Not that I have read that many, but I doubt I will find another book that will curdle my blood and fill me with impotent rage the way this one did. Nicholas Stargardt, a historian from Oxford has given such a chilling account about the lives of children under Nazi dominance - German or Jewish, able-bodied or not. I knew going into this that it would not be an easy read, nevertheless I was unprepared for the kind of horror that lives within its pages: a window to an unspeakable past.
Witnesses of War is a non-fictional account of how children's lives got disrupted in the Europe of the Nazis. With the help of journal entries, drawings and anecdotes, Stargardt traces the origins of the Third Reich and follows the entire duration of the war and the final destruction of Nazism and denazification - all through the eyes of Children. Stargardt's voice is clear and the narration does not falter anywhere in the book: whether it is about the Jewish children in the ghettos or a young girl dying in one of the gas chambers, whether it is the death march, the final solution, the millions of children whose parents were inexorably made to board a train to a concentration camp and death, whether they are horrifying accounts of how the Nazis treated their own children who refused to conform, how the wounded and the disabled in Germany were gassed to death in asylums in a blind bid to "rid the Third Reich of bad blood", the words flow with almost a vehemence. He wants you to see things for what they actually were, he makes you view drawings of children, heartbreaking ones that will make you sob, pieces of verse, photographs, and he quotes a small Jewish boy in a ghetto who screamed,"I want to eat! I want to be German!" You might be sitting on the most comfortable couch in the house but in your mind, you are travelling all over Europe horror-struck at the destruction a few blinded, psychotic men unleashed upon millions of innocents.
There is nothing more to say perhaps about the contents of the book: the title and whatever little description I have given here will give those who want to read this book, a fair idea. There is however, one noteworthy point: Stargardt has given a completely impartial and unbiased account. His focus has been on children throughout the book and he has beautifully shown how the villains were the Nazis, how Germany suffered because of them, the kind of a response it evoked in all those who were affected by it. Neither does he wholly blame Germany itself, nor does he try to smooth over the atrocities committed by the Red Army and other Allied soldiers in occupied Berlin. An entire generation of children grew up in Nazi Germany, what of their confusion, their struggle with what they thought was morally right? The last common man, fought the war against the Allies - was he a Nazi who inherently believed that it was his right to oppress and destroy or was he just a pawn in a cruel game? What the Nazis ultimately did was to leave behind a maimed, belligerent nation. The author repeatedly states that post-war, many Germans were uncomfortable talking of their past and tried to blot it out altogether, many German children having been brought up in a certain way suddenly found themselves alienated from the only world they ever knew. As for the survivors of Himmler's "solution", Jewish or German, one can only wonder at the immensity of the nightmare they carried in their hearts.
Nicholas Stargardt has succeeded in explaining how this wasn't Germany's war, it was the Nazis'. These men were responsible for the genocide of millions of people among other forms of destruction because they saw fit. Witnesses of War is not for the weak-hearted and I would say it is most definitely not for children. It might leave you disturbed and helpless, then why read it? Because we need to know. We owe it to every single one of those victims and survivors, they need witnesses to their lives, to their history and it is ultimately the responsibility of all of us to never let the world forget how extremism can only wreak havoc and destroy, especially in these degenerate times.
PS - Hey all! Do visit my other blog There'sh a Moskeeto in my Foog if you have the time. I shall be grateful for any reader over there :)