A German Reckons with History and Home
First published in German as Heimat: Ein Deutsches Familienalbum
I’ve had the advance reader copy of this book for longer than I’d like to admit, and just recently got around to reading it. As a second generation German-American whose grandmother lived in Germany during WWII, I related to the premise of this book a great deal, but needed to be in the right mindset to read it.
From the publisher marketing:
Nora Krug was born decades after the fall of the Nazi regime, but the Second World War cast a long shadow over her childhood and youth in the city of Karlsruhe, Germany. Yet she knew little about her own family’s involvement; though all four grandparents lived through the war, they never spoke of it.
After twelve years in the US, Krug realizes that living abroad has only intensified her need to ask the questions she didn’t dare to as a child. Returning to Germany, she visits archives, conducts research, and interviews family members, uncovering in the process the stories of her maternal grandfather, a driving teacher in Karlsruhe during the war, and her father’s brother Franz-Karl, who died as a teenage SS soldier. In this extraordinary quest, “Krug erases the boundaries between comics, scrapbooking, and collage as she endeavors to make sense of 20th-century history, the Holocaust, her German heritage, and her family’s place in it all” (The Boston Globe). A highly inventive, “thoughtful, engrossing” (Minneapolis Star-Tribune) graphic memoir, Belonging “packs the power of Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home and David Small’s Stitches” (NPR.org).
My grandmother is a German citizen living in the US. My uncle and cousins still live outside Nürnberg. For a place I have never been, it’s always felt like a second home. But how do you embrace the German side of your heritage when part of your family are post-WWII immigrants and your family were ostracized and called Nazis when they got to the US, a charge you can neither prove, nor disprove.
While I grew up stateside, dreaming of flying to Bavaria to revisit the sites of my grandmother’s childhood, Nora grew up in Germany and has lived in the US for well over a decade. We both, however, have set about the project of discovering the lives and roles of our grandparents and great-grandparents during World War II. While I still know very little about my own (I don’t even know my great-grandfather’s name), Nora embarks on an extensive research project to learn more about her own.
She struggles to feel like she belongs to either side of the Atlantic, as well as with crippling self-consciousness over her heritage. Is it okay to celebrate being German if your family members were potentially Nazis? While Nora follows her research, we, as readers, are given a visual treat in the form of her book. In a mixed-media, family scrapbook style, her memoir incorporates comic panels, full page illustrations, found items, and journal pages from her family members. It is absolutely stunning.
What Nora ultimately learns is the lengths that we, as humans, will go to in order to protect the ones we love and hold dear. Whether her grandparents were party members or not becomes almost secondary to the discussion of family and home that runs throughout her book. It’s a compelling read and one that will resonate with just about all people, regardless of heritage.
Rating: 10 out of 10