Monday, June 15, 2009

Book Review: Parallel Journeys

I recently finished an amazing book called Parallel Journeys by Eleanor Ayer. The book follows the young lives of Helen Waterford and Alfons Heck, who were born near each other in Germany. But, Helen was Jewish and Alfons was Aryan or non-Jewish. Helen ended up in hiding and then in a concentration camp during WWII while Alfons became a high ranking leader in the Hitler Youth. This story tells their amazing stories, side-by-side.

Alfons Heck later regreted the life he had lead. He felt that because of their age, millions of German youth had been brainwashed by Adolf Hitler. Millions of these Hitler Youth died fighting for their beloved Fuhrer. In his later life, Alfons became a journalist and wrote about his experiences as a Hitler Youth leader. Helen Waterford read one of his articles and contacted him and they eventually joined forces and spoke about their experiences at high schools and other settings.

I found the quote by Alfons Heck at the beginning of chapter 1 to be incredibly powerful:

Unlike our elders, we children of the 1930's had never known a Germany without Nazis. From our very first year in the Volksschule or elementary school, we received daily doses of Nazism. These we swallowed as naturally as our morning milk. Never did we question what our teachers said. We simply believed whatever was crammed into us. And never for a moment did we doubt how fortunate we were to live in a country with such a promising future.

I did not have Alexandra read this book, but I will one day. It is a powerful story showing both sides of this horrible time in our history. Especially in light of last week's events at the US Holocaust Memorial Museum in DC, I found the very last quote of the book very powerful, too. It is actually on the wall of the Hall of Remembrance at this museum (which includes some of Helen's story):

Only guard yourself and guard your soul carefully,
lest you forget the things your eyes saw,
and lest these things depart your heart all the days of your life.
And you shall make them known to your children
and your children's children.


Robin said...

You know, I find myself endlessly fascinated by this topic. And yet it never fails to arouse a heavy, toxic weight in my heart. My sympathy for those who lived through this time period, no matter the side they fell on, knows no bounds.
This will have to be a book that I add to my reading list.
Thank you, Dana.

Dianne M said...

Definitely going on my reading list! I'm already moved by reading what you wrote. Thanks for sharing.

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