Family Values

'Not I'

Memoirs of a German Childhood
Joachim Fest
Translated by Martin Chalmers
Other Press, $16.95, 464 pp.

In Berlin on the evening of December 5, 1930, Nazi brownshirts staged an assault on Weimar democracy. Their target was not this or that political rival, but rather a movie theater—the one premiering All Quiet on the Western Front, Lewis Milestone’s adaptation of the bestselling Erich Maria Remarque novel that had drawn the ire of Nazi Gauleiter Joseph Goebbels for its denunciation of war. Many Germans considered Remarque a traitor for revealing the German army’s cynical disregard for life. Yet his novel invited readers to share the lives of ordinary German soldiers suffering in the trenches of World War I; war itself was the enemy, and readers were meant to empathize with a lost generation, regardless of nationality.

Joachim Fest’s memoir invites similar acts of sympathy. Fest (1926–2006), one of Germany’s most respected historians and publishers, was a veteran of WWII, and readers of Not I will share his grief over the loss of young friends. This is an important service, as little in American popular culture has done for WWII what Remarque’s novel did for the prior war. Remarque himself did contribute a post-WWII novel—A Time to Love and a Time to Die—later made into a movie by the German-born American director Douglas Sirk. The impression it gives is of...

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About the Author

John Connelly, author of From Enemy to Brother: The Revolution in Catholic Teaching on the Jews (Harvard), teaches history at the University of California, Berkeley.