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Book Review: The Shipwreck Of A Nation by H. Peter Nennhaus

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Imagine for a moment you were born in 1929, the youngest of a loving family in Germany. Hitler came to power when you were five, and you would have reached the age of conscription, which was 16, a mere two months before the end of World War II.

The Shipwreck Of A Nation is unlike any history of World War II I have ever read. Author H. Peter Nennhaus became a US citizen in 1961, and is a retired surgeon. He has no real political axe to grind, and his story is a fascinating one.

What makes this book so unique to me is Nennhaus' vivid descriptions of even the most banal events of his young life. Although his country, and indeed his own family were being ripped apart during these years, he remembers such small things as going fishing, and trading found pieces of shrapnel with his friends.

It sounds as if his family were a typical working class family of the time. Unaware of the true horrors of the Holocaust, and helpless to stop anything from happening in any case. The Shipwreck Of A Nation is no revisionist text, but rather an honest account of one little boy growing up amidst one of the worst chapters of human history.

The book certainly provided cause for reflection on my part. What would my life have been like under such circumstances? How could a 12 year old boy know what was really occurring in the world in 1941? What would one make of the air raids over Berlin?

If there is a political contention to The Shipwreck Of A Nation, it is in Nennhaus' oft repeated statements that the average German thought they were fighting a war against Stalin, and the threat from the East. In numerous cases he quotes his peers, and elders wondering why the West were interfering in "their" war at all.

Of course, this is qualified later, when the world learned the truth about the Final Solution. But Nennhaus contends that the death camps really were kept from the general population at the time, and the average German was ignorant of them.

For those interested in a view from the inside of Germany during those fateful years, The Shipwreck Of A Nation is highly recommended.

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