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06Jun

The Broken House by Horst Krüger review – the book that broke the silence

The rediscovery of Krüger’s fearless memoir, first published in 1966, reveals painful truths about the Nazis’ rise to power

How do you come to terms with the guilt of what your countrymen have done? In the case of Germany between 1933 and 1945 the crimes were so unspeakable and annihilating it was hard to know where expiation could begin. But the unspeakable will only remain so until someone dares to break silence, which is Horst Krüger’s painful achievement in his memoir, The Broken House. First published in Germany in 1966, it fell out of print for decades and no wonder: the truths in it were probably too scalding for a traumatised nation to digest. Now reissued in a translation by Shaun Whiteside, the writing glowers from the page, sorrowful, disbelieving, chastened and yet not without hope.

Krüger (1919-99) grew up in the modest Berlin suburb of Eichkamp, which he revisits as a journalist in middle age after 20 years away. He seeks to understand “what it was really like” back then, poised on the edge of the abyss. He is hunting amid ghosts - a Catholic mother and a Protestant father wounded at Verdun in 1916, neither of them interested in politics. In this, they were of a piece with their Eichkamp neighbours - hard working, respectable, petty minded – and not a Nazi in sight. So when Hitler’s Reich descended on these unsuspecting people they were not only bewildered, they were delighted to be swept along by the surge of national improvement – new jobs, new motorways, new assembly halls. Even concerns about broken Jewish shop windows and looted Jewish homes were lost in the triumphal thunder of the Fatherland reborn.

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