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After more than sixty years, the nightmarish sufferings of so many victims of Germany's Nazi regime have been documented extensively. Rarely, however, does one hear about the experiences of German children during World War II. Coming of age amidst the chaos, brutality, and destruction of war in their homeland, they had no understanding of what was happening around them and often suffered severe trauma and physical abuse. They too became victims of the madness perpetrated by the totalitarian state. This haunting memoir tells the riveting story of one such German child. Born in Berlin in 1941, Sabina de Werth Neu knew little during her earliest years except the hardships and fear of a war refugee. She and her two sisters and mother were often on the run and sometimes homeless in the bombed-out cities of wartime Germany. At times they lived in near-starvation conditions. And as the Allies stormed through the crumbling German defenses, the mother and children were raped and beaten by marauding Russian soldiers. After the war, like so many Germans, they wrapped themselves in a cloak of deafening silence about their recent national and personal history, determined to forget the past. The result was that Sabina spent much of her time wrestling with shame and bouts of crippling depression. Finally, after decades of silence, she could no longer suppress the memories and began reconstructing her young life by writing down what had previously seemed unspeakable. Illustrated by vintage black-and-white family photographs, the book is filled with poignant scenes: her abused but courageous mother desperately trying to protect her children through the worst, the sickening horror of viewing Holocaust footage on newsreels shortly after the war, the welcome sight of American troops bringing hot meals to local schools, and the glimmer of hope finally offered by the Marshall Plan, which the author feels was crucial to her own survival and that of Germany as a whole. This book not only recalls the experiences of a now-distant war, but also brings to mind the disrupting realities of present-day refugee children. There is perhaps no more damning indictment of war than to read about its effects on children, its helpless victims.
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Emilie Frèche, lauréate du Prix Orange du Livre 2013 pour "Deux étrangers"