A little tale of family history, the writer local to here, the tale another world. In his previous book Derek Niemann took us to the POW camps, and specifically to the British prisoners who survived with a bit of birdwatching, tracking them through to their ornithological careers. I enjoyed Birds In A Cage. Niemann wrote well, and when I saw he was in print again, that it involved a bit of genealogy, well I’d need to find more space on the shelf.
A Nazi In The Family leaves nothing to the imagination by the choice of title. It’s the story of Niemann’s grandfather, and his past. It’s a story that lay hidden for almost all the first 50 years of a man born and raised in the West of Scotland.
Aunt Anne lived in Larkhall, swapping one jingoistic, flag-waving parade of her youth for another, after she married a soldier from the town and brought his daughter to Scotland shortly after the end of the war. She was not a happy woman, but then she was in Larkie, steeped in whatever century it remains.
Derek grew up just along the road, in East Kilbride, new town. His father Rudi had arrived in Scotland some years after his sister, escaping the post-war recovery in Germany. It was only when his sister died that Derek’s dad dwelt on the past. I was at Dachau… and so the story began.
Derek went in search of his grandfather’s life, from birth in 1893 to the Iron Cross in WWI, injury at Passchendaele, and then Germany in the 30s.
A search on the family address in Berlin brought the words crimes against humanity, and slave labour to the screen. Grandad was at Dachau, working. He wore the crisp black uniform of the SS. So just an ordinary family tale then.
Derek Niemann has brought together the result of his extensive researches of the matters that weren’t said at the dinner table. His father’s eldest brother died in the panzers, whilst the youngest remained in Germany. He tells the tale well, building the narrative, from the rise of the Nazis in the 30s, through the war years, the internment and the aftermath.
There is a series of photographs not in the family album – and a story behind how they came into his hands. It’s history, and genealogy, and the times they lived through. It’s another side to the tales of the camps. And it’s a family discovering what lay in their past.
The hidden story of an SS family in wartime Germany, says the strapline. And Aunt Anne’s kitchen table in Larkhall came from her father’s woodwork factory, built by those detained, the swastika on the underside sanded off.
But there’s much more in these pages. Well worth a read.