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A Long Silence: Memories of a German Refugee Child, 1941-1958by Sabina De Werth Neu
Synopses & Reviews
After more than sixty years, the nightmarish sufferings of so many victims of Germanys Nazi regime have been documented extensively. Rarely, however, does one hear about the experiences of German children during World War II. Coming of age amidst the chaos, brutality, and destruction of war in their homeland, they had no understanding of what was happening around them and often suffered severe trauma and physical abuse. They too became victims of the madness perpetrated by the totalitarian state. This haunting memoir tells the riveting story of one such German child. Born in Berlin in 1941, Sabina de Werth Neu knew little during her earliest years except the hardships and fear of a war refugee. She and her two sisters and mother were often on the run and sometimes homeless in the bombed-out cities of wartime Germany. At times they lived in near-starvation conditions. And as the Allies stormed through the crumbling German defenses, the mother and children were raped and beaten by marauding Russian soldiers. After the war, like so many Germans, they wrapped themselves in a cloak of deafening silence about their recent national and personal history, determined to forget the past. The result was that Sabina spent much of her time wrestling with shame and bouts of crippling depression. Finally, after decades of silence, she could no longer suppress the memories and began reconstructing her young life by writing down what had previously seemed unspeakable. Illustrated by vintage black-and-white family photographs, the book is filled with poignant scenes: her abused but courageous mother desperately trying to protect her children through the worst, the sickening horror of viewing Holocaust footage on newsreels shortly after the war, the welcome sight of American troops bringing hot meals to local schools, and the glimmer of hope finally offered by the Marshall Plan, which the author feels was crucial to her own survival and that of Germany as a whole. This book not only recalls the experiences of a now-distant war, but also brings to mind the disrupting realities of present-day refugee children. There is perhaps no more damning indictment of war than to read about its effects on children, its helpless victims.
"In her first book, De Werth Neu, a retired therapist born in 'Berlin, Nazi Germany' at the start of WWII, recounts her nightmarish experiences as a refugee child from her native land. Forced from home as part of Hitler's efforts to strengthen the Eastern front, de Werth Neu, along with her mother and two sisters, endured countless relocations, assault and rape by Russian soldiers, never-ending hunger, and a horrific train ride during which babies died and toilet buckets overflowed into the crammed cars; 'we were the lucky ones,' she points out, 'no one was trying to exterminate us.' Such a sobering perspective is indicative of the author's amazing sense of gratitude, which resurfaces each time she recalls moments of great happiness: receiving an unforgettably delicious apple from a farmer's wife, having a tube of toothpaste all to herself, watching her mother dance. The constant back-and-forth between thrills such as these and the unimaginable suffering she endured has a bit of a wearying effect, but creates an engrossing account of the consequences of war and diplomacy for a single child. (Feb.)" Publishers Weekly (Copyright PWxyz LLC)
Book News Annotation:
This heartfelt memoir chronicles the life of a German refugee child as she and her family struggled through the decimated and uncertain landscape of post World War II Europe. The work focuses on one family but also speaks to broader issues about personal, mental and emotional security and the role of the community, both immediate and international, in repair of shattered nations and lives. The work includes maps and numerous black and white photographs and illustrations. Sabina de Werth Nue is a freelance writer and therapist. Annotation ©2011 Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)
Rarely does one hear about the experiences of German children coming of age amidst the chaos, brutality, and destruction during World War II. This haunting memoir tells the riveting story of one such German child born into1941 Berlin.
Sabina de Werth Neu, now an American citizen, is a retired therapist who lives in Miami.
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