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Requiem for a German Past

A Boyhood among the Nazis

Jurgen Herbst

Publication Year: 1999

Jurgen Herbst’s account of growing up in Nazi Germany from 1928 to 1948 is a boy’s experience of anti-Semitism and militarism from the inside. Herbst was a middle-class boy in a Lutheran family that saw value in Prussian military ideals and a mythic German past. His memoir is a compelling, understated tale of moral awakening.

Published by: University of Wisconsin Press


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pp. xi

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pp. xiii-xvi

YEARS AGO in Gino's restaurant on Madison's State Street, Felix Pollak, that incomparable Vienna-born master of poetry and prose in two languages,

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1. In My Father’s House

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pp. 3-26

WHEN I THINK BACK to my childhood I see myself as an only child, accustomed from the beginning to play by myself in my room with my toy soldiers. My mother usually was busy in the kitchen or was reading a book in her sitting room. My father was away at work in the famous Duke August Library in...

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2. Discovering Social Class

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pp. 27-47

I WAS SIX YEARS OLD WHEN, following the long-established German custom, my parents escorted me right after the Easter holidays to my first morning in the Volksschule, the public primary school on Wolfenbuttel's Karlstrafie. The Volksschule was the common school for all youngsters between the ages of six and ten. In the province...

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3. Wolfenbüttel’s Große Schule

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pp. 48-66

IN THE SPRING OF 1937 my parents removed me from the Karlschule and placed me as a "three-year boy" into the Sexta of the Grofie Schule.

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4. Kristallnacht

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pp. 67-80

I HAD JUST TURNED TEN WHEN, during the Easter season of 1938, I became a Quintaner in the Grofle Schule, that is, I began my second year. Having reached that milestone, it was now obligatory for me to enroll in the Jungvolk, the lower division of the Hitler Youth, intended for ten- to thirteen-year-olds. I was supposed to attend...

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5. Boy Soldier

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pp. 81-100

THE WAR BEGAN IN 1939 when I was eleven years old, a student of the Tertia, my third year at the Grofie Schule, and as yet a rather unenthusiastic Pimpf of the Wolfenbuttel Jungvolk. The smoke signals I had seen a year ago and whose message I did not want to discuss in class now revealed their truth in every newspaper...

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6. Assignment East

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pp. 101-117

IN THE SUMMER OF 1943 the adult leadership of the Hitler Youth in Wolfenbiittel asked nine of us Jungvolk leaders whether we were ready during our vacation to spend four weeks in the areas of Poland occupied by the German army. We were to carry out there our normal Jungvolk activities with the local Polish boys, go camping with...

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7. St. Mary’s Tower

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pp. 118-127

MY FATHER'S WORDS IN RADLIN had made it clear to me that he, too, struggled with the ambiguities that surrounded me, and that honorable men had good reason to be upset with the course their country pursued. I asked myself how a soldier like my father could remain so steadfast in the performance of his assignments...

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8. The War at Home

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pp. 128-140

DURING THE FALL AND WINTER OF 1943 the war made itself felt in Wolfenbuttel with ever-growing frequency and intensity. It was, as the Nazi slogan proclaimed it, a total war. It was a war that engulfed us every hour of the day and every hour of the night, a war of which we heard through our newspapers and radios as it was...

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9. Etzel’s Tale

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pp. 141-152

AFTER THE BOMBING RAID IN JANUARY 1944 the tempo of alarms and of summons to special relief actions for us boys in the Jungvolk increased measurably. Night- and daytime attacks on Hannover occurred once or twice every week, and we Jungvolk boys continued to board specially chartered buses to Hannover to dig out...

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10. Death Enters

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pp. 153-161

IN AUGUST 1944, when Etzel had left and I had taken over his Fahnlein, I was formally admitted as an officer's candidate to the army's elite Division GroBdeutschland. I had been summoned with a dozen other boys to a country day school outside Wolfenbiittel for a three-day examination that was to probe my health and physical and...

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11. The Choice

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pp. 162-172

DURING THE WEEKS FOLLOWING MY FATHER'S DEATH my friendship with Ulla deepened and ripened. She became my confidante and shared my anguish and my concern about my mother's declining health. She would wait for me at the streetcar stop when I returned from school in Braunschweig, and we would walk...

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12. Baptism by Fire

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pp. 173-184

MY DAYS IN THE HITLER YOUTH TRAINING SCHOOL Came to an end in mid-January of 1945 when I received orders to report for basic military training at the National Labor Service camp Rodewald near Hannover. I was glad that the call had come and I could leave the Training School behind. Though my last weeks...

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13. In Battle

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pp. 185-193

BY APRIL 17, our brigade had reassembled east of the Weser River at Osterholz-Scharmbeck, not far from the famous artist colony at Worpswede. We were now to join and become part of the 15th Panzergrenadier Division, whose mission it was to hold the line against the northward British advance, first at Rotenburg...

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14. Farewell to Arms

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pp. 194-204

FOR THE NEXT FEW DAYS we reversed our routine. We marched during daylight and we slept at night in barns or stables. British officers appeared and ordered us to lay down our arms and ammunition in piles along the road. As we trudged along there was no longer any need to proceed in single file, and we now marched...

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15. Home

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pp. 205-214

MY FIRST FEW MONTHS in Wolfenbuttel told me that I was home, but that home was not the one I had remembered. People spoke the same language as before, but they did not understand me. They all had their own misery to relate and the injustices they had suffered. They paid no heed to my questions. I did not know...

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16. The Search

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pp. 215-221

WHEN SPRING FINALLY ARRIVED my spirits were buoyed by the return of Etzel from Soviet captivity and the news that, beginning in June, I was permitted to enroll in a veterans' preparatory course at the University of Gottingen. Though Etzel's return was by far the most joyous event, it was darkened by the message...

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17. Requiem

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pp. 222-230

DURING THE WINTER RECESS OF 19471 was back in Wolfenbuttel I to spend Christmas with my mother. I was sad and hopeful at the same time. My mother's health, while not having taken a turn for the worse, was nonetheless precarious. Another cold winter with little food did not promise improvement. Yet a ray of hope...

Appendix: Commencement Address, June 15,1996

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pp. 231-234

E-ISBN-13: 9780299164133
Print-ISBN-13: 9780299164140

Publication Year: 1999