And this is probably one of the whole points of this project. Those letters that the German girls sent to each other gave a real insight into how the young German woman was thinking during the Nazi era.
“I’ve never really thought about what it must have been from the Germans’ point of view,” said one recent reader of Clara’s Story.
“The novel shows an unusual perpetrator point of view,” said an early reader of The House on Schellerg Street.
Now actually I don’t really think of the young German women in these books as perpetrators. Bystanders, perhaps. They didn’t know the full extent of the persecution but in part bought into the myth that the Jew was the enemy.
It’s obvious to me that these women had the same concerns as my mother’s generation had in England: what was happening to their brothers fiancés and fathers? How were they going to manage on rations? Would they ever get normal life back?
Naturally as well it was difficult for the men who were fighting. Would they survive? Would their training enable them to fulfil their duty? Would they ever see their loved ones again?
War is complex: it’s often young men fighting for the sake of some ideology. Yet clearly some things should not be tolerated. One nation cannot be allowed to just march in and take over another. On the other hand, why should any nation be kept in perpetual poverty and have its right to fight for itself taken away?
Many of us would like to think of ourselves as pacifist but what would we do if our family or our property was threatened?
I have a lot of very good German friends. They are not monsters, and neither were their parents, yet that war generation behaved abominably. Taking the evidence from the letters and using my imagination for the rest I’ve built up a picture of what might have happened. I’m not sure I have it right in Girl in a Smart Uniform. I’ve put very high stakes in there. Hopefully I’m nearer the mark with The Class Letter which takes a gentler approach.