***Winner 2017 National Indie Excellence Award***Indie B.R.A.G. Award Honoree***Winner Chill with a Book Readers’ Award***Finalist 2017 Kindle Book Awards***Winner Readers’ Favorite Book Award***An IWIC Hall of Fame Novel***
Spanning thirteen years from 1940 to 1953 and set against the epic panorama of WWII, author Annette Oppenlander’s SURVIVING THE FATHERLAND is a sweeping saga of family, love, and betrayal that illuminates an intimate part of history seldom seen: the children’s war.
Targeted Age Group:: adult audiences
Heat/Violence Level: Heat Level 4 – R Rated
What Inspired You to Write Your Book?
I want people to understand what life was like for ordinary people and especially children during that time. That generation of war children just took the abuse and after the war ended, everyone was in a hurry to move on. Nobody gave those kids a second thought. And so they sucked it in, grew up and created lives as best they could. In later years they were still accused of being Nazis because they happened to live at that time.
In addition to the war theme, Lilly’s personal struggle with the betrayal of her father and boyfriend show us how complicated love and family relationships can be. Nothing is cut and dry, black or white.
How Did You Come up With Your Characters?
Surviving the Fatherland is based on the true story of my parents growing up during WWII, so the story is told from their alternating viewpoints.
During my childhood, I’d hear bits and pieces, quick references or watch my parents nod at each other in silent understanding. As my interest in history grew, my curiosity grew with it. So in 2002 I asked my parents to share their stories. I spent several weeks visiting them in Germany and recording their memories. I remember one afternoon we were in the basement while my mother ironed. I’d ask questions and she’d tell me about the way her mother treated her. I still have those tapes though it’s hard for me to hear my mother’s voice. She passed away in 2004.
My mother always insisted that my father was the better storyteller. And while I agree that his activities were quite adventurous, my mother’s quieter side offered a lot of depth. And so I think the two characters balance each other out nicely.
Surviving the Fatherland: A True Coming-of-age Love Story Set in WWII Germany
Awards & Reviews
2017 National Indie Excellence Award
2018 Indie B.R.A.G. Award
2017 Winner Chill with a Book Readers’ Award
Finalist 2017 Kindle Book Awards
2018 Readers’ Favorite Book Award
Discovered Diamond Historical Novel
An IWIC Hall of Fame Novel
“This book needs to join the ranks of the classic survivor stories of WWII such as "Diary of Anne Frank" and "Man's Search for Meaning". It is truly that amazing!” InD'tale Magazine
“This novel is fast-paced and emotively worded and features a great selection of characters, flawed and poignantly three-dimensional.” Historical Novel Society
“…eye-opening and heartbreaking…” San Francisco Review of Books
“I would heartily recommend this book as an engrossing and well-researched story with two of the most engaging protagonists I've read for a while.” Jessica Brown for Discovering Diamonds – Independent Reviews of the Best in Historical Fiction
“I for one am glad she shared her story with us as it gives us a look at a different perspective from those who endured this tragic time in history. "Surviving the Fatherland" by Annette Oppenlander is highly recommended reading!” Carol Hoyer for Reader Views
“…simply beautiful.” Readers’ Favorite Five Stars
“…a book well worth reading as it shows you a different side of the war, it shows it from the eyes of children during the war and how things shaped for them when they grew up.” EskieMama & Dragon Lady Reads
Based on True Events
Lilly: May 1940
For me the war began, not with Hitler’s invasion of Poland, but with my father’s lie. I was seven at the time, a skinny thing with pigtails and bony knees, dressed in my mother’s lumpy hand-knitted sweaters, a girl who loved her father more than anything.
It was May of 1940, my favorite time of year when the air is filled with the smell of cut grass and lilacs, promising excursions to town and the cafes in the hilly land I called home.
Like any other weekend, my father came home that Friday carrying a heavy briefcase of folders. Only this time, he flung his case in the corner of the hallway like it was a bag of garbage. You have to understand. My father is a neat freak, a man who keeps himself and everything he touches in absolute order. And so even at seven—even before he said those fateful words—I knew something was different.
My father had been named after the German emperor, Wilhelm, and Mutti called him Willi, but to me he was always Vati.
Ignoring me, he hurried into the kitchen, his eyes bright with excitement. “I’ve been drafted.”
At the sink, Mutti abruptly dropped her sponge and stared at him. Her mouth opened, then closed without a sound.
I didn’t understand what he was talking about. I didn’t understand the meaning of a lie, yet I felt it even then. Like others detect an oncoming thunderstorm, pressure builds behind my forehead, a heaviness in my bones. There is something in the way the liar moves, his limbs hang stiffly on the body as if his soul cringes. His look at me is fleeting and there is something artificial in his voice.
At that moment I knew Vati was hiding something from us.
“They want me there Monday. I’ll be a captain.” His voice trembled as he sank into a chair, still wearing his coat and hat.
