Plain View Press, 2009
Review by Hannah Eason
The ravages of World War II in contemporary art is not new. Many memoirs and documentaries have taken as their subject the deleterious effects of the war on families, particularly those within the Jewish community. auf Wiedersehen is the true account of the war as told by Christa Holder Ocker, whose father served proudly in Hitler’s Third Reich. Ocker’s story is that of a refugee family displaced by physical dangers and shifts in the political environment, but it’s far from the tragedy one expects based on these characteristics. Rather than giving us her demons, she reminds us that, even with grim realities pressing down upon the fragile dome which seems to encapsulate her family, she still had a childhood to conduct.
She misses her father when he is away fighting, and she admires him. She diverges from her sister’s seriousness, becoming the child who will produce puppet plays with other displaced children, and will tamely flirt with American soldiers in trade for Hershey’s chocolate bars. The perspective offered in auf Wiedersehen is a rare and beautiful find – a child’s voice emphasizing the goodness and solidity of institutions she has always known, namely that of her family. The very language she uses to describe a wheat field or an apple tree reminds us that our narrator is a little girl, her passion and simplicity apropos.
The most telling detail upon which Ocker lingers in describing her life through the Nazi nomadic period, is that of her mother. Christa – the character, the daughter – is able to respect her strength even at such a young age. Through her accounts, we are able to respect Anna Holder for virtues one rarely has the opportunity to see in another. Though her dismay is indicated in her sighs and moments of physical pause, Anna maintains her dignity – that Prussian pride, as Christa’s father calls it – and leads the way for her children to do the same. As the mama-bear pieces of Anna’s personality undergo contortions in the realm of things never considered, there’s no loss of quality in her will. While providing for the needs of her family, juggling the changing demands on a day-to-day basis, Anna manages to maintain her family’s sense of fun as essential. She does it the long-lost way – she creatively makes fun wherever the elements around her do not expressly prohibit it. She dreams, she aspires, and she lets the importance of these practices show to her young daughters.
For me, and I chance say for Christa, Anna was the hero of this story, pivotal to what makes it surprisingly enjoyable given its premise.
Ocker doesn’t make the mistake of trying to politicize her memoir. Also, it seems she chose the perfect age range through which to report her events. Had we become privy to her thoughts reflective on the war after she grew up and learned with solemnity the full nature of what had kept her father away, we would have known the struggles of her loyalty, a recasting of events given different hues, etc. Conclusions drawn along that line being easy enough to predict, we know the story would have primarily been a story of loss.
By presenting the story as seen and spoken by young Christa, she allows us to witness what she doubtless always found worthwhile in the story of her childhood: noble perseverance; her family, a bouquet of strong personalities; the instructive virtues of self-respect and hope and a little charm.
Toward the end of the memoir, I thought some scenes didn’t fit well in the cohesive body of the narrative, possibly because they began introducing darker topics which you fear young Christa will have to ponder and reject. Given the tone of this book, the reader is at once glad to see Christa move along briskly to the next topic and left with an impression that these scenes she leaves behind are incomplete, or at least rushed.
I wasn’t fond of the ending. Without going into spoilers, I wish readers were provided a little more at that stage of the narrative – more of Christa’s triumphant perspective on her journey, more details of her anticipations for the future.
On the whole, auf Wiedersehen is a lovely portrayal of human strength, especially in light of what that means for a family under siege.
In addition to conducting author interviews for Her Circle Ezine, Hannah writes book reviews for Kirkus Indie. Find out more about Hannah and her writing projects at www.scoutandengineer.com.