Children at war. Germany 1939-1945
by Nicholas Stargardt
Translated from the English by Aude de Saint-Loup and Pierre-Emmanuel Dauzat
Vuibert Bookstore, 528 p., € 29
Nicholas Stargardt, historian at the University of Oxford, has a proven method: to trace back from intimate accounts, correspondence, drawings, personal testimonies, sociological surveys, the traces of destinies shattered by the Nazi domination in Europe. In his previous book, German war (2017), the author plunged into the imagination of the Germans over these years of fire and blood. His new work is an extension, focusing on children of multiple origins who had to live through war in Germany.
The gaze of these displaced, martyred and often exterminated children teaches a lot about the madness of fanaticized adults. What was the life and often the death of Miriam Wattenberg or Janina David, Jewish teenagers in the Warsaw ghetto, Thomas Geve, adolescent deported to Auschwitz, or those of Marin Bergau, in East Prussia and Lothar Carsten in Wuppertal, enlisted? in the Hitler Youth, and hundreds of other children? By naming them, Nicholas Stargardt makes them exist.
As much to say it from the outset, this book quickly becomes a plunge into the depths of cruelty. “The war wasn’t just something that happened to them; it had also unfolded in them, tearing apart their intimate emotional world, Nicholas Stargardt notes. In any war, children are victims. “
Through the reconstituted journey of children and adolescents, the book describes the strategies of resistance in the reform houses in Germany, the psychiatric asylums, this first “Home front” where the young boarders were beaten and deliberately starved. The eugenics business takes hold. The Nazi power prepared the “racial war” deployed from the invasion of Poland. To understand the logic at work in the various ghettos, the strategies invented by Jewish adolescents to avoid starving to death, to try to hide and flee the convoys to the death camps, this book is rich in revelations. : even in Auschwitz or Birkenau, Yehuda Bacon, Thomas Geve, Kalman Landau fought fiercely to try to survive.
At the same time, the war draws closer to the territory of the Reich, the bombardments on German cities intensify. In Berlin, Dresden, Hamburg, everything is collapsing under bombs both literally and figuratively… The sufferings studied by Stargardt are also those of young Germans at the time of defeat. Yet he rejects the concept of “Collective trauma” wanting to believe in a zero balance of suffering, writing that he “Is no comparison possible between the events of the Holocaust and the war experienced by German families”.