“But that’s in three days.” Mutti picked up Burkhart, my little brother who was just a toddler and had begun to whine. “It’s fine,” she soothed as she paced the length of the kitchen, the click-click of her heels like an accusation.
I frowned and moved closer to my father. Since my brother’s birth, Mutti had been spending every minute with the baby. No matter how well I behaved, how I did what she asked, I rarely succeeded drawing her eyes away from my brother. It annoyed me to no end that I couldn’t stop myself from trying.
“Vati, where are you going?” I asked, secure in the knowledge that my little brother wouldn’t draw away his attention.
My father’s cheeks glowed with excitement. As if he hadn’t heard me, he rushed back into the hallway and knelt in front of the wardrobe. I followed.
One door gaped open, revealing a gray military uniform. He was rummaging below.
“What are you looking for?”
“Just a minute.” He emerged with a pair of shiny black boots.
He knelt at my level and to this day I remember smelling the cologne he used every morning, a mix of spice and citrus.
“I am packing.”
“Where are you going?” Vati had never been away, not even for one night. In fact, he and Mutti had strict routines, and these were dictated by the clock. We ate every night at six thirty sharp. Even on Sundays. Breakfast was at seven in the morning. Clothes never ever lay on the floor, each item brushed and aired and returned to its spot in the closet. Life was laid out in rules, washing hands before dinner, carrying a clean handkerchief at all times and always, always looking spotless when leaving the house.
He smoothed the pants of his uniform. “I’ll be helping out in the war.”
“Will you be back for my birthday?” My birthday was on June fourth and I worried about our customary visits to town. In the window of Wiesner, our local toy store, I’d discovered a Schildkröt doll. Her name was Inge and I wanted her badly. Vati said she looked just like me, with blond hair and this pretty red-checkered dress with a white apron and white patent shoes you could take off.
As Vati lifted me in the air and turned in a circle, I shrieked in surprise and delight. I was flying.
“They want me after all! With all my experience, they should be glad.”
Mutti put Burkhart on the floor and leaned in the doorframe to the kitchen, her arms folded across her chest. “I wish you didn’t have to go.”
“It’s not so bad, Luise.” Vati gripped her shoulders as if he wanted to infuse his excitement into her. “I’ll be back soon. We’re so much stronger than last time.”
“All I see is Hitler sending more men into battle. Do you at least know where you’re going?”
Vati shrugged. “Probably France or Scandinavia.”
“Will you be back soon?” I tried again.
He patted my head and returned to his chair at the head of the table. “I’ll be home before you’ve found time to miss me.” As he began to whistle, something nagged my insides like a tiny clawing animal.
A screeching wail erupted. Sharp and metallic, it cut through doors and walls and echoed through the streets. No matter that the siren blasted every day, it made me shiver.
I watched my mother freeze, her eyes filled with something I would soon learn to recognize as fear. The siren continued—up, down, up, down. Another wail erupted. This time it sounded like the foghorn of a ship, signaling the end of the alarm.
Relieved that the horrible noise was over, I climbed on my father’s lap, running a forefinger across the bluish stubble of his jaw. “Vati?”
“Not now, Lieselotte, we are talking,” Mutti said.
I looked up in alarm. Mutti had said Lieselotte when everyone called me Lilly, a sure sign she was mad. I slid back off, keeping my hand on Vati’s arm.
Mutti tucked a strand of pale hair behind her ear and slumped into a chair. “I hate these air raid sirens.”
Vati didn’t look up from the newspaper. “It’s just a test… a precaution.”
Mutti abruptly straightened. “I should work on dinner. You do remember that my brother is visiting tonight?” Two red spots that didn’t quite match her lipstick glowed on her cheeks. “Lilly, there’s honey all over this table. Wash out the dishrag and wipe this down.”
“Yes, Mutti.” I clumsily scrubbed the surface, glancing back and forth between my parents. Vati’s eyes, usually a watery blue, sparkled like an early morning sky.
“Don’t you see that this is important?” he said, letting the paper sink once more. “We’re fighting against England and France, even Scandinavia! Our country needs us.”
“You mean they need you.”
“Everyone has a role to play.”
“They didn’t ask me if I wanted to play a role.” Mutti’s voice was shrill as she set a pot on the stove and began to peel potatoes. “I’ll be stuck with two children to take care of.”
“That’s exactly what the Führer wants you to do. Girls are meant to be mothers and take care of our families. We take care of the rest.”
“Like your war?”
Hearing my parents argue made my insides turn knotty. I wanted them to stop, yet I finished cleaning and said nothing. All I did was return to Vati’s chair as their arguments continued flying like knives above my head.
“We have to make sacrifices,” Vati said. “You’re a strong woman. Besides, isn’t the government taking care of things? Every family receives rations, even for clothes. They’re thinking of everything.”
