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Posted on June 1st, 2012, by

The world history of the 20th century was characterized by numerous conflicts which resulted in the bloodthirsty wars that involved a lot of countries. In this respect, World War II was beyond a doubt the most serious military conflict the mankind had ever faced in its history and the effect of this humanitarian tragedy is still relevant since the enormous casualties still affect the demographic situation in Europe and many other countries of the world, while the destructive effect of the war, crimes against humanity committed by the Nazis in the epoch became probably the most important lesson the mankind had to learn after the war.

At the same time, it should be said that World War II should be viewed as the most serious conflict and as the global tragedy. On the other hand, this global tragedy consisted of millions of smaller but not less significant tragedies, which affected the life of many individuals. Basically, it is hardly possible to imagine that the war remained unnoticed or that it failed to affect each individual that lived in a country involved in the war. In this regard, the situation in Germany was particularly difficult because people living in this country lived in a permanent fear for their own life and life of their relatives and friends. The reason of this fear was not only the risk of being sent to war in terms of the national mobilization, but there was probably even greater threat of political repressions which had swept away many lives, including lives of absolutely innocent people.

In such a situation, it is very important to receive information about this war directly from eyewitnesses of this tragedy. In this respect, it is possible to refer to the novel “The Past is Myself”¯ by Christabel Bielenberg, since it is an autobiographic novel depicting the life of the author in the Nazi Germany in the period of World War II. In such a way, her work helps better understand the actual problems people living in Germany had faced during the war. At the same time, this book uncovers the essence of the Nazi regime based on oppression and fear of its own people.

On analyzing the book “The Past is Myself”¯ by Christabel Bielenberg, it is important to underline that the author does not just depict her personal experience and the fate of people she knew pretty well, but it is also the book that depicts the panorama of the German society of the period of World War II from its beginning in 1939 to the last days of the war as the story end in the spring of 1945, when the German army had already been practically smashed by the allies and the final defeat of Germany and its surrender were just questions of time.

In fact, the book depicts the life of the main character in details. At the same time, the author avoids the unnecessary personalization of the story. What is meant here is the fact that Christabel Bielenberg does not attempt to present her story and the story of her family as the unique story that occurred in the epoch. In stark contrast, she attempts to place her own story in the context of the epoch and show the extent to which her personal tragedy and sufferings she and her family had to pass through during the war were common in the Nazi Germany. Basically, it is possible to estimate that the author shows her epoch through the life of her family and the audience learns what actually happened in Germany through the personal experience of the author.

In fact, the use of such a technique apparently has multiple goals. First of all, the author attempts to affect the emotional sphere and perception of readers because her sufferings were really dramatic and too real to be ignored by the audience. It is hardly possible to imagine that a reader could remain indifferent to the fate of those people who were oppressed by the regime to the extent that they could not even help each other, for instance, when Christabel cannot help a Jewish couple seeking for shelter just because of the fear and the high risk of being imprisoned and sent to the concentration camp for the assistance to Jews, or when close friends of her family are hanged and even her husband cannot avoid the arrest and gets into the concentration camp for nothing.

At the same time, along with a significant impact on the emotions and feelings of the audience, the author uncovers the extent to which the Nazi regime was criminal and the life of ordinary people was unbearable. In this respect, it should be said that the book perfectly depicts the crimes of the regime through the story of the life of the main characters of the autobiographical novel. It is worth mentioning the fact that the depiction of such crimes of Nazis in Germany is practically a kind of documentary and they look like a common thing, which did not even surprise the main characters. At any rate, the main characters of the novel does not seem to be really surprised, even when they get the most terrible news about the death or arrest of people they knew well and who were their friends or family members.

Basically, the book seems to be very logical and rational in the depiction of actual conditions of life and the permanent fear of people living in the Nazi Germany during World War II. This is why it is possible to estimate that the author’s appeal to emotions and feelings of the audience is strongly supported by the logic and rationalism of the author in the depiction of the most tragic events. She develops the event of the story chronologically from the very beginning of the war practically until its end. In this respect, it is worth mentioning the structure of the novel, which is also well-organized and very logical and, what is more, this structure seems to be chosen by the author intentionally.

To put it more precisely, the events of the novel mainly unfolds in two locations: at first in Berlin and lately in Rohrbach, the countryside in the Black Forest. Such a shift from Berlin to the countryside is not occasion and it is important to underline that the shift of the location occurs practically in the middle of the war, when the war turns into its crucial stage, namely, the stage when the defeat of Germany begins. In actuality, such a choice of location seems to be intentional because, in such a way, the author manages to show two different sides of Germany. On the one hand, there is a heart of the Nazi regime and the entire country, Berlin, which seems to be the most secure, safe, and best place where all Germans could only dream of. On the other hand, there is a rural area, which seems to be distant from the military actions, politics and intrigues, but, in actuality, the life in the countryside turns to be as tension or even more tensions than the life in Berlin. Consequently, with the help of such of the location the author manages to show that the war has penetrated into all parts of the country, including the most remote ones such as Rohrbach in the Black Forest. Naturally, this technique helps readers to better understand the extent to which the war influenced the entire German society and there was not a single person left aside.

