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The Shame of Survival: Working Through a Nazi Childhood

Cover for the book Shame of Survival

“An eye-opening, honest and absorbing account of how evil takes root and flourishes among ordinary people.” —Publishers Weekly

“If we are to understand how genocide was possible, it is the behavior of the perpetrators, both primary and secondary, that we need to understand, far more than the behavior of the victims.”
Harold Marcuse, Associate Professor of History,
University of California, Santa Barbara

University Park, PA—Contrary to the denials by ultra-conservative bishops in recent months, most of us are painfully familiar with images of the Holocaust and all associated with it. Today, there are memorials and museums, here and abroad, to help us remember and educate. The Shame of Survival is yet another small piece to the puzzle in understanding one of the darkest times in our history. It is an honest account of surviving under Nazism and coming to terms with the ideologies inflicted on a young, impressionable mind.

Ursula Mahlendorf was born in Germany at the height of the Great Depression. After her father’s death in 1935, she found herself in the Hitler Youth at age 11. Because of the turbulent events of her childhood, Mahlendorf has little or no record of her early years in Germany. She retains few pictures of herself or family and friends. The Shame of Survival offers her own detailed sketches of maps of Germany and Silesia and her childhood geography. Mahlendorf writes with an informed, feminist perspective after a lifetime of reflection. She concludes with a moving Epilogue, and discloses how she learned to accept and cope emotionally with the shame that haunted her from her childhood allegiance to Nazism and the self-doubts it generated.

Table of Contents

List of Illustrations

1 My Family and the Nazis, 1929–1936
2 A Small Quarry Town, 1936–1938
3 Kristallnacht and the Beginning of World War II,    1938–1940
4 Today Germany Belongs to Us—Tomorrow, the Whole    World, 1940–1941
5 You Are the Future Leadership of the Hitler Youth,    1941–1942
6 Between Conformity and Rebellion, 1942–1944
7 In the Belly of the Beast: The Teacher Seminary,    1944–1945
8 The Big Wheels Are Leaving for the West,    January–March 1945
9 We Don’t Kill, We Heal: The Russian Invasion, 1945
10 My Hometown Becomes Polish, 1945–1946
11 Refugee in the Promised Land of the West:
   Return to School, 1946–1948
12 Finding an Intellectual Home: University, 1949–1954

Books Consulted

Ursula Mahlendorf earned her Ph.D. in German Literature from Brown University in 1958 and spent the rest of her professional life teaching in the German Department and Women’s Studies Program at the University of California, Santa Barbara, where she retired as Professor Emerita of German, Slavic, and Semitic Studies.

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