My reviewrating: 5 of 5 stars
A non-fictional 'coming-of-age' story that puts Holden Caufield's self-absorbed whiney ass to shame. At age 16, Heck became commander of 6000 of the Third Reich's last defenders, many of them just boys of 13 and 14, of the Westwall along the Rhine. Heck provides insight into the importance of the Hitler Youth in establishing and defending the Nazi regime: "A Hitler Youth uniform was as dangerous as an SS, especially if one was a leader or officer." Heck relates rather poignantly a discussion he has in Februrary of 1945 which elicits a Luftwaffen major to exclaim "Christ, what have we done to our children?" And many in the post-war world looked upon the youth of Germany as misguided children (the minimal attention paid to Pope Benedict's past comes to mind), but Heck points out that "we misguided children had been far more ruthless than our elders." Read this if you want to understand the fanaticism of youth and why modern madrassas present such a threat to the stability of the Islamic world. And read this if you happen to know Germans who survived the war and wish to understand them better. In describing his increasingly militant attitude while Germany suffered annihilation in the last year of the war, Heck also incidentally provokes some soul-searching over the efficacy of the Anglo-American 'strategic' bombing campaign, and, by association, the effectiveness of any bombing campaign (American, Islamic, or otherwise) in destroying the will of youth schooled in violence and hate.
I give Heck some credit for at least trying to come to terms with his Nazi past and acknowledging the sins of the regime and of every German associated with it. There are pearls of wisdom here for anyone who mindlessly adopts mottos (pro patria!) or blindly accepts the policies of their leaders out of some twisted notion that it would be unpatriotic not to support the president (especially "'n a time of war'). "We, a civilized human people, had allowed ourselves to become indifferent to brutality committed by our own government on our own citizens. And yet, I never once during the Hitler years thought of myself as anything but a decent, honorable young German, blessed with a glorious future." A final word to all of those out there who, like myself, teach: While not attempting to exonerate himself, Heck does particularly damn the educators of Germany: "not only had they allowed themselves to be deceived, but they had delivered us, their children, into the cruel power of a new God."
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[Something to consider when assessing the impact of someone like the so-called reverend Wright my friend.]