As it has been already mentioned above, “The Past is Myself”¯ is an autobiographical novel which depicts the life of the main character, which is the life of the author as the matter of fact, in the period of World War II. The novel begins in 1939, when the war has just begun. At this time, Christabel Bielenberg, a British woman, and her family move to Germany which was the motherland of her husband, Peter Bielenberg. Her husband, Peter Bielenberg is a lawyer, whom she married in 1934. In the opening of the novel, the author focuses the attention of readers on events that preceded the war and, in actuality, she apparently attempts to explain why the war has actually broken out. To put it more precisely, she depicts the growing anti-Jewish sentiments that grew stronger in society and contributed consistently to the development of anti-Semitism and racism in the society. In such a context, the success of the political party that had chosen racism the backbone of its ideology was quite predictable. Moreover, the author also shows the dissolution of trade unions and political parties, which grew weaker and weaker, while the new power, the Nazi Party headed by the new leader of Germany, A. Hitler, in contrast, grew stronger as if it took power of other political parties that could compete with it.

At the same time, it should be said that the author basically lays emphasis on the political aspect of the strengthening of the Nazi Party and Hitler coming to power. On analyzing her book, the major conclusion that may be made is the idea that the victory of the Nazi Party headed by Hitler was mainly determined by its ideology and the major political and social trends typical for German society of that epoch. For instance, the ideology of anti-Semitism was widely supported by many Germans, while communists had lost their positions in Germany in face of the nationalist party headed by Hitler. However, it seems that the author does not pay a lot of attention to the economic background and socioeconomic causes of the establishment of the Nazi regime in Germany, which actually involved the country and the entire world into World War II. In this respect, it should be said that socioeconomic factors played an extremely important role in the breaking out the war. Specialists (Junger, 213) underline that the growing poverty and rapid deterioration of the economic situation in Germany became major factors that bring Hitler and his clique to power.

It should be said that before the establishment of the Nazi regime in Germany, the national economy was really in a very poor position. To a significant extent, the deterioration of economic situation in Germany contributed to the growing popularity of extremist and radical ideas of Hitler who used the idea of racial inequality to inspire Germans and enforce his regime. This is actually why, using ideas of anti-Semitism, he attempted to distract people from their economic problems and find the enemy within the country. In such a situation, it was consistently easier to take the power and gain the wide public support.

At the same time, it should be said that the beginning of the war and the reality of the Nazi Germany depicted by the author in her book basically indicate to the internal causes of the war , which mainly lie in social and political domain. However, specialists (Borchert, 156) underline that the rapid deterioration of the economic situation did not only bring Hitler to power, but also stimulated the development of his extremely aggressive, revanchist foreign policy. In fact, Hitler attempted to improve the situation in the country through the militarization of the national economy. On the one hand, such militarization facilitated consistently to the improvement of socioeconomic situation as the level of unemployment decreased substantially, the economy started to grow and the material well-being of ordinary Germans started to grow too. On the other hand, the militarization of the country, in spite of its positive economic effect, could not be unlimited and purposeless. As a result, the idea of military expansion of Germany became extremely popular to the extent that starting from the collection of “German lands”¯ Hitler finished up with the occupation of a large part of Europe and aggression against its opponents in the West and East (Peukert, 163).

In this respect, it is also worth mentioning the fact that the British origin of Christabel Bienelberg influenced her novel consistently. To put it more precisely, she depicts the horrors of the Nazi regime and tends to accuse this regime in the oppression of its own people and in the beginning of the war. However, at this point, it is necessary to remind about the impact of external factors, which, to a significant extent, defined the further development of international relations and contributed to the beginning of World War II. What is meant here is the fact that the author practically ignores the fact that Great Britain and its allies, namely France, did not undertake any preventive measures to stop Hitler (Peukert, 178). Moreover, the policy of appeasing Hitler only increased his aggressiveness in the foreign policy. In this respect, it should be said that the development of the novel and the tragedy of German people and the personal tragedy of the author, her family and her friends, depicted in the novel, was not only the problem of the Nazi regime, but it was also the problem of unwillingness of other countries to stop Hitler, when Germany was too weak to oppose to Great Britain and France (Browning, 175).

On the other hand, it is hardly possible to disagree with the author in her attitude to the Nazi regime and details of the life of ordinary people in the period of World War II are very important and valuable in regard to understanding the essence of this regime and its criminal nature. At the same time, the author shows that it was a very controversial epoch. For instance, being in Berlin, she witnessed her gardener being hanged by the war resistance fighters. This fact is very important because it indicates to the presence of the resistance within Germany and specialists (Peukert, 204) basically agree with Christabel Bielenberg that the opposition to Nazi regime existed, but it was too weak to overthrow Hitler and his party. However, along with the war resistance fighters there were a lot of people who supported Hitler. For instance, the author tells about a woman, who was a Nazi spy, from which she had learned that her husband was a Hitler’s lawyer. In general, her husband and the friends of their family turn to be quite controversial figures because they do not resist to the regime and it is even possible to estimate that they are loyal to this regime, even though it is unbearable for the author. In this respect, it is worth reminding the story of the Jewish couple who looked for shelter but Carl, a friend of Peter, talked out Christabel to hide them because of the risk of arrest. On the other hand, such a loyalty was not rewarded by the regime, since Peter, the husband of Christabel, was arrested and sent to the concentration camp, while his friends Carl and Adam were arrested and executed for speaking openly about the war in a negative way.

Thus, in such a way, the ending of the book really looks like a kind of the liberation of the main character and her family, including her husband who was saved from the concentration camp and sending to the front, from the oppression of the Nazi regime, which was about to fall down. At the same time, it was the liberation of the entire Germany.

In conclusion, it should be said that the book convey a very interesting experience of the author, but, on the other hand, it does not fully reflect the real picture of Germany in World War II. In fact, the position of the author depicts the tragedy of all people living in Germany in that epoch, but the author fails to overcome the national borders of Germany and look at the war from a larger point of view, which could reveal the international character and cause of the war and its tragic effects.

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