About a week ago I was invited by a local reading group to answer questions of their members in regard to our school system during the war years in Berlin.
Some of the questions were easy to answer, but some others were more difficult. First of all the questions showed me the vast difference in the concept of our upbringing during the Forties in Berlin. To sum it up evenly, I know that our parents and teachers tried to raise adults. This is in stark contrast to the current belief that children should be children as long as possible.
Believe me, I am not trying to stir up a controversial subject. I am not a teacher, just a story teller, about forgotten times.
However, one of the readers remarked that she is the grandmother of a 17 year old. She thought that her grandson would have been hard pressed to survive the events I described in my books. Due to his upbringing, I have to agree that this might have been difficult for him.
Yes, we were constantly schooled to use our mind. This resulted that we thought and acted on our own. We were trained to stay alive under difficult circumstances.
But, here is the real question: “Was it better then? Was it better to know how to act when your back was against the wall?”
NO, I don’t think for a moment that it was better then……….but I also believe that we should teach our children to use their mind. And, the sooner the better.
I can’t see anything wrong with it.
Hi, I met you at the book fair at the Mt Shasta Mall the first part of November 2014, I was so interested in chatting with you and in reading your books, I bought two of your books and read the third book on my kindle. Usually I am not very intrigued with history based books, but I completely enjoyed your books and was barely able to put them down until I was done. Thank you for sharing your story with us!
Thank you for writing this post. I remember our chat and I hope that you are doing well.
It means a lot to me that you liked my first books sufficiently enough to read the next one and please forgive me for not answering any sooner.
Where does the time go? I guess we all ask ourselves this question and while we try our best to take care of things, like answering your mail, ….
time slips away. Hope to see you again, next November.
Thanks again and all the best to you,
Sir, I read three of your four books, having gotten Loyal to a Degree first. I could not get my nose out of the books. Excellent. I have a question about the fact stated that Karl never killed anyone. What about the SS officer that got locked in the sewer. Did he not die in that there was no way out?
The important question is about Harold’s idea, or your idea, that the U.S. dropped the second bomb on Japan to counter Salin’s intimidation. I find that fascinating, and don’t recall ever hearing that postulation before.
Thank you for reading my books and for taking the time to go to my website to post your comments and questions.
I agree that the SS officer had a very slim chance to survive. But, he could have. The sewer system under the city of Berlin was not a giant cesspool without any exits.
The underground channels lead to several open sewage treatment facilities. It would be anybody’s guess if somebody could swim out of it. In any event, Karl did not equate defending himself with following someone’s order to shoot someone on purpose.
In regard to your other question about the reason for the US dropping a second bomb on Nagasaki. It was the natural conclusion of the population of Berlin and Eastern Germany because they were witnessing the movement of Soviet troops towards the West which rapidly changed direction after August 9th.1945.
it was also the turning point when Soviet combat ready forces in Germany (mind you, this was three months after Germany surrendered) were replaced with occupation troops. A vast, vast difference anybody could see who was there. I was.
I hope that this answers your questions, Katherine. Again, let me thank you for reading my books and should you have any other questions about them, please feel free to contact me.
I am still around.
Best regards, Horst
I just finished reading the four books and found them compelling, moving and insightful. I favor historical fiction and your writing adds an amazing dimension to the many WW2 stories I’ve read.
As a Cuban immigrant arriving as an 11 year old via the Pedro Pan unaccompanied minors program in 1962, I could relate to many of Karl and Harold’s feelings of bewilderment and having to survive in a rapidly changing and dangerous world. One grows up quickly when faced with extraordinary circumstances. I appreciate the moral dilemmas they faced and their will to adhere to their traditional values. Sometimes moral compasses go awry and paradigms shift. In the end it was a heart wrenching story about the human spirit, the bonds of a life long friendship and the transformative power of love.
Thank you for writing these, your compelling stories.
Vicky del Rio
Thank you for your very kind comments and for reading my books. Most of all I want to thank you for confirming that I was able to transmit some of the moral difficulties we had as young adults.
You said that as a Cuban immigrant you are able to relate to our world which was turned up side down and I think that you experienced similar conflicts. It’s kind of difficult to talk or to write about them, isn’t it?
