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History Lives Within Us

Radio Reader LVH lived on a U.S. military base in West Germany in the early 1980s, about 2 hours from Karlsruhe where the author lived during that same time.
36ophiuchi, CC BY-SA 3.0 , via Wikimedia Commons
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Radio Reader LVH lived on a U.S. military base in West Germany in the early 1980s, about 2 hours from Karlsruhe where the author lived during that same time.

This is Leslie VonHolten on the High Plains of Kansas with another HPPR Radio Readers Book Byte.
Nora Krug’s graphic memoir, Belonging: A German Reckons with History and Home, is a hauntingly illustrated journey as she works to uncover her family’s beliefs and possibly complicity during the Nazi era, she tells us her fears are amplified by her generation’s horror of the Holocaust.

This is Leslie VonHolten on the High Plains of Kansas with another HPPR Radio Readers Book Byte.

Nora Krug’s graphic memoir, Belonging: A German Reckons with History and Home, is a hauntingly illustrated journey as she works to uncover her family’s beliefs and possibly complicity during the Nazi era, she tells us her fears are amplified by her generation’s horror of the Holocaust. This book asks how later generations reconcile their peaceful world with the unimaginable past. Her approach is evocative, sensitive, and at times scary.

I lived on a U.S. military base in West Germany in the early 1980s, about 2 hours from Karlsruhe where the author lived during that same time. World War II lingered because that was precisely why we were there, one of the garrisons meant to protect Europe. It also lingered because the national shame within the divided Germany was palpable.

At that time, we were 40 years out from the war—about two generations. You could still find items with Nazi insignia sold by shadier characters at the flea market, and the shadow of a swastika was easily seen under white paint in one of the buildings on our base. At my American high school, most of our teachers were American but did not live on base; they told us stories of late-night conversations with their landlords or their German in-laws, talks over drinks that would turn toward confessions of cowardice and regret. Our teachers also told us to never, ever joke about the Nazis when in town, off base. I was a teenager then; my German friends and I preferred to talk about music and clothes, anyway.

But it is this national regret and shame—and how those emotions behave on the family level—that Nora Krug handles so thoughtfully in her memoir. Working to uncover whether or not you come from Nazi sympathizers is a reckoning most of us would prefer to ignore.

In Belonging, Nora Krug is confused by her parents’ hard feelings toward their families, and their uncritiqued acceptance of the stories about the war that they were told. But I related to her parents. I myself am the daughter of a combat veteran—from a different war—and I know that trauma echoes across generations. As the legacy of war has been ever-present in my life, it has also made me want to avoid talking about it. I’m tired of war being the way we mark history.

But it is impossible to dismiss history by pronouncing it as something that happened in the past. That past informs who we are and where we are at. It shapes the structure of our days, our family structures, our culture as a whole.

And so that’s how war reverberates: for each generation it gets easier to ask the hard questions. It’s still hard for Krug, but her experience is removed enough to do the work.

Ultimately, Belonging showed me that by dismissing the past, or by believing that an act of legislation or a peace accord can erase grievances and enact a full-throated cultural change of view—this is hopeful thinking and willful blindness. History lives within us for generations to come.

This is Radio Reader Leslie VonHolten hoping you will join us in reading Belonging: A German Reckons with History and Home by Nora Krug. Find more at HPPR.org, or Like us on Facebook.

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