By Eycke Strickland
Local to Washington State
iuniverse, paperback, 2008
978-0-595-44704-6, $21.95, 294 pages
Eyes are Watching, Ears are Listening is an outstanding memoir told from the unique point-of-view of a German child witnessing the atrocities wrought upon the Jewish (among others) during Nazi Germany. The book is told in three parts:
-In the Heart of Germany–1933-42
-Witnessing the Holocaust: Krenau, Poland–1942-45 and
-Return to Germany: The Collapse of the Third Reich and the Liberation–1945-46
The author’s parents, who met in an organization called “Wandervogel,” created a loving family of several children. The group is horrified when the father, an architect, is drafted into the dreaded Luftwaffe. Hippies before their time, the free-spirited German couple protest military abuses and the increasingly apparent ill-treatment of the Jews. At great risk of arrest and death, the family hides hundreds of Jews on their property at various times during the Holocaust; even issuing mock work permits in an attempt to save lives–or at least delay the inevitable.
The author describes a pleasant early life surrounded by her upper middle-class family; while the reader is introduced to the cast of characters, young and old, that made up her childhood. When the family is forced to move to Poland, the child is in a unique position to tell us of the experience of witnessing cruel acts on a daily basis, but being powerless to stop the self-righteous madness going on around her–indeed, being required to participate in it with every “Heil Hitler!” Bomb shelters and destruction become a way-of-life for all families.
Running from the Russians, the family is relegated to refugee status; riding on packed trains for days and walking for several miles. Strikingly, in reference to her newborn baby, a stranger advises the mother, “Should have left that thing behind–it’s just going to die anyway.” (Thankfully, all the children survived the trip, though barely. One of her siblings did die a few years before due to illness.). Settling in an abandoned German neighborhood in a relatively calm area, the family battles poverty and hunger, while living among the occupying American soldiers–some kind and others cruel. The author eventually meets and marries an American and subsequently starts her own life in America, where she finishes her higher education.
The author explains that both of her parents lived to be elderly, with her father being posthumously honored years later for his heroic works of humanitarianism in Nazi Germany. The reader understands her father to be an intelligent man, with a heart of gold and nerves of steel (though not always faithful, being quite the “lady’s man”). She credits their lives to his cunning. Her mother, a tremendously strong woman, helped her edit the book’s manuscript at the age of 101.
Eyes are Watching, Ears are Listening is a treasure of historical family photographs. The writing is lucid and touching. I especially appreciate that the author took the time to explain some of the things she learned after-the-fact as an adult. There have been a number of excellent books written by Jewish survivors of the Holocaust. But with Eyes are Watching, Ears are Listening the reader sees both sides of this horrific chapter in human history. In all honesty, in a forced situation, what could any compassionate family have done that this family didn’t’ do? What would you have done? Lest we forget, Eyes are Watching, Ears are Listening is a must-read for every generation. I consider it an honor to review this book. Five stars.
Charyl Miller Pingleton–October 13, 2008