In 1934 Irmgard (Paul) Hunt was born in Berchtesgaden. Bavaria. In 1940, Tom Brokaw was born in South Dakota. Each has written a memoir about growing up in different cultures at overlapping times.
In A Long Way from Home, subtitled “Growing Up in the American Heartland in the Forties and Fifties”, journalist and TV anchor Tom Brokaw recalls life in a working class family during the war years and the increasingly-prosperous 1950s. In his acknowledgments, he quotes his mother’s reactions to the manuscript:
In some parts your ego is showing, but mostly it’s fine.
Smart mother. The parts of the book I enjoyed most were the early chapters, the story of the Conley and Brokaw families, seeking their fortunes in the cheap lands of the Dakotas and improvising to get through the Depression. Brokaw is insistent that his values and respect for hard work and working people come from this background.
One of the nicest things I know about Brokaw he does not mention in his book. When Greg Mortenson (the school builder of Three Cups of Tea) tried to raise money for his first school, he sent letters to many prominent people Only Brokaw responded with a check.
When Irmgard Hunt (neé Paul) was born in 1934, Hitler had just come to power. Her parents and most (but not all) of the extended Paul and Pohlmann families saw in Adolf Hitler a strong man who would lead Germany out of decades of trouble into better times. Hunt’s memoir, On Hitler’s Mountain, also has a subtitle: “Overcoming the Legacy of a Nazi Childhood.”
This is not a Holocaust memoir. In this corner of rural and tourist Bavaria, she grew up not knowing any Jews.
However, lack of direct encounter with Jewish Germans did not mean that I did not absorb the general atmosphere of anti-Semitism and the contempt in which Jews were held, no matter how German they knew themselves to be.
On a visit to grandparents in Selb, one of the neighbors loaned Irmgard a book.
It was a children’s book with page after page showing the physical differences between Jews and Germans in grotesque drawing of “Jewish” noses, kips and eyes…. I was horrified by the crimes the Jewish people were being accused of…. Mutti asked me to return the book and not to believe all it said. Our family disputes always focused on Hitler’s war and what it would do to Germany and not on the fate of Jews.
Hunt weaves the story of her childhood, with its normal preoccupations with family , friends, playtime, school, and — during the war years — finding enough to eat, with threads of the Nazi indoctrination and control which were the reality of the time. For example, she goes through the cycle of yearly holidays — Christmas, Easter and the others — and tells how the regime modified traditional custom to promote Nazi values. Living on Hitler’s Mountain, Hunt’s family saw the Nazi bigwigs come and go to Hitler’s retreat. Albert Speer’s son was a classmate. As soon as she was old enough she joined the Hitler Youth, wanting to participate in their many activities.
After living through the last painful years of the war and the privations of the early occupation years, Bavarians wanted to turn away from that period. Whereas Brokaw looks back with pride at the wartime sacrifices and postwar good times, Hunt had a shadowed childhood. She conveys the other side of someone else’s victory and concludes:
The Nazi years have left their mark on all who lived through them regardless which side they were on and how they came to terms with that past. Part of my Nazi legacy was that for the longest time I felt instructively scared of authority figures…. On the other hand I had resolved that what would took place under Hitler could not be allowed ever to happen again.