Thursday, March 11, 2010


Das Kindermädchen Das Kindermädchen by Elisabeth Herrmann

Unfortunately for the English speaking audience, this author has not (yet?) been translated to English.

This book is another example of present day dealing with "Vergangenheitsbewältigung" (process of coming to terms with one's past, one's country, family, parents, spouses, etc), that is quite common in present day Germany. Even Germans that are born too late to take the blame (blessing o late birth or "Gnade der späten Geburt") often struggle a lot with the country's past, and particularly with the (sometimes assumed) guilt of the parents and grandparents. And then others are deeply offended even by questions about these times. My sister is trying to get information about my family's life during Nazi times, but her very legitimate questions are readily perceived as hostile, and it is difficult to get answers. This leads to the suspicion that they have something to hide. But it just might be that they are afraid that somebody will find something embarrassing, and the easiest way to avoid it would be, not to talk about it at all.

This is the second book I read in the last few months, that cover similar issues that my sister researches: The lives and recognition of forced laborers in Nazi Germany, from Eastern European countries like Ukraine, is the main theme of the book. These particular forced laborers come from a barely known group: Nannies and housekeepers in wealthy, well connected households. The girls were young, between 12 and 16 years old. Working hours were 16 hours a day (as regulated by the authorities). Many were treated well by the families, many were not. They often formed a close relationship with "their" children.

The novel takes place in present day Berlin. In a quite entertaining way, a small demand of a former nurse, to be formally recognized by the family, so that she can collect a very modest pension, and the persistence of the leading character Joachim Vernau,  leads to the unraveling of two families, the discovery of a number of war crimes (stolen art), murder, love and betrayal, and the return of Vernau to the class of mere mortals after a discourse into the world of the "ruling class/quasi nobility" (at least in their perspective).

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