Date Published: March 15, 2017
***An IWIC Hall of Fame Novel***
***Winner 2017 National Indie Excellence Award***
"This book needs to join the ranks of the classic survivor stories of WWII such as "Diary of Anne Frank" and "Man's Search for Meaning". It is truly that amazing!" InD'taleMagazine
"This family saga is wonderfully written and, aside from the emotional ramifications, very easy to read. I stayed up too late a couple of nights reading it...I highly recommend this book!" Long and Short Reviews
Spanning thirteen years from 1940 to 1953 and set against the epic panorama of WWII, author Annette Oppenlander's SURVIVING THE FATHERLAND is a sweeping saga of family, love, and betrayal that illuminates an intimate part of history seldom seen: the children's war.
SURVIVING THE FATHERLAND tells the true and heart-wrenching stories of Lilly and Günter struggling with the terror-filled reality of life in the Third Reich, each embarking on their own dangerous path toward survival, freedom, and ultimately each other. Based on the author's own family and anchored in historical facts, this story celebrates the resilience of the human spirit and the strength of war children.
When her father goes off to war, seven-year-old Lilly is left with an unkind mother who favors her brother and chooses to ignore the lecherous pedophile next door. A few blocks away, twelve-year-old Günter also looses his father to the draft and quickly takes charge of supplementing his family's ever-dwindling rations by any means necessary.
As the war escalates and bombs begin to rain, Lilly and Günter's lives spiral out of control. Every day is a fight for survival. On a quest for firewood, Lilly encounters a dying soldier and steals her father's last suit to help the man escape. Barely sixteen, Günter ignores his draft call and embarks as a fugitive on a harrowing 47-day ordeal--always just one step away from execution.
When at last the war ends, Günter grapples with his brother's severe PTSD and the fact that none of his classmates survived. Welcoming denazification, Lilly takes a desperate step to rid herself once and for all of her disgusting neighbor's grip. When Lilly and Günter meet in 1949, their love affair is like any other. Or so it seems. But old wounds and secrets have a way of rising to the surface once more.
Günter: May 1940
“Attention! Feet together, arms down, hands at your pant seams. Look straight. Stand still,” the boy shouted. He was no more than sixteen, and the khaki uniform hung in folds around his narrow chest. The hair around his ears, shaved to the skin, left a tuft of blonde on top like a bird’s nest.
He paced up and down in front of us, a row of eleven year-old boys, his eyes narrowed into angry slits. “Men,” he yelled, “you are the future soldiers of Germany. You don’t fight to die, but to win.” He yanked open a book. “I quote. Nothing is more important than your courage. Only the strong person, carried by belief and the fighting desire of your own blood, will be master during danger.” The book snapped shut. “I expect absolute obedience.”
I stood next to my best friend, Helmut, at the sports stadium where the local Hitler youth met for drill. We’d lined up in rows of three deep in the middle of the grass-covered field. Another boy with red and blue patches on his shirt appeared in front of us.
“Tuck in your shirt, pull up your socks,” he said, pointing at Helmut. “Look at the filth on your shoes. This is no way to dress. Show some pride.”
From the corner of my eye, I watched Helmut adjust his shirt and rub his shoes. Helmut sometimes forgets about these things. Thankfully my own socks stretched to just below my knees. Still, I held my breath as the boy passed by. Earlier today we’d bought a uniform: black shorts and beige shirt, neckerchief with leather knot, armband, and the best part, a brand-new knife. Mother had grumbled about spending so much money.
“But Mutter, all boys have to go,” I’d argued after we left the store. “They told us at school. It’s our duty.” I didn’t tell her how excited I’d been about my new outfit. Most of the time I get the hand-me-downs from my older brother, Hans.
“What’re they going to do with you?” she’d said, her voice stern with irritation.
“Make fires and camp.” I didn’t tell Mother that I couldn’t wait trying out my new knife and going on adventures with a bunch of boys.
