Not I: Memoirs of a German Childhoodby Joachim Fest
Few writers have deepened our understanding of the Third Reich as much as German historian, biographer, journalist, and critic Joachim Fest. His biography of Adolf Hitler has reached millions of readers around the /b>
A portrait of an intellectually rigorous German household opposed to the Nazis and how its members suffered for their political stance
Few writers have deepened our understanding of the Third Reich as much as German historian, biographer, journalist, and critic Joachim Fest. His biography of Adolf Hitler has reached millions of readers around the world. Born in 1926, Fest experienced firsthand the rise of the Nazis, the Second World War, and a catastrophically defeated Germany, thus becoming a vital witness to these difficult years.
In this memoir of his childhood and youth, Fest offers a far-reaching view of how he experienced the war and National Socialism. True to the German Bildung tradition, Fest grows up immersed in the works of Goethe, Schiller, Mörike, Rilke, Kleist, Mozart, and Beethoven. His father, a conservative Catholic teacher, opposes the Nazi regime and as a result loses his job and status. Fest is forced to move to a boarding school in the countryside that he despises, and in his effort to come to terms with his father’s strong political convictions, he embarks on a tireless quest for knowledge and moral integrity that will shape the rest of his life and writing career.
"Quietly compelling, elegantly expressed… Not I shrinks the Wagnerian scale of German history in the 1930s and 1940s to chamber music dimensions. It is intensely personal, cleareyed and absolutely riveting.” —The New York Times
“The socially conformist thing to do for a man of distinction—journalist, filmmaker, author of the best-selling first postwar German biography of Hitler, eventually co-editor of the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung—would have been to recount the history of his own distinguished career. Instead Joachim Fest (1926-2006) chose to write Not I, a colorful and dramatic account of his childhood and youth in the nonconformist family that made him what he became.” —The Wall Street Journal
“Exceptional…it tells in a modest, believable, quietly bitter, and totally proud way of a family’s extraordinary decency…Strong and unique. Without it, the English language these days is short a very good book.” —New York Times (Global Edition)
“Joachim Fest’s fascinating memoir about what it was like to come of age during the years of the Third Reich is unusual because its central character is not the author but the author’s remarkable father.” —The New York Times Book Review
"Fest’s portraits of his brothers, his mother, and his cousins—and of himself as a teenage soldier and POW—are equally vivid and full of pathos." —Lorin Stein, The Paris Review
"[An] extraordinary memoir, written in a polished style full of irony and wit." —New York Review of Books
"A stunning portrait of a strenuously anti-Nazi family in Berlin who managed to hang on to their moral convictions during the brutalizing Hitler years...A beautifully written and translated work that creates rare, subtle portraits of Germans." —Kirkus Reviews (Starred Review)
"[An] extraordinarily humane addition to our understanding of those who acted heroically not alone, but alongside a few intimates, together facing into the void." —America Magazine
“A heroic interrogation of Germany’s past.” —Sunday Telegraph
“I loved it, both as a story of great personal courage but also as a very moving witness to the fact that decent liberal values were not entirely lost during the Nazi period. It gives a fascinating and unusual slant on a time that has been so heavily worked over in more obvious ways. In its own manner, it stands alongside Victor Klemperer’s extraordinary diaries of the same period.” —Simon Mawer, best-selling author of Trapeze and The Glass Room
“Fest’s accounts of being called up, of trying to avoid military service, fighting, seeing comrades die, and being caught and kept as a prisoner of war are engrossing.” —Independent On Sunday
“[Fest] makes it hard to think about those blighted years, and it should be hard. His book is a glory, but only if you dare.” —The Scotsman
