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Book Review: auf Wiedersehen by Christa Holder Ocker

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With auf Wiedersehen: World War II Through the Eyes of a German Girl, Christa Holder Ocker takes a look at a different side of Germany during the war. It is a story of goodbyes, of new beginnings.

Ocker, who lived in Germany during World World II, recalls the shared guilt of the Holocaust and of Hitler with her book, but she never lingers incessantly in the sadness or despair. Instead, she chooses to turn this fictional rendering of her childhood memories into a story of hope and of the search for belonging in a ruthless stupor of uncertainty.

As a contributing editor to the Chicken Soul for the Soul series and the author of Merry Christmas, My Friend, Ocker’s other literary efforts may seem to exist in another stratosphere. But there’s a soft similarity in the hopefulness of the Chicken Soup entries and auf Wiedersehen. There’s also a profound sense of purity and of family.

The narrative of the book carries less like a traditional novel and more like a series of memories. This can serve as a bit of a hindrance to flow at times, as Ocker seems to hop around a bit too much. Even so, the movement of the tale is befitting the tattered memories of her young protagonist and does make sense on that level.

In capturing parts of the child she once was, Ocker draws attention to the innocence that existed in Germany at the time of World War II. In the midst of a country conducting genocide, she discovers that the “children of the Nazi generation” are, indeed, still children and still possess virtuousness and purity.

The narrative takes us along for the journey as Ocker, her sister Rosel and her mother travel to and from safety during the fall of the Third Reich. They evacuate their family home in Gorlitz to escape the Russian army and head to a boarding house in Apolda to live with other refugees. It is this portion that comprises the most interesting bit of the novel, as Ocker’s writing is vivid and clean in depicting the various struggles of those simply looking for a splinter of peace.

Ocker’s auf Wiedersehen succeeds because it understands that war isn’t about winning or losing. It’s not about what side one is on, either. It is, instead, a cruel and comprehensive force that devours everything in its path, stealing virtue, purity and love from those who want nothing but to be left alone. This notion, explored lovingly and candidly through the eyes of a child, is something we all must learn from.

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