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The Past is myself
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Top customer reviews
Throughout her time in Nazi Germany she maintains her "Englishness" whilst gaining acceptance as a German Housewife - leading to her house arrest in a rural part of Germany (during the time her husband was imprisoned) and then towards the end of the war her trip to see the SS to convince them of her husband's innocence.
Overall the book is well written and has a gripping story line - difficult to put down.
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. It is the best example of ordinary people struggling to keep their integrity and dignity in the face of not only the institutional cruelty of the 3rd Reich, but also the terrifying Allied bombing of Berlin. They were so lucky to have survived, where so many were swept away, but how lucky for us too, to have this wonderful story handed down to us.
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.