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My Father's Country: Story of a German Familyby Wibke Bruhns
Synopses & Reviews
I can immerse myself in the early photographs-the half-timbering, the baroque, ramshackle stables, the courtyards. The town had 43,000 inhabitants in 1900, the pictures suggest affluence and above all industry. Shops everywhere, markets, awnings outside the shops. The Kaiserhof patisserie by the fish market served its customers under parasols on a second-floor terrace. From 1887 there was a horse tram, replaced in 1903 by the electric one. From 1888 the people of Halberstadt were able to use the telephone. Charlemagne himself had established the diocese in 804, and even today when I drive across the incredibly flat North German landscape I see churches in the distance, many, many churches.
For me Halberstadt is a metaphor. Halberstadt is before. My memory of the town where I was born, the town of my early childhood, begins on April 8, 1945, the Sunday after Easter, at 11: 25 in the morning. Allied bombers, supposedly 215 of them, reduced 82 percent of the old town to rubble. I was six at the time. All my memories prior to that are buried under ruins, consumed in the conflagration that raged for days. After that I remember a difficult postwar time everywhere and nowhere-that was the beginning of what became my life. Halberstadt isn't part of it. Whenever I drove there later on, what I found was gray, decaying everyday life in East Germany, brightened by family friends, but still strange to me. Today Halberstadt is a pleasure. The town always picks itself up, as it did after the destruction wrought by Henry the Lion, the Peasant War and the Reformation, the Thirty Years' War, French rule, and its storming by the Cossacks.
At some point in the meantime the Klamroths arrived. Forwhen our forefather came out of the woods near Bornecke in the Harz . . . dapp-i-dee, they sang later at their family parties. The forefather appeared sometime around 1500. Thereafter Klamroths were living in the villages of the Harz mountains as foresters and saddlers to the court of Saxony, master brewers, and even one town councillor in Ermsleben. Things really got intriguing with Johann Gottlieb. He was a trained businessman, he traveled with the certificate of the Honorable Guild of Grocers and Canvas Tailors from Quedlinburg to Halberstadt, at which place he founded the company I.G. Klamroth in 1790. He was twenty-two; in 1788 he first sealed his letters with the family crest that we still use today.
There was one infallible way for me to put Else in a fury. Like everyone who marries into a family of stature she was a convinced convert: the honor of the Klamroth family was sacred to her. If I compared this family-not inaccurately-with the Buddenbrooks, Else foamed at the mouth. If I described the company-that company -as a shop selling hop poles and jute bags, there was serious trouble. Yet it's not a completely inaccurate description either.
Johann Gottlieb ran a business selling fabric and victuals. That was how it started. He wore his hair in the style of Napoleon-how did they do that in those days, long before hairspray was invented? When he got up in the morning, did he look as handsome as he does in his oil painting? How often were the lace ruffs under his velvet collar washed? And did he wear them at the counter? We don't really know anything.
In 1802 he married sensibly into a flourishing leather company. His wife's father had passed away, a
A German journalist draws on family letters, diaries, and photographs to document the story of her family from the time of Kaiser Wilhelm to the end of World War II, reflecting on what led her patriotic family to succumb to Nazi sympathies, what turned her father against Hitler, and his involvement in a failed coup d'etat that led to his 1944 execution. 20,000 first printing.
On August 15, 1944, Major Hans Georg Klamroth was tried for treason for his part in the July plot against Hitler. Eleven days later, he was executed.
Wibke Bruhns, his youngest daughter, was six years old. Decades later, watching a documentary about the events of July 20, she saw images of her father in court suddenly appeared on-screen. “I stare at this man with the empty face. I don’t know him. But I can see myself in him—his eyes are my eyes; I know I resemble him. I know I wouldn’t be here without him. And what do I know about him? Nothing at all.”
How could her patriotic family succumb to Nazi sympathies? And what made her father finally renounce Hitler? With a wealth of letters and diaries documenting the story of her family, from the time of Kaiser Wilhelm to the end of the Second World War, and with her own coruscating intelligence, she unravels her family's unique and unforgettable history.
My Father’s Country tells an astounding story—gripping, startlingly intimate, emotionally riveting—of three generations. A huge best seller in the author’s native country, it offers unparalleled insight into the experience of being German in the last century. A real-life Buddenbrooks.
About the Author
Wibke Bruhns was born in 1938 in Halberstadt, Germany. She has worked as a journalist in both TV and print and as a TV host and news broadcaster. She was a correspondent for Stern magazine in the United States and Israel and headed the culture section at one of Germany’s largest radio stations, ORB. She has two grown daughters and now lives and works as a freelance writer in Berlin.
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