Thursday, 28 October 2010

Writers' Workshop: A Step Back in Time

If you could witness any event in history, what would it be, and why?

I have always had a curiosity when it comes to World War II and Nazi Germany. My Grandad Heinz grew up in M├╝nsterberg, Germany which is now a part of Poland, I would love to travel back through time and view the world through his perspective.

As an English girl, with a German last name, my history teachers would always ask what my Grandad had done during the war, they wanted to add some real-life pizzazz to their otherwise shallow lesson plans. In all honesty, at the time, I had no idea. They didn't understand that as a German who found himself in post-war England, my Grandad was hardly likely to say much about that part of his life. I believe that he preferred to keep a low profile when it came to his Nazi experiences. When I told my classmates that my dear Grandad had grown up in the Nazi Youth, they would jokingly brand me a Nazi too. They didn't seem to understand, that for my Grandad, there wasn't much choice. All young boys were enlisted into the organisation - it was like the scouts. It didn't make him tantermount to Adolf Hitler!

I always wondered what his true views were, as growing up under the regime was bound to have an effect on his beliefs and values. But he would never have voiced his opinions in Modern England, whatever they were.

At 17 my Grandad joined the Navy. He became a POW and was sent to America and later he came to England where he was released and told he could stay. He was a printer, which, as a journalist, I feel a strange kind of affinity to, although I don't know exactly what he printed.

I would like to follow his story. To know who his family were, and to fill in the gaps. I would like to know what he went through as a POW. What's it like to lose your family and think them dead, until 50 years passes and you find out they're still alive?

Germany is always portrayed as the 'villain' in the WWII narrative - and I do not hesitate in saying that Hitler's regime was pure evil and inhumane. But what was the perspective of the every day German? The naval officer? How did they cope? How were the 'heros', Britain and her allies, portrayed to them? What's it like to be on enemy soil and experience the prejudices of that country day after day.

I only knew my Grandad for his last 25 years, he was a kind, loving man who held his family dear to him. He liked to joke and laugh and enjoyed ciggarettes, a beer, and a good Sunday pub lunch. He took us on day trips around Poole when we were younger, and when we went to his house we played random board games that were about criminals hidden in Chinese Dragons. He may have fought in the war for the Germans, but to us, he was just our Grandad.

If I could step back in time, I would like to walk in my Grandad's shoes.

Mama's Losin' It


  1. That is such a good point about the average German citizen or soldier not necessarily sharing the Nazi perspective. My Uncle was a POW of the Japanese in WWII and although his captors were cruel and evil, the average Japanese citizen wasn't always that way. Just like so many civilians in times of conflict, both the German people and the Japanese people were not bad, only tragically caught up in terrible circumstances.
    I can't imagine how hard it must have been for your Grandfather after the war-you clearly loved him very much to wish to experience what he did. Great post!

  2. Grandparents are the best. I am grateful that my children still have them.