Gr 9 Up-- Vogel was a small-town girl who moved to Berlin in the early '40s, following a scandalous, disastrous marriage. Although an active anti-Nazi, she was actually safer in Berlin than in her hometown, where everyone knew everyone else's business. Through the years of hardship, she was able to struggle along with the help of the good friends she writes about here, not all of whom survived. The major disappointment with this book is that readers never really get to know Ilse. Her friends come to life: Rudolph, who was so thin and could never eat enough to satisfy his hunger; Fred, who manages to deceive his way out of the army; and Hajo, a half-Jewish friend of a friend of a friend who becomes an unwelcome houseguest. Unfortunately, the author herself remains a nonentity. The book's structure is not chronological; instead each chapter focuses on a different person. The effect is rather like looking through an old photograph album with a distant, elderly relative, with each photo spurring on reminiscences from her youth. --Susan M. Harding, Mesquite Public Library, TX
The experience of ordinary Germans who hated Hitler is an important part of World War II that has gone pretty much untold. Vogel was one of those who tried to survive, doing what could be done in daily life to undermine the Nazi war effort. Her memoir centers on the last years of the war, when she's about 30 years old, living in Berlin as an artist. She's in touch with others like herself, who hide in the crowds of the city, always in equal danger from the Nazi threat around them and the Allied bombardment from the skies. Vogel makes you feel how you can get used to a wilder and more desperate norm. There's a sense of recklessness and of barely contained chaos, in the madness outside, and sometimes in Vogel herself. Yet with all the fierce action--even in episodes of rape and pillage--the writing is controlled, totally without hype or heroics. The structure is a little too loose, each chapter focusing, more or less, on a particular friend, and circling back sometimes to tell more about someone introduced in passing the first time. Vogel doesn't reveal much about her inner life, but her friends are memorably characterized--awkward, strange, endearing, ugly, mysterious--the gifted forger, the draft evader, the fugitive Jew. In one of the best episodes, she's asked to hide a man she can't stand; he's an anti-Nazi and he's in danger: Where does her duty lie? She hears of a Jewish child who has died in hiding: What will they do with the corpse? Readers will find this quiet account a disturbing contrast to the usual escape adventure with its clear separation of "us" and "them."