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Dying only a couple of months before this book was published in English here Alexander Münninghoff gives us a biography of sorts of his family. An award-winning writer and journalist, Alexander’s father was a member of the Waffen SS in the War, and of course eventually tried for war crimes. The difficulty with this is of course we do not know for sure whether the man was really innocent or guilty, and so we only have the author’s tale here which takes up his father’s affirmations of innocence.
This thus makes for an interesting read, reminding us all that we cannot choose our family, and have to accept the skeletons in the closet, warts and all, and coming from a family such as the author did, we are not looking at a group of the cleanest living and honest folk that many of us hope our families are made up of. With the grandfather very much in charge of the family, which is very patriarchal so we do not know, and are never really told how honest his dealings were with regards to making the amounts of money that he did, but at times we do see honest and dishonest dealings going on, as well as using a position of power and influence to get his own way.
We read of the author growing up and being abducted due to custody battles over who he should live with as well as other snippets of information, but the main thrust of this is his father and grandfather, and their actions and the results of these, including other members of the family. At times you can obviously see that some poetic license has been taken and you do have to wonder with some of this how the author, let alone us can be sure of certain elements of this.
What we end up with then is something that is certainly of some interest and does make for a thoughtful read, reminding us that at times it is who you know rather than what you know that can bring about favourable results. Also, this reminds us of the War and how so many were affected, as well as the chaos that ensued afterwards, where at times rather dubious deals were made, both to save embarrassment, and to extend influence elsewhere. This is certainly not something for a lot of people, but those with a slight interest should gain something from reading this book.
In a curiously-detached tone, seldom betraying the conflicting emotions which must, surely, have overwhelmed him from time to time, Munninghoff relates his family history through the bulk of the twentieth century. The family is dominated by the Colossus that is his grandfather, a man so self-righteous, so burning with a non-ironic Catholicism that he belittles, betrays and beleaguers all around him in his ruthless pursuit of wealth and of his own way. Next comes Dutch Frans/German Franz, Alex's equally selfish and amoral father who follows his father's appalling example with markedly less success. Driven always by the desire for heroism he fails to notice how little honour he enjoys or employs in his relations with others. Pressed down by the extraordinary selfishness of these preceding generations, young Alex's character is formed, the first of these diamond-like, dazzling, multi-faceted Munninghoffs apparently without their flaws: a man who values intellectual attainment over money, truth over selfish interpretation and humanity over things; a man who loves and is loved, who suffers and transcends the pain of suffering; a decent human being.
This family history - essentially a father-and-son story, and a rather sad one - casts a light on the sometimes tangled relationships that existed in Europe prior to the Second World War, as well as on the compromises that are sometimes (or even often?) made in wartime. The family was essentially Dutch but with a strong association with Latvia, and hence it may have been almost inevitable that Nazi or Soviet hegemony in the region would cause strong feelings and sometimes choices that in retrospect were unfortunate ones. The postwar picture of Germany and the Low Countries is also an interesting one as portrayed by Münninghoff.
Fascinating memoir of a family before, during and after WW2, in Poland, Latvia, The Netherlands and Germany. Despite his unreliable and selfish father, and through various abductions, lies and cover-ups, the author survives!
I bough this with a background of a father who was essentially from the the same place but took a very different route. Some of it was so sad for the author but his apparent way of relating it was honest and heart-warming. It gave a good insight into probably one of the many reasons individuals chose to follow a fascist dictator. Not every SS recruit started out with genocidal intentions. Not an excuse but enlightening. The only warning is that the family history chart is virtually unreadable in a Kindle.
This is rather an unusual book about a complex family history intimately linked with ww2. The family was split geographically and idealogicallly between the two sides and the aftermath lasted long after the war. The two sides in the war seem simple to us in the UK but to parts of Europe it was not obvious who to side with, especially with the Soviet element to the Allies.
Not sure with this story, perhaps some of it got lost in translation. It was interesting but left you with questions and the Nazi reference In its blurb wasn’t really that relevant to the story. It was about an immensely wealthy but very disfunctional family before during and after the war.
This was an interesting book, unlike some reviewers here I found it engaging from beginning to end. For me it was slightly let down by the Americanised English in the translation. For me a book written by an European about an European family would sit more comfortably without americanised english phrases that appeared every now and then.