To Lose a War: Memories of a German Girl

To Lose a War: Memories of a German Girl

To Lose a War: Memories of a German Girl

To Lose a War: Memories of a German Girl


Martin Blumenson refers to this book as a "sensitive, beautifully written personal memoir," and calls it a contribution to understanding, "particularly to Americans who know little of how World War II and its immediate aftermath disrupted the lives of those who survived the defeat of Germany."

Vividly, humanly, Shelton tells her story from the point of view of a teen-age German girl, one who witnessed her country's surge to power and who felt the ignominy of both Germany and Germans after the fall. She reaches a point during the war when "Sometimes the way we now live seems unreal, as if we were marionettes, with orders and permits and schedules attached to us instead of strings."

But after the defeat of Germany life gets considerably worse. The victorious Russians evict the natives from their homes. They sneer and leer at the women who must venture forth for food. In this defeated land "the nights become unbearably long; without any physical activity by day, sleep refuses to come. I yearn for sleep, be it temporary or eternal. Death is becoming a friend; the enemy has a new name now: Rape."

Then comes the dreaded order to evacuate all Germans from Lower Silesia: "How can a whole people be uprooted, disowned, tossed aside like useless flotsam-how? With the stroke of a pen, with a new line drawn on a map, we are sentenced to homelessness." Not knowing where they will be sent, they plod out into darkness and cold with the other Germans, their worldly goods reduced to what they can carry. Embittered, they are herded into vermin-infested freight cars, still unaware of their destination.


My cousin Hans in West Germany is a genealogy buff who pursues his hobby with fervor and admirable thoroughness. Less than half an hour ago we arrived at his house, my son Tom and I, and are now seated comfortably on the terrace. On one side it is sheltered by the house wall with a large picture window of the winter garden where cacti and tropical plants thrive protected year round; at a rectangle an open fireplace that wards off the cold on days more inclement than today forms the wall to the street side. We look out over the goldfish pond and the flower-bordered lawn of the quiet back yard. His wife, Helga, is busy preparing the afternoon coffee, leaving Hans and me to chat leisurely and become attuned to each other again after years of separation.

"We might as well get down to business while we have the time," says Hans as he excuses himself to go into the house. He returns with several thick three-ring binders and a sheaf of loose forms. I leaf through the pages of one of the volumes until some names as familiar as my own catch my eye. They draw me into the past that is here recorded in meticulous entries in typescript, enhanced by inserts of photocopied documents in the stilted, careful penmanship of long- dead public officials and priests, and even by some pictures . . .

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