This detailed coming-of-age memoir depicts the author’s bucolic childhood and subsequent events he experienced before and after Germany’s entry into WWII.
The author’s youth in the outskirts of Berlin coincides with Germany’s recovery from massive post-WWI unemployment. Under Hitler, optimism reigns, and Baier shares many happy memories of school chums, his first bicycle, and the success of the family farm. But life soon changes. At age 10, Baier enrolls in the Hitler Brown Shirts. His brother is sent to a marine school for Hitler Youth, eventually dying at sea. And his father, an engineer, is assigned work in a machine factory. When Baier starts an apprenticeship as a tool and die maker, his father is conscripted to build airplanes, and with the 1939 invasion of Poland, Germany is plunged into war just as Baier completes his training.
Baier is eventually drafted and ends up at the Russian front, where a head injury and hospital stay lead to him meeting his future wife. Returning to action in Italy, he is captured and sent to an Egyptian POW camp until his release in 1948. Married, he eventually makes his way to Canada and then Cleveland, where he secures a well-paying job in the automobile industry, builds a home and horse barn, and raises his family.
Baier’s memoir is dominated by exceptionally detailed accounts of military training and other specifics. The narrative’s overall approach resembles diary entries— more chronicle than personal reflection. Descriptions of military life, protocol, weaponry, and technical references make for rather tedious reading, and battle descriptions are elaborate, blow-by-blow reports of maneuvers generally devoid of drama.
Reminiscences of family life are equally matter-of-fact, including the tragic death of the author’s young daughter. While thorough and straightforward, the tone is an unemotional, albeit bittersweet, testament to the author’s optimism and fortitude.
While the story lacks the powerful narrative that would appeal to general readers, fans of German military WWII history will likely find it informative.
Also available in hardcover and ebook.