Almost a Childhood: Growing Up Among the Nazis By Hans-Georg Behr Granta 324pp.
Hans-Georg Behr was born into Hitler's Austria. The child of well-bred, wealthy and rabidly Nazi parents, he had a terrible childhood, one independent of his social status. He was constantly beaten for failed behavior or because he stammered. His cold and unfeeling mother was an opera singer, and his mostly absent father was a top official in the Reich aviation ministry who was eventually hanged by the Allies.
After having his chin or cheeks painfully pinched by the likes of Goering, Goebbels and Speer, Hans-Georg backed away from Hitler when the F hrer kissed his mother's hand. His refuge was the country estate of his aristocratic Austrian grandfather who loathed the Nazis.
There, he had his first willing childhood sexual experience with a teenage Russian prisoner, a slave laborer on the estate who was later hanged for teasing Aryan servant girls among the vegetables.
When the Russians arrived, Hans-Georg's half-sister swallowed cyanide and his half-brother, decked out in his Hitler Youth uniform, committed suicide by confronting Russian tanks with his air rifle. His mother became a barmaid and his grandfather obliged the local gruppenf hrer by giving him a small pistol with which to shoot himself. The corpse wascollected by his widow with a wheelbarrow. Austrians renounced the Anschluss as quickly as they celebrated it and embraced democracy.
The boy's postwar early teenage years were spent in a Dickensian Catholic monastery school, where he was propositioned by other youths and orally raped by a priest. But the real fascination of this book is its ability to recall everything as seen by the youngster at the time, all in a spare, laconic, third-person style, in which he referres to himself as "you" or "the boy." As the reader, we slowly begin to comprehend matters that the boy himself barely comprehends.
Yes, it's an artificial device, replete with adult sarcasm, but still a tale told by an infant, full of sound and fury and a great deal of sly humor. All in all, it's a sad, compelling read.
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