A stunning portrait of a strenuously anti-Nazi family in Berlin who managed to hang on to their moral convictions during the brutalizing Hitler years. A conservative historian and journalist who wrote a biography of Hitler, among other works (Inside Hitler's Bunker: The Last Days of the Third Reich, 2004, etc.), Fest first published this moving memoir of his coming-of-age during the Third Reich to enormous acclaim in Germany in 2006, also the year of his death at age 79. One of five children born to a politically committed teacher, Johannes Fest, who was alarmed by the ascent of the Nazi Party at the expense of the Weimar Republic, the author and his siblings grew up in a middle-class Berlin suburb and were duly inculcated with their father's staunch prophetic teachings about the perils of surrendering to Nazi lawlessness. Johannes took his children to see the burned-out Reichstag, lost his civil service job in 1933 due to his perceived inability to support the "national state," and was frequently shunned by neighbors, prompting his fearful wife to plea for compromise with the Nazi state so that their life would be easier. But Johannes maintained his moral convictions, and the author and his older brother were invited to a "second supper" with his parents after the smaller ones had gone to bed in order to discuss the events of the day in secrecy. Fest's portrait of his father is strikingly sympathetic, especially against the backdrop of an increasingly acquiescent German populace for whom "upholding the law was more important…than justice." After boarding school and recruitment into the compulsory Hitler Youth, then the Luftwaffe, Fest experienced a horrifying end to the war, yet his memoir focuses more on his literary and musical development. A beautifully written and translated work that creates rare, subtle portraits of Germans.
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Read an Excerpt
In early 1936, from our place by the wall, Wolfgang and I eavesdropped on a rare argument between our parents. There had been a strangely irritable atmosphere all day. My mother evidently started it, reminding my father in a few short sentences what she had put up with, politically and personally, in the last three years. She said she wasn’t complaining, but she had never dreamt of such a future. From morning to night she was standing in front of pots, pans, and washboards, and when the day was over she had to attend to the torn clothes of the children, patched five times over. And then, after what seemed like a hesitant pause, she asked whether my father did not, after all, want to reconsider joining the Party. The gentlemen from the education authority had called twice in the course of the year to persuade him to give way; at the last visit they had even held out the prospect of rapid promotion. In any case, she couldn’t cope anymore…And to indicate the end of her plea, after a long pause she added a simple “Please!”
My father replied a little too wordily (as I sometimes thought in the years to come), but at the same time revealed how uneasy he had been about the question for a long time. He said something about the readjustments that she, like many others, had been forced to make. He spoke about habit, which after often difficult beginnings provides a certain degree of stability. He spoke about conscience and trust in God. Also that he himself, as well as my brothers and I, could gradually relieve her of some of the work in the household, and so on. But my mother insisted on an answer, suggesting that joining the Party would not change anything: “After all, we remain who we are!” It did not take long for my father to retort: “Precisely not! It would change everything!”
Meet the Author
Joachim Fest was one of the most important authors and historians of the Federal Republic of Germany. From 1963 he worked as chief editor of Norddeutscher Rundfunk (North German Broadcasting), and from 1973 to 1993 as editor of the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung. His biography Hitler (1974) has been translated into more than twenty languages. His other works include Inside Hitler’s Bunker (2005), Speer: The Final Verdict (2002), and Plotting Hitler’s Death (1996).
Herbert A. Arnold holds a PhD from the University of Würzburg and is a professor emeritus of German and Letters at Wesleyan University.
Martin Chalmers’s recent translations include Summer Resort by Esther Kinsky and Brussels, the Gentle Monster: or the Disenfranchisement of Europe by Hans Magnus Enzensberger. In 2004 he was awarded the Schlegel-Tieck Prize for The Lesser Evil, his translation of the post-1945 diaries of Victor Klemperer.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
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I think I was expecting more information about what the author experienced during the Nazi years but this book did not deliver. There were endless passages about music and philosophy but very little about the key events such as how his father managed to help his Jewish friends escape or what the author did when he was drafted. Perhaps I didn't read the reviews closely enough before I purchased this book but it was not for me.
I read the German edition and bought the English text to read with friends. The translation is excellent and the introduction , footnotes and index are a great additions to a book that mixes personal experiences under Hitler with sharp observations into evil.