I am glad that you understand what I was trying to convey. Since we are now living in a “politically correct” world, your comments mean a lot to me. Believe me, I try very hard to write a “balanced” and unbiased account of our view points, 70 years ago, and your words confirm that I was able to do that. Thank you, Vicky. You are so right that our inner compass goes awry when there is no unmovable star to guide us. It was different then and it makes me feel good to read that you understand. Take good care, Vicky, and if you have any specific questions, please ask.
All the best,
I grew up in the U.S. during WWII, and I look forward to reading your books. I lived in a predominantly German heritage town in western Kansas. I now have grandchildren and great-grandchildren growing up in present day Germany as German citizens. I am also 1/16 German heritage. I feel I have to consider the past as we continue. Thank you for sharing your story.
Thank you for reading my books and for taking the time to leave a comment on my web site.
It is interesting to read that your children went back to Germany. However, it is a vastly different Germany with different attitudes than it was in the thirties and forties.
You are right in commenting that we should consider the past as we move on. Time passes fast and our memory fades even faster. Hope that you are doing well and wishing you the very best,
I have thoroughly enjoyed reading your CHILDREN TO A DEGREE and now am following your alter ego Karl in LOYAL TO A DEGREE and plan to read all your books, as you not only tell so well what happened then to many people, but you also make it personal with great detail. I am 83 born in 1931 one year after you, so I feel a part of your stories. Though my heritage is Italian and Danish, I have been reading about the Germany at the end of WWII since I started my study of German in high school, and your books are the best I’ve read. I have a great interest in that time in History. I first visited Berlin, both East and West, back in January of 1958 when I was a Fulbright Exchange Teacher in Bremen-Vegesack teaching English and Latin in the Gerhard Rolffs Gymnasium in 1957-58. I have written a memoir for my friends and family about that year and the people I met which I call HERR MR MANALLI. I also traveled extensively throughout Germany when I lived in France in 1974-77 and later when I lived near Wiesbaden in 1984-87, but I haven’t been to Germany since 1996, as I suffered a stroke in 2008 and am in a wheel chair unable to walk. So I read and write.
Vielen Dank für Ihre Bücher! Hoffentlich werden Sie viel mehr schreiben.
Thank you so much for your very kind comments.
Your teaching career is amazing to me and it seems that it allowed you to travel extensively and to live in many places.
You know, Gil, I really wonder what you think about the changes in the world between the beginning of your career and now. It seems like a long time, but then we both know that 50 years is not really that long of a time period. Still the world has changed and I am not harping about “good old times”, as I can’t recall any. You can’t help wondering if it is human nature that we refuse to learn from history, or if it just to “inconvenient” for the decision making generation. Well, I better get of my soap box.
Alles Gute, mein Freund,
PS. Yes, I will write more. Thanks for the encouragement
Hello. I am now reading your 4th book, Partners to a Degree after having finished the first three books. I am absolutely blown away by Karl’s intellect, courage, and strength. I couldn’t even imagine an American child of today surviving as well as he did such an incredibly difficult time.
Mostly I have noticed just how caring Karl is; they way he finds food for the orphan children, feeds the mother and her starving son, takes care of Alex’s feet. etc. Unlike other people who were just out for themselves, he tried to help as many people as he could. So, I’m sure you have heard this question before, but what was his (or I guess your) take on the Jews? I only recall them mentioned once. I know that he supported Hitler, so it seems unlikely that the Jewish plight would have mattered to him much, but with his naturally caring nature, it seems odd that he didn’t feel some compassion for them. Your thoughts? And again, LOVE the books. I have not been able to put them down.
Thank you very much for your kind remarks regarding my books and Karl.
In regard to your comment that a child of today would have a hard time surviving a time period like the downfall of Berlin……
I think that the answer is twofold. First of all, most of the abandoned children did not survived. The men, by this I mean the fathers, were drafted and fought in different locations. Some of the mothers had been killed during the constant air raids and the Soviet artillery barrages, some were still alive, but none of them knew that their child had been transported back to Berlin.
The school system had utterly failed to maintain records and the teachers had their own worries.There was no more telephone service. And even if it was functioning it would not have helped. Only very rich or important people owned a phone.
It was chaos and the end result of Hitler’s “Total War”. Another part of the answer is the fact that we “children” at that time were trained for adulthood and not (like today) to remain sheltered and children as long as possible.
