Who Do You Think You Are?


HELENE MUNSON’s new book Boy Soldiers uncovers her father’s past as a child soldier for Nazi Germany


What made you want to write this book?

I kind of failed my father. He wanted me to read his diary about the last days of the war, when he was a 17 year old being sent to the Eastern Front, and I failed him. Then when he was dying he gave it to me again, and I felt that I really owed him that. I couldn’t face doing it for years, but finally I got to work. It’s something that was on my whole generation as a weight – the fate of our parents, being in the war. And in general, I just felt that it was a story that needed to be told.

Do you think people don’t talk enough about war children’s experience­s in Nazi Germany?

I think that’s absolutely the case. I feel like I’m writing the example of the Nazi war children because it’s one of the earliest examples that we still have. It has serious implicatio­ns for the children of the wars today. I’m a woman of 64 years old and I still feel the trauma of my parents’ generation, so you can imagine what it’s going to be like for the children who saw the war in the Middle East raging. Their children towards the end of this century are still going to be feeling the after-effects. I think it’s very important that we record what happens to children in war, and Nazi war children just happens to be a very strong example because it was a very extreme one.

How did researchin­g the book change how you feel about your father?

I think I am much more sympatheti­c towards him now, and in hindsight I regret that I didn’t give him more space to explain himself. Now that I know more about the whole thing I’ve just read a book on psychology, on developmen­tal trauma. That whole generation of German children, who grew up under the Nazis and had to go to war for the Nazis, was severely traumatise­d, but we never saw it in those terms.

Now I can see that a lot of the things that I attributed to him personally – he could break into a rage, for example – was just something that came from the experience­s that he had to go through. I’m more sympatheti­c towards him and I feel sorry for him, and I wish I’d been able to give that to him when he was still alive.

Do you think German children like your father were also victims of the Nazi regime?

I think children of totalitari­an regimes are victims – and German children are certainly a prime example of that – because they’re raised in an ideology, and they don’t know any better. So they think, “This is what it is.” They don’t realise that before they were born there was a totally different way of living.

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