German Woman’s WWII-Era Diary Shows How Citizens Turned Blind-Eye to Nazi Crimes
by Zach Pontz
The diary of a young German woman’s experiences during WWII is finally seeing the light of day, and it may offer new insight into the all-too average day-to-day lives of war-era Germans, Der Spiegel reports.
Brigitte Eicke was just a teenager when in 1942 she began keeping a record of her interactions with the Third Reich. For the next three years she wrote in her journal every day. That dedication has paid off now that the entries have been published in German as “Backfisch im Bombenkrieg” — backfisch being an old-fashioned term for a girl on the cusp of womanhood.
The book not only describes Eicke’s own insecurities as a young woman, but it also offers a window into the mundane lives of Germans–and their ability to turn a blind-eye to the crimes of their government.
Eicke sent along her diary to writer and local historian Annet Gröschner, who co-edited and annotated the published version. “The paper was yellowed and had virtually disintegrated,” Gröschner told Der Spiegel. “It was almost unreadable.”
But it has proven highly valuable, especially as Germans have been willing to open themselves up more to public self-scrutiny.
Writes Der Spiegel: “Until relatively recently, accounts of Germans’ own wartime suffering were considered something of a taboo, their own trauma eclipsed by the horror of the Holocaust. But now that the wartime generation is dying, every slice of first-hand social history has inherent value.”
Eicke’s diary is unique in its style, a fact that lends to its appeal.
“She only kept a journal in order to practice her stenography skills, so she was economical about what she said,” remarks Gröschner. “The diary is simply a clear-eyed account of her life at the time. She had nothing to prove and no reader in mind, so she didn’t embellish anything and she didn’t censor herself. And even though she doesn’t go into much detail, she conveys a lot with a few words.”
Eicke’s diary depicts a life of an astonishingly normal teenage existence, albeit one where cinema visits and air raid warnings were treated with equal doses of indifference.
Just as importantly, Eicke’s diary also reveals how easy it was for Germans to remain oblivious to the atrocities being conducted right under their noses.
Now 86, Eicke told Der Spiegel she remains unapologetic about it. “I was young and busy with my own life,” she recalls. A nursing home near where she worked at the time served as a collection center for Jewish transports to Theresienstadt and Auschwitz. “My son always said to me: How could you have been so oblivious?” she says. “I never saw a thing!”
She continues: “Berlin was already Judenrein (“cleansed of Jews”) by then, and I was too young to have noticed anything before that. There were some Jewish girls in my first ever class photograph, taken in 1933, but by the time the next was taken, they were all gone. When I asked my mother about them, she said they had moved to Palestine.”
But Eicke’s story ends happily in a way that another girl’s doesn’t. Anne Frank also kept a diary noted for its unvarnished observational qualities. Frank, who huddled in a family friend’s attic to avoid death ultimately met her fate. Eicke, on the other hand, has lived a long life, one that had its beginnings in a horrifying era she met with detachment.
“We just muddled through, we had no choice,” she says today.