It's almost irresistible to use the phrase "ordinary Germans" when we think about who was responsible for the devastation of the Holocaust. In this book we get to know some ordinary Germans, people who lived under the shadow - literally - of the Fuhrer and his madness.
Irmgard Hunt was raised in Berchtesgadan, a village on the Bavarian slopes which became Hitler's retreat. He was often photographed there with his friends and his pets. In fact, he was once photographed with Irmgard herself, so typical of the good Aryan child whose image he wished to promote. He picked her out of a crowd of admirers including her parents.
Irmgard's mother was a supporter of the Fuhrer and all he stood for. Even the child’s name reflected her parent’s party loyalty: “names were among the most important badges of (Germanic) identity.” Christian names were in disfavor as people strove to prove their German pedigree – even Christmas cookies and the legend of Saint Nicklaus were tampered with in the Nazi’s adoration of all things Aryan.
Irmgard’s aunt, on the other hand, was not an admirer of Hitler. As Hunt demonstrates, those who resisted the regime were gradually hunted down or worn down to the point where they raised their hands in the characteristic salute or joined the party in order to keep their employment. In her later years, Tante Emilie felt guilty for collaborating even under the burden of life-threatening necessity.
The fiction that the Nazis created was a safe bubble of self-congratulation for those fortunate enough to be pure German, and to be sane and intelligent, standard solid folk. Irmgard knew a neighbor child with Down Syndrome who had to be protected by her family to avoid being picked up by the "Health Services:"
"The fear of having their child killed by the Nazis for her defect far outweighed the risk they took by not having her inoculated or ever visited a doctor."
Hunt, who now lives in America, became a religious pacifist following the war, which ended when she was a child of ten. Much matter is made of the discomforts of the Allied occupation and the necessity of trading in American cigarettes to obtain necessities. The author also puts in stark focus the feelings of “ordinary” Germans when forced to confront the horrors perpetrated in the name of the Fatherland. Her mother, who had longed for a strong leader, was humiliated and enraged both by the sins of the Fuhrer and by the call to all Germans to bear in the shared responsibility for the Holocaust.
Ending with some sense of closure among the family members, this book satisfies the reader that the author has made peace with her family and with her own bizarre upbringing in the valley of the shadow of evil.