A moving memoir, if an earnest footnote to the history of the Third Reich.



A history of the Nazi eugenics program, which involved hundreds of thousands of children, including the author herself.

That the Nazis, operating under complex notions of racial superiority and Aryan purity, were obsessed with eugenics and committed to “ethnic cleansing” is far from news. What von Oelhafen brings to the story is a personal dimension: born Erika Matko, she was removed from her home, like countless other children possessing the desired phenotypical characteristics, and placed with a German family to be raised as a citizen of the Third Reich, her previous identity essentially erased. In her case, Erika came to live in the home of a senior military officer decades younger than his wife. Separated with the partition of Germany by the victorious Allied powers, young Erika, now Ingrid, approached adulthood without any knowledge of a past that she had suddenly to confront when trying to secure a birth certificate in order to enroll in college. “I was only seventeen and not as aware of history as I have since become,” she writes, adding that whatever story her adoptive mother concocted for the university officials “was not, I think, wholly truthful.” On learning of her identity before her kidnapping into the Lebensborn program, she at first bridled, insisting on using her German name, then deprived of it “since I wasn’t part of the family by blood.” That reversal of fortunes leads her, as her story progresses, into a complex quest to find her true kin, helped along by others caught in the eugenics program and steadily broadening her scope while seeking “to know how this double identity has occurred.” While it is sometimes repetitive and overwrought, her narrative will be of interest not just to students of the Nazi regime, but also to adoptees seeking their own birth parents.

A moving memoir, if an earnest footnote to the history of the Third Reich.

Pub Date: Feb. 2, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-425-28332-5

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Dutton Caliber

Review Posted Online: Dec. 7, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2015

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This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”

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The powerful story of a father’s past and a son’s future.

Atlantic senior writer Coates (The Beautiful Struggle: A Father, Two Sons, and an Unlikely Road to Manhood, 2008) offers this eloquent memoir as a letter to his teenage son, bearing witness to his own experiences and conveying passionate hopes for his son’s life. “I am wounded,” he writes. “I am marked by old codes, which shielded me in one world and then chained me in the next.” Coates grew up in the tough neighborhood of West Baltimore, beaten into obedience by his father. “I was a capable boy, intelligent and well-liked,” he remembers, “but powerfully afraid.” His life changed dramatically at Howard University, where his father taught and from which several siblings graduated. Howard, he writes, “had always been one of the most critical gathering posts for black people.” He calls it The Mecca, and its faculty and his fellow students expanded his horizons, helping him to understand “that the black world was its own thing, more than a photo-negative of the people who believe they are white.” Coates refers repeatedly to whites’ insistence on their exclusive racial identity; he realizes now “that nothing so essentialist as race” divides people, but rather “the actual injury done by people intent on naming us, intent on believing that what they have named matters more than anything we could ever actually do.” After he married, the author’s world widened again in New York, and later in Paris, where he finally felt extricated from white America’s exploitative, consumerist dreams. He came to understand that “race” does not fully explain “the breach between the world and me,” yet race exerts a crucial force, and young blacks like his son are vulnerable and endangered by “majoritarian bandits.” Coates desperately wants his son to be able to live “apart from fear—even apart from me.”

This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”

Pub Date: July 8, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-8129-9354-7

Page Count: 176

Publisher: Spiegel & Grau

Review Posted Online: May 6, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2015

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For Howard Zinn, long-time civil rights and anti-war activist, history and ideology have a lot in common. Since he thinks that everything is in someone's interest, the historian—Zinn posits—has to figure out whose interests he or she is defining/defending/reconstructing (hence one of his previous books, The Politics of History). Zinn has no doubts about where he stands in this "people's history": "it is a history disrespectful of governments and respectful of people's movements of resistance." So what we get here, instead of the usual survey of wars, presidents, and institutions, is a survey of the usual rebellions, strikes, and protest movements. Zinn starts out by depicting the arrival of Columbus in North America from the standpoint of the Indians (which amounts to their standpoint as constructed from the observations of the Europeans); and, after easily establishing the cultural disharmony that ensued, he goes on to the importation of slaves into the colonies. Add the laborers and indentured servants that followed, plus women and later immigrants, and you have Zinn's amorphous constituency. To hear Zinn tell it, all anyone did in America at any time was to oppress or be oppressed; and so he obscures as much as his hated mainstream historical foes do—only in Zinn's case there is that absurd presumption that virtually everything that came to pass was the work of ruling-class planning: this amounts to one great indictment for conspiracy. Despite surface similarities, this is not a social history, since we get no sense of the fabric of life. Instead of negating the one-sided histories he detests, Zinn has merely reversed the image; the distortion remains.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1979

ISBN: 0061965588

Page Count: 772

Publisher: Harper & Row

Review Posted Online: May 26, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1979

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