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More Hopeful than Truthful?

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Minton, John, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
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Hallo zusammen, hello everyone I’m Miriam Scott back with more about “Belonging,” a book about Nora Krug’s reckoning with her German heritage. She researched the story of her family before and after WWII extensively and naturally the research took her back home to Germany where her parents still live.

Hallo zusammen, hello everyone I’m Miriam Scott back with more about “Belonging,” a book about Nora Krug’s reckoning with her German heritage. She researched the story of her family before and after WWII extensively and naturally the research took her back home to Germany where her parents still live.

While Nora Krug grew up in Karlsruhe, her paternal family comes from a place called Kuelsheim and it is here as well that she finds files, pictures, old phone books, maps, and many other documents she displays in the book. They piece together the history of her family.

With a sudden sharpness I’m reminded of pictures that used to hang in my family’s pub. Pictures of the small hall our family owned in which community events took place. In some of the pictures, the hall was decked with swastika flags and people stood in the familiar Nazi greeting. I also remember that these and other pictures like it were taken down when my father took over the pub.

I simply have not yet found the proper file for this fact in my brain. It’s placed under miscellaneous for now. Speaking of filing systems, the German bureaucracy, maybe much like the German brain really does excel at these matters, filing and sorting, and documenting. It is through this thorough documenting that Nora Krug figures out that her family’s claims of ignorance of certain events like the Reichskristallnacht in their town was simply impossible. As well was a vague story of her grandfather Willi hiding his Jewish boss in the shed of his mother-in-law’s backyard.

Letters were written in many, many languages
Puttnam L A (Lt), War Office official photographer, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
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Letters were written in many, many languages

I remember people with vague stories like this. Many seemed to have had someone in their family who helped hide or smuggle Jews. They make sense to me. We want to distance ourselves from events such as this if at all possible. And many of these stories are true. It must have been hard for Nora Krug to find out her family’s story was more hopeful than truthful. There is, however, solace in the fact that this Jewish German business owner seems to have escaped Germany in time.
However, the documents that grabbed me the most today were letters written by the brother of her grandfather, Edwin. Maybe it is because just like Nora when she starts to read these letters, I feel that “I have no right to feel sad over wartime loss of a German life.” She continues to write, “As I open the letters one by one, I am determined not to feel pity. I shield myself from tales of courage and camaraderie. But Edwin’s letters to his wife, Elsa, adorned with drawings and pressed leaves and flowers, with place names censored by the military, sent from what he describes as the ‘fathomless forests, swamps, and steppes,’ chronical nothing but his gradual emotional disintegration.”

And she is right. Utterly devoid of any heroic stories, ideology or political persuasion, this man simply found himself drafted into the middle of WWII on one side over the other simply by birthplace. His letters describe how much he misses his wife, and his kids, his home. To the point that he loses weight, he writes. Brief philosophical moments of hope are marred by the next letter containing nothing but one sentence: “My longing for you will soon suffocate my heart.”

In one of his last letters, he writes: “Dear Elsa, I am grateful that I can write at all, because what lies behind me isn’t easy, and even if I return home, I’ll never forget it.”

His first letter was sent on May 23rd, 1944, his last on November 13th, 1944. In about six short months this war destroyed him. And killed him.

In my head, I translate these letters, I want to say them in their original language for some reason. And then it dawns on me, letters just like these were written in many, many languages at that time.

This is Miriam Scott for the HPPR Radio Reader’s Club.

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Spring Read 2022: Graphic Novels—Worth a Thousand Words 2022 Spring ReadHPPR Radio Readers Book Club
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