Read | 06. Apr 2022

The Long Way Home

The pictures we watch on TV these days, every day, talk about war crime, murder and eviction. Civilians innocently involved into a so called conflict about a brutal occupation. Millions of mostly mothers and children who have to leave their homes and their homeland to survive murder, rape and all kinds of terrors.

That is why reading a book right now about another family´s fate some decades ago touches us in a different way, it feels more relevant to learn about the historical dimension of wars and actions against humanity.

The journalist Christiane Hoffmann, who used to work for German weekly "SPIEGEL" and works now as first deputy spokeswoman for the federal government travels to a village in Poland that used to belong to "Schlesien", back then a part of Germany. Her ancestors had a farm there which they had to leave overnight when the Russian army entered the country to free the world from Nazi government.

Ironically that is exactly the wording Putin uses right now to justify his unjustified war in Ukraine - only back then in Russia alone 27 Million people had been killed by those German Nazis, now Ukraine is just a country that wants to live in freedom, its president being the grandchild of Holocaust survivors himself.

Christiane Hoffmann is the child of a getaway survivor. Her father was nine years old when her grandmother packed a carriage drawn by two horses, one lame and one much too young for that challenge, to treck westward. She was born and raised near Hamburg, where the family settled, always aware that this place called "Wedel" was not really where she came from.

When with her father the last witness of those days had died Hoffmann went on a very special trip to get in touch with her past: She walked the same way her father had walked before, from Poland through Czechoslovakia to Germany.

Never forget where you come from, they say.

But how so if all your family wanted was to forget about all that. When no one really wanted to talk about it?

Hoffmann´s solution: Tell your own story.

So she not only walks the way but researches to find answers to her questions. Getting into the very house her father was born in, visiting his playgrounds and the local graveyard, talking to those who live there today. Her hometown "Rosenthal" had become the Polish village "Rózyna" after the war and disappeared behind the iron curtain - from the perspective of those living in the Western parts of the world.

Hoffmann first came here as a teenager when certain new regulations within Europe allowed entry visas in the 1970s. She started to come back regularly as an adult, she even decided to study Eastern languages and spent some time in Leningrad; but she never got the story finished, her real roots sorted out.

That is what made her repeat the traumatizing escape - always aware that her personal experiences will never get close to those of her family. Because she is not fleeing, she is well equiped and healthy, also well off and open to stay at every hotel that crosses her mind.

Her sensitive observations, although sometimes a lilttle too poetic, her love for every detail and her interest in the people she meeets on her way makes the book a turnpager I finished within a weekend.

Listening to one of my favorite actresses Martina Gedeck´s wonderful voice is another treat.

You will learn more about the Polish and German history through this book than you might even want. You will also learn about victims and villains and how the world seems not to have changed a bit. Christiane Hoffmann´s book should be obligate to European students - like travelling to "Yad Vashem".

As for now: just read it.