Monday, August 20, 2012

The Past is Myself by Christabel Bielenberg

I have continued my reading-theme of 'Berlin in World War Two' with another memoir - The Past is Myself by Christabel Bielenberg. Christabel was Anglo-Irish, went to Germany to study music and fell in love with a handsome lawyer from Hamburg. She became a German citizen and lived as a German hausfrau throughout the second world war.

Her husband was against the Nazis from the beginning. Christabel, however, had found the early Nazi meetings entertaining, and had accompanied her friend Hans just to witness the spectacle. She even managed to entice her future husband along in the Autumn of 1932 ('stretching his devotion [to her] to the limit') and at the end of it he had 'delivered himself of one of his rare political pronouncements. "You may think that Germans are political idiots, Chris," he said very loudly and firmly, "and you may be right, but one thing I can assure you, they won't be so stupid as to fall for that clown."
Three months later on January 30th, 1933, Hitler became Germany's Chancellor...'

Although Christabel and her husband, Peter, were never directly involved with the plot against Hitler they were very friendly with people that were and so Peter was arrested and sent to a concentration camp. Christabel was pivotal in securing his release by bravely requesting an interview at Gestapo Headquarters - making an arduous journey to Berlin from the Black Forest where she had taken her young family to sit out the war in relative safety.

The book is outstanding for many reasons: the writing is excellent, and the author gives an astute insight into the German character and why exactly Naziism happened. There are many chilling moments, but the one that struck me the most was towards the very end of the war. Christabel, after a residence of several years, has become a fully accepted member of a small village in the Black Forest and shares their sense of disquiet when a small contingent of German soldiers take it over in their retreat from the Western Front. At first they are accepted, but when a local electrician refuses to work for them on a Sunday and is executed, together with a local youth deemed to be a deserter, Christabel shares their outrage. The end of the war comes days later - heralded by an empty packet of Lucky Strikes which has been discarded by American soldiers as they have passed by the village.

The book was made into a BBC serial written by Dennis Potter and starring Elizabeth Hurley - whose photograph is on the front of this version of the book.


Blogger Kay McKenzie Cooke said...

That is fascinating. Certainly adds more to any general info. we have about the 2nd WW. Nothing is ever simple or black and white where people are concerned. Thanks for this review.

Tue Aug 21, 09:32:00 am  
Blogger Clare Dudman said...

Thank you, Kay - yes, I agree - and both sides certainly come out in these memoirs.

Tue Aug 21, 10:55:00 am  

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