Regarding Karl’s kindness: Tammie, you know that we all march to a different drummer. Not once during the time that I helped others did I do so out of a special kindness. No, I helped in the believe that my caring would somehow cause “some other stranger” to help my mother and my siblings.
I know now that this was a rather childish belief, however, this was the true reason for my actions.
Regarding the Jewish plight: Tammie, when I was 14 years old I did not know any Jewish children or adults. I had never heard of them. I had heard, off course, of the concentration camps. Many of my friends parents and my own grandfather wound up in them. We were told that the camps were labor camps to “correct” the undisciplined or critics of Hitler, and unproductive lazy people, or people wearing sandals and therefore Jesus imitators. Only after the war, during the Nuernberg trial did I heard of the extermination camps. Sorry, Tammie, I can only write about my life as I experienced it.
Thanks again for your interest and don’t hesitate to ask any more questions. I will answer as good as I can.
Take good care,
Thanks for replying to my comments. I neglected to tell you that when I lived in France, Ireland, and Hesse, Germany, I was no longer teaching. I left teaching in 1965 because after 11 and a half years I owed our doctor, dentist, and grocer and had trouble supporting my wife and four children on $8,000 a year, so I became a sales representative for an educational publisher soon doubling and tripling my income and eventually became the European Sales Manager for Britannica Educational Films enabling me to live and travel and meet many wonderful people throughout Europe.
Much has changed in 50 years, but you are right. Much is still the same with wars and threats of WWIII from the Mideast and now from Russia and Ukraine. We have a sizable number of Ukrainian Immigrants here in Anderson, SC/
I have finished your LOYAL TO A DEGREE and am now on chapter 10 or so of TRUST TO A DEGREE. I am amazed at Karlchen’s and Haroldle’s maturity and adaptability especially Karl’s (your) creativity. When I was 14 in 1945 I would not have survived the ordeals they went through, nor would I have been able to devise such plans. I find it hard to put down my Kindle and go to sleep.
Incidentally, I was surprised to learn that the Germans on the home front in WWIi suffered such shortages of food and other consumer goods in spite of taking so much from the countries they occupied. I’m sure you are right about that. You were there.
I have come to know and love many Postwar Germans who were children during the War or were born after the War was ended but also many who were young adults during WWII, and even a few who were middle aged. All are Pacifists. I am glad to learn from your books that there were also other good people in Germany during WWII, people who did not subscribe to Naziism. My Exchange Teaching Partner, Caspar Kuhlmann, who became the Bremen State Superintendent of Schools in the 70’s wrote a textbook for teaching Peace in the schools which was adopted not only by the Bremen schools but by many other Länder as well.
Forgive me for taking up so much space here and telling so much about me.
I hope your health is ausgezeichnet and that you continue to write more Memoirs.
I’d also like to know more about your life after the War both in Europe and here in the US. I look forward to another reply from you if possible.
Since you posted your comments we communicated by email.
However your question regarding our shortages of food and consumer goods, bears answering.
You are right that the Germans occupied other countries and confiscated certain supplies. When I say certain supplies I mean to indicate that all of these countries were ravaged by the war. Whatever the Germans confiscated was then send to the military supply lines. It is understandable that the civilians in Berlin were not the benefactor of these actions.
I invite you, Gil, to keep on asking. It might take me a few days but you will always receive an answer.
Take good care,
I have just finished the fourth book in the series about Karl and Harold. I have two questions: first – Did Karl ever find out what happened to his friend Peter? Second – when is your next book about Harold due? I enjoyed your books so much that I had to read them back to back, I couldn’t stop reading until I had read them all. Thank you for sharing your experience with us.
Thank you for your enthusiastic comments.
Sorry to say that it will take about 4 more weeks until the first book of Harold will be ready for publication.
We are running a small ranch and everyday there is another interruption in my schedule. Sometimes I think that I should not even make a schedule because it is so difficult to adhere.
But, then again, without planning nothing happens.
No, Peter stayed lost. In the months after Berlin surrendered, I exerted every possible effort to find out about him and the train he was on.
Nothing, absolute nothing surfaced. I can only surmise that the Polish underground and resistance blew up the train because none of the other children were ever found either.
The estimated amount of lost and unaccounted children from Berlin, between the ages of 10 and 12 old, were in excess of 12 000. But nobody even knew or knows who did the counting.
