tormented man who looked for death on battlefield but instead was just collecting more decorations and promotions... Another particularly interesting chapter is the story of a Nazi party member who was in charge of the building in which Ms Bielenberg and her family lived. Life and personnality of this rather pathetic person are of a great interest for anybody wanting to understand better the phenomenon of Hitler and his regime.

I appreciated this book very much and I will certainly read its continuation, "The road ahead", describing especially the first years of life in occupied Germany after 1945.
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