Between Two Homelands: Letters Across the Borders of Nazi Germany (CBR6 #21)

I was granted an ARC of this book via NetGalley in return for a fair and honest review. This book’s expected publication date is June 29, 2014.

There are lots of books out there about Nazi Germany and World War II. Literally thousands and thousands. But there are few that bring the realities of day to day life which Germans were experiencing to light for the modern reader. By choosing to share the cache of letters she found in her family home, Hedda Kalshoven brings one such slice of life to us. And we are the better for it.

The correspondence discovered by Hedda focuses around her mother Irmgard Brester, nee Gebensleben, who was born in Germany in 1907. Immo, as she was known to family and friends, took part in the War Children Transport which took children from war-torn Germany to the Netherlands in 1920 following the Great War. Immo would stay in touch with her foster family and write and visit them often in the following years, eventually falling in love and marrying the youngest son of her Dutch foster family. She and August Brester returned to the Netherlands to live. Immo was therefore separated from her birth family in Germany by 400 km, and eventually the Nazi border. Immo’s letters during the Second World War provide for the reader the experience of the occupied.

Through the letters to and from Immo and four generation of her extended family over nearly thirty years, the rise and eventual fall of Hitler are chronicled as is the daily life of both civilians and service persons.  Originally published over a decade ago, the discovery of Hedda’s uncle Eberhard’s diary chronicling his time as a soldier in the Wehrmacht has provided an additional dimension to one family’s tale, highlighting what one soldier experienced on various fronts of the war, and what he was willing to share with his family.

Edited by Hedda, it is her annotations which  places the accounts you are reading into the overall chronology of events of the conflict. This worked to a great degree with the Preface written by Peter Fritzsche which introduces the work to us, the American readers of this work now available to us.  The extended Gebensleben/van Alten/Brester clan are well spoken, cultured, educated, and on all sides and extremes of the incoming Nazi regime and eventual war. While I found the editing job well done, highlighting different family members over different periods, it did still drag a little in the middle of the book when we are reading almost exclusively from Immo’s mother Elisabeth. But that may be because to the eyes of this reader she was a true believer in the National Socialist movement. It’s easy to understand the reasoning she held; the fear of the incoming Bolshevism from Russia, knowing what we know it is often difficult to accept her positions.

An interesting and insightful read. If you are interested in this time period and are looking for a wealth of primary source material highlighting the average citizen both within the Nazi borders and the occupied Netherlands I recommend it.

This book was read and reviewed as part of the charitable Cannonball Read.

About Katie

Museum professional, caffeine junkie, book lover, student of history, overall goofball.

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