Jag var där (Ich var dabei, I Was There) by Gudrun Pausewang, Germany, 2004

Jag var där (Ich var dabei, I Was There) by Gudrun Pausewang, Germany, 2004

Although this is a German book, I read it in Swedish (hence the Swedish title in first place).

Gudrun Pausewang was 17 when WWII ended in 1945, and this small collection of stories contains some of her memories of the Nazi period and its aftermath.

In no way is this book a literary masterpiece, it is more a collection of reminiscences and recollections from a time that is no longer with us. From this perspective it is a valuable document; after all, as the title tells us  – Pausewang was there.

That said, it is not always easy to read about ordinary Germans caught between what they most probably believed to be right (ethically) and what they were being told was right (patriotically). The esteem in which they held Hitler was, at times, unbelievable, but underneath the blind faith and patriotic phrases there was also a very real fear: they all knew that the individual accounted for nothing – it was the German people as a unit that was most important.

Although we have often heard that the majority of Germans had no idea as to what was actually going on with the Jews and the many other unwanted minorities, this book may turn some of these claims on their head. According to what Pausewang remembers most people did know what was going on, but they were too frightened to talk about it or in any way to disapprove of it.

The frightening thing about this book is that the same mentality continues even today. People turn a blind eye to those on society’s edge being unfairly treated, because it is safer not to get involved. Also even though the Nazis have been well and truly condemned, we can still, seventy years on, see reflections of that Party’s policies in the behaviour of many governments around the world.

‘Never again’ becomes a pathetic slogan unless people, everywhere, are able to carefully analyse what they are doing and what they should be doing. The whole is important, but at no time should we forget that any whole is made of many individual parts.

The image of Hitler Youth is from varldenshistoria.se
The image of Pausewang is from wikipedia.

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