Item description for JUNGVOLK: The Story of a Boy Defending Hitler's Reich by Wilhelm R. Gehlen & Don A. Gregory...
This is the wartime memoir of a boy named Will, who happened to be the nephew of the head of Nazi Germany's intelligence agency, Foreign Armies East. After reading this book, the reader will wonder who had the most exciting time during World War II.
Will Gehlen's father, a trolley driver, was drafted into the Wehrmacht to man a Sturmgeschutz assault gun in Russia. His older brother, Len, was enlisted in the Hitlerjugend. The author, only 10 years old when the war began, became a helper at the local Luftwaffe flak battery, fetching ammunition. It was exciting work for Will (a member of the "Jungvolk") and by the end of the war he had become expert at judging attacks. As fighter raids increased in frequency he noted that the pilots became less skilled.
Aside from aircraft kills, Gehlen had other adventures during the war, as when his mother dragged him to visit his aunt in Luxembourg in 1944. Crossing the lines they found no aunt but met American troops, and were surprised when the German Army launched an offensive, overrunning the village and forcing US soldiers to retreat with casualties. Making their way back to Germany was even more perilous, until they discovered the most secure vehicles were mail trucks. No one, not even the SS, tried to interfere with their progress.
Gehlen's town was repeatedly bombed and he often had to help with the wreckage or to pull survivors from basements. He witnessed more death than a child ever should; nevertheless, his flak battery continued firing until US tanks were almost on top of the position.
In this book Gehlen, provides an intimate glimpse of the chaos, horror and black humor of life just behind the front lines. As seen through the eyes of a child, who was expert in aircraft identification and bomb weights, food-rationing and tank types, one encounters a view of life inside Hitler's wartime Reich that is both fascinating and rare.
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Reviews - What do customers think about JUNGVOLK: The Story of a Boy Defending Hitler's Reich?
A unique story Sep 13, 2008
I found Gehlen's riveting story of his childhood participation in the Hitler Youth to be one of the better personal accounts of World War II that I have ever read. In particular it tells the story of the German civilian population and how the War was brought home to them. I highly recommend this book to any serious student of World War II history.
The other side of the hill, from a boy's POV Jun 21, 2008
This book is a different take on the Second World War. The author was 12 when the war ended, so his "service" wasn't at the front, and he didn't really fight for his country. Instead, the author spent the war living in Western Germany, near Munchen-Gladbach, and spent a lot of time trying to help the soldiers manning the local AA guns, who were of course intent on fending off Allied air attacks on other parts of Germany as the planes flew over.
Part of the hook of the book is that the author is related to Reinhard Gehlen, who during the war was the head of the portion of the German army's intelligence bureau known as "Foreign Armies East". Young Wilhelm only met him once. Though he called him his "Uncle" Reinhard, in fact the "uncle" was Wilhelm's father's cousin.
Wilhelm's life during the war is the subject of the book. His father spent much of the war as the driver of what his son refers to as a TD (tank destroyer), alternating that with service locally, guarding POWs. In civilian life he was a tram driver. Wilhelm's mother stayed home and kept the family together, though on occasion you wonder about her sanity. At one point late in the war she conceived the hare-brained idea of visiting her cousin, in Luxembourg, behind American lines. She took Wilhelm with her, and made it safely both ways, but things could have been different, considering that just after they arrived at their destination, the Battle of the Bulge started.
Wilhelm spent most of the war playing at being a soldier, as befits a young boy. He formed an attachment to the crews of a couple of quad 20mm AA guns, acting as a messenger between them and various other units. Several times during the war he was under fire, and he seems to have been an eager and practical boy who made himself useful.
I enjoyed this book fairly well. I will say it could have stood a better editing job than it got. The co-author, Gregory, apparently cleaned up the grammar, but knows nothing about military terminology. As a result, there are many errors in terms of the equipment in the book. The Americans attack with "B-23" bombers, Wilhelm's dad drives a TD with a "77mm gun on a Hetzer chassis", and so forth. There's even a Puma armored car with a 10-barreled Nebelwerfer mounted on it. Maybe it was an experimental vehicle; the Germans only did a few thousand of those. There's also an issue with the actual composing of the book: someone doesn't know how to use the return key properly, and at a number of spots in the book a new paragraph starts right in the middle of a sentence.
I generally enjoyed this book. One note: the author during the course of the book only tells you what he knew and how he felt at the time. As a result, a lot of the book makes the author sound like a Nazi, or at least not particularly opposed to them. Towards the end, when he recounts what they saw in newsreels at the end of the war, he makes it clear that this brought home to him the horror of what was done. Because of that, this is a good, valuable, interesting book from an unusual point of view.