If you search through my previous answers to comments underneath my posts you will find other related answers.
Thanks again for your interest. It is very much appreciated.
Take good care,
I am only acquainted with you by your book Children to A Degree. It was different from what I expected in reading the book and reading the excerpts. In the book, Karl’s Opa talked about “getting wet”. It seemed that he was constantly being rained on but didn’t realize he was getting wet with the different responsibilities put on him. Was this a problem for German youths who tried not to “get wet” and how are you handling this? Excuse me if you have answered this question beforehand.
Since you posted your letter we have been in contact by email.
The answer to your question covers a great deal more than just “getting good and wet when you are long enough in the rain”
Therefore I intent to write a separate post on this subject. Since it is a somewhat longer post than my usual ones it might take a few days until I find the time for it. But, I will answer your question.
Thank you for reading my books and all the best to you.
Thank you for writing your book CHILDREN TO A DEGREE. I want my 14 year old son to read it so that he understands the importance of always thinking through any situation carefully, and learn how to deal well with all the incompetent adults he will no doubt encounter at the local high school
I am sorry for all the innocent people that suffered because of evil leaders. I pray that my son will make good and brave choices that defend the helpless and make a bad situation better. I will encourage his friends to read it, too. They are all very smart and nice young men. Good luck to you! Ann
Thank you for reading my book “Children to a degree” and for taking the time to write a comment.
It were different times than your son will encounter, and I hope that he will be spared the difficulties I encountered and described in my book “Loyal to a degree”.
But, in spite of the fact that the times have changed …….. I think that human nature did not.
We are still surrounded by incompetence on every level and now, more than ever, it is important for the young people to use their mind as it was intended to be used. The earlier to think for yourself, the better.
Good luck to you too, Ann, and all the best.
Having finished all four books I should simply wish to thank you for affording me the opportunity to see through your eyes the good,the horror and the love. Thank you for your wonderful work. Paul.
Thank you for your very much appreciated comment. Words like yours are the mental push I need from time to time to get my butt in the writing chair.
Wishing you the very best,
I want to thank you, Mr. Christian for such a valuable contribution to history. I came across your books last week. within four days I purchased and read all five. I asked my 12 yr old daughter to start “Children to a Degree” and she read the first book in two days. She asked me many question during her reading. As we discussed different issues, I found myself wanting to remember the details again. In the last three days I have reread books 1 thru 4 of the TO DEGREE series. The stories are written with such a sense of honesty that they are a pleasure to read twice. I do hope that you will find the time to work on your next book about Harold as I am thirsting for more about Alex, Harold, and their benefactor, the Kommisar. Godunov. (Is Godunov a play on the English phrase “good enough”?) I remember several university professors with the ability to captivate students and bring history to life. You definitely could hold your own with any one of them. I hope that you are in the best of health as I think that your writing is part of a record the world needs. take care, Larry and my daughter Jasmine.
Hello Larry and Jasmine,
Thank you Larry, very much for your kind compliments and for taking the time to post on my website.
I am gratified to read that your daughter is sufficiently interested in my book to read it within two days.
This is pretty amazing considering that I mostly connect with the older generation. Should you have specific questions about that time period, Jasmine, please let me know and I will definitely answer.
No, sorry, Larry, Godunov is not a play on the English phrase “good enough”. I never thought about this possibility, however you are not alone in this assumption as I had several readers ask about it. Presently I am in the middle of my next book about Karl. This flows a lot faster (because I write it from memory) than my follow up book about Harold which I have to base upon the stories he told me and the letters I received from him.
My health is pretty good, Larry, as long as I have plenty of sugar and bread and noodles I am doing fine.
My little dog, a small, 15 pounds, terrier mix is sitting on a chair next to me and when I stop writing she nudges me on my arm to make sure that I hurry up to finish.
So, there is very little idle time.
Thanks once more, Larry, for your enthusiastic comments. Believe me, they are very much appreciated.
All the best to you and Jasmine,
I really like and appreciate your article.Much thanks again. Keep writing. Mortinez
Thank you for your strong encouragement to keep on writing. It means a lot to me to know that I am able to connect with the mind of my readers.
With the current emphasis on political correctness, it’s not an easy task. Therefore your comment means more to me than just the written wrord.
Thank you, Mortinez, and all the best to you,