Now I waited in a line and couldn’t move a muscle. Stupid.
“Attention! Turn left, march! One, two, one, two, follow me.” Birdsnest headed down the field while the other youth observed, waiting for us to trip and fall out of line. We marched back and forth, left and right, crisscrossing the field. What a bore.
The air smelled of early summer and warmth. Dandelions and forget-me-nots dotted the grass like a colorful carpet. Imitating my classmates, I fought the urge to look around, keeping my head straight toward the horizon as if I could see what was coming a mile away.
A man in a brown uniform with a red armband watched from the sidelines. Distracted for a moment, I stepped on the heels of the fellow in front.
“Ouch,” the boy yelled. “Watch yourself, idiot.”
“You’re the idiot. Why did you stop?” I said.
Birdsnest materialized in front of us. “What’s going on here?”
“He stepped on me,” the other boy said.
My cheeks felt hot. “He suddenly stopped.”
“Listen to me, Günter.” Birdsnest’s eyes narrowed. “Quit playing around. You’re training to become a soldier. On the ground. Give me twenty pushups, quick.”
“Yes, sir.” I hurriedly dropped to the grass and hid my face because my head had turned into a super-heated balloon ready to fly away.
Out of breath I returned to the row, swallowing the choice words choking me. The marching continued, followed by singing:
“Our flag flies in front of us;
To the future we trek man for man,
We march for Hitler through night and adversity
With the youth’s flag for freedom and bread.
Our flag flies in front of us,
Our flag is the new era,
Our flag leads us into eternity,
Yes, the flag is more than death.
Birdsnest continued reading from his book about becoming heroes, but my thoughts, sped up by the gnawing in my stomach, wandered to the dinner waiting at home. On dismissal, Birdsnest gave me a nasty look before reminding us to practice marching and standing to attention. He never mentioned camping or making fires. Boring. We weren’t allowed to use our knives either. Worse, we’d have to go again Saturday.
By the time I arrived at my house, it was late and I was in a rotten mood. Helmut is much more of a talker, but he was grumpy, too, and we’d walked home in silence.
I lived on the first floor of an apartment house on Weinsbergtalstrasse, one of a row of identical three-story homes. Recently built of brick and stucco, they were considered modern, each house painted the same pale green except for an occasional flower box in a white-framed window. I loved our new water closet. You pulled on the chain, which I was strictly forbidden to play with, and the water released from a tank under the ceiling, flushing everything away. Helmut still had an outhouse.
Entering our flat, I tossed my cap in the corner and headed to the kitchen. “I’m hom—”
The words stuck in my throat because the table, set for five, was untouched, the room deserted. A sense of unease crept up inside me, quickly forgotten because of the delicious smell emanating from the cast-iron pot. I lifted the lid and let out a sigh: bean soup with ham and smoked sausage. I glanced at the clock, seven-thirty. No wonder I was starving.
We never ate later than six. Something was wrong.
About the Author
Annette Oppenlander is an award-winning writer, literary coach and educator. As a bestselling historical novelist, Oppenlander is known for her authentic characters and stories based on true events, coming alive in well-researched settings. Having lived in Germany the first half of her life and the second half in various parts in the U.S., Oppenlander inspires readers by illuminating story questions as relevant today as they were in the past. Oppenlander’s bestselling true WWII story, Surviving the Fatherland, was elected to IWIC’s Hall of Fame and won the 2017 National Indie Excellence Award. Her historical time-travel trilogy, Escape from the Past, takes readers to the German Middle Ages and the Wild West. Uniquely, Oppenlander weaves actual historical figures and events into her plots, giving readers a flavor of true history while enjoying a good story. Oppenlander shares her knowledge through writing workshops at colleges, libraries and schools. She also offers vivid presentations and author visits. The mother of fraternal twins and a son, she lives with her husband and old mutt, Mocha, in Bloomington, Ind.