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Witnesses of War: Children's Lives Under the Nazis

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Witnesses of War: Children's Lives Under the Nazis
By Nicholas Stargardt. (Alfred A. Knopf, New York: 2006. Pg. xvi, 493. Maps, Illustrations) ISBN: 1-4000-4088-4.

Reviewed by Anna Dogole - April 6, 2006

What was life like for both Jewish and non-Jewish children under Nazi domination? How did life under the Nazis affect their emotional and educational development? What did German and Polish children think when they saw their Jewish classmates harassed, deported, or killed? How did Jewish children cope with the horrors directed toward them? What happened to the mentally and physically disabled children, both Jewish and non-Jewish, who fell within the purview of the Nazis? How did youths from various religious and social groups view the suffering of those outside their peer groupings? These are but a few of the issues that are touched upon in Nicholas Stargardt haunting book, Witnesses of War: Children's Lives Under the Nazis.

In this book Stargardt chronicles life under the Nazis for a cross section of children, including Jewish children from various countries as well as non-Jewish Polish and German children from various political and economic strata. Stargardt covers the full spectrum of children's experiences from those that lived rather untouched lives throughout most of the war in boarding schools or on farms to those forced into concentration camps or placed in German asylum's were mentally and physically disabled children were calculatingly killed so as not to be a drag on the war effort and as a means of racial hygiene.

Through the experiences of these children, Stargardt also provides a unique overview of the war and its impact on society as a whole. He also illustrates how German youths were inculcated with Nazi ideology both in school and through groups such as Hitler Youth. Following a chronological format, this book shows how life for the children changed as the war progressed, how their understanding of the war changed as their experience changed, and why, toward the end of the war many German children sacrificed their lives battling Soviet and Allied forces, long after it was apparent to the 'grown ups' that the Nazis had already lost the war.

Much of the material in this book was garnered from diaries, letters, school assignments and other sources that provide a unique glimpse into the lives of these children. These insights help to provide an unparalleled glimpse into daily life under the Nazis, and to humanize the children whose stories have for too long remained untold. All the children chronicled in this book lived through frightful horrors of varying degree, and without a doubt all the children were impacted by the war both emotionally and physically. Horrors aside, this book provides a glimpse into a world that in many regards has been shrouded in silence simply because those that lived through it were too young or traumatized to share their stories after the war. Or worse, historians gave little continence to their writings and accounts because they felt that such young 'witnesses' were unreliable or unimportant. Stargardt helps to correct this oversight in Witnesses of War by giving a voice to these children while also providing a unique perspective into the impact of war on children.

Related Reviews:

What We Knew - Terror, Mass Murder, and Everyday Life in Nazi Germany, by Eric A. Johnson and Karl-Heinz Reuband .
Excerpts from forty interviews with Jewish survivors, and 'average' Germans who lived in Nazi Germany. Includes an analysis, by the authors, on what the average German knew about the Nazi atrocities that were taking place during World War II.

The Third Reich: Politics and Propaganda, by David Welch
This work offers an in-depth analysis of the role that propaganda played in Nazi Germany.

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