“These ration cards are so cumbersome. And the sirens drive me crazy.”
Vati got up and patted Mutti’s back. “Don’t worry, everything will work out fine.
During dinner, I continued watching my parents. Heavy silence lingered except for my brother’s babble and the scraping of spoons across porcelain bowls.
I didn’t taste much of the soup. My eyes were drawn to the stony faces on either side as I recalled the events of the afternoon, wondering if I had done something to make them angry. In that stillness of the kitchen, I sensed that my life was about to change. Something dreadful lingered like a wolf lying in wait behind a bush ready to pounce. You didn’t see it or hear it, yet you knew it was there.
“Tim says that women who wear lipstick are whores,” I said, my gaze lingering on my mother’s mouth where the remnants of lipstick clung to her lower lip.
“Who is Tim?” Mutti snapped.
“A boy in my class. His older brother is in the Hitler youth and they say girls should not paint their faces and listen to the men—”
“Young girls like yourself are pretty just the way they are,” Vati said.
I was sure Tim had talked about all women and though I burned to know what a whore was, I decided to keep my mouth shut. My teacher’s probing eyes appeared in my vision, and I remembered my earlier mission.
“Vati, will you read with me tonight?” I was a terrible reader, hated it, especially when I had to read aloud in class and Herr Poll slammed his ruler on my desk when I got stuck.
Mutti’s mouth pressed together in a straight line as she headed for the window to pull down the blackout shutters. “Not tonight,” she said. “Clear the table while I cover the other windows and change your brother. Then you get ready for bed.”
End of chapter sample…
Günter: May 1940
“Attention! Feet together, arms down, hands at your pant seams. Look straight. Stand still,” the boy shouted. He was no more than sixteen, and the khaki uniform hung in folds around his narrow chest. The hair around his ears, shaved to the skin, left a tuft of blonde on top like a bird’s nest.
He paced up and down in front of us, a row of eleven year-old boys, his eyes narrowed into angry slits. “Men,” he yelled, “you are the future soldiers of Germany. You don’t fight to die, but to win.” He yanked open a book. “I quote. Nothing is more important than your courage. Only the strong person, carried by belief and the fighting desire of your own blood, will be master during danger.” The book snapped shut. “I expect absolute obedience.”
I stood next to my best friend, Helmut, at the sports stadium where the local Hitler youth met for drill. We’d lined up in rows of three deep in the middle of the grass-covered field. Another boy with red and blue patches on his shirt appeared in front of us.
“Tuck in your shirt, pull up your socks,” he said, pointing at Helmut. “Look at the filth on your shoes. This is no way to dress. Show some pride.”
From the corner of my eye, I watched Helmut adjust his shirt and rub his shoes. Helmut sometimes forgets about these things. Thankfully my own socks stretched to just below my knees. Still, I held my breath as the boy passed by. Earlier today we’d bought a uniform: black shorts and beige shirt, neckerchief with leather knot, armband, and the best part, a brand-new knife. Mother had grumbled about spending so much money.
“But Mutter, all boys have to go,” I’d argued after we left the store. “They told us at school. It’s our duty.” I didn’t tell her how excited I’d been about my new outfit. Most of the time I get the hand-me-downs from my older brother, Hans.
“What’re they going to do with you?” she’d said, her voice stern with irritation.
“Make fires and camp.” I didn’t tell Mother that I couldn’t wait trying out my new knife and going on adventures with a bunch of boys.
Now I waited in a line and couldn’t move a muscle. Stupid.
“Attention! Turn left, march! One, two, one, two, follow me.” Birdsnest headed down the field while the other youth observed, waiting for us to trip and fall out of line. We marched back and forth, left and right, crisscrossing the field. What a bore.
The air smelled of early summer and warmth. Dandelions and forget-me-nots dotted the grass like a colorful carpet. Imitating my classmates, I fought the urge to look around, keeping my head straight toward the horizon as if I could see what was coming a mile away.
A man in a brown uniform with a red armband watched from the sidelines. Distracted for a moment, I stepped on the heels of the fellow in front.
“Ouch,” the boy yelled. “Watch yourself, idiot.”
“You’re the idiot. Why did you stop?” I said.
Birdsnest materialized in front of us. “What’s going on here?”
“He stepped on me,” the other boy said.
My cheeks felt hot. “He suddenly stopped.”
“Listen to me, Günter.” Birdsnest’s eyes narrowed. “Quit playing around. You’re training to become a soldier. On the ground. Give me twenty pushups, quick.”
“Yes, sir.” I hurriedly dropped to the grass and hid my face because my head had turned into a super-heated balloon ready to fly away.
Out of breath I returned to the row, swallowing the choice words choking me. The marching continued, followed by singing:
“Our flag flies in front of us;
To the future we trek man for man,
We march for Hitler through night and adversity
With the youth’s flag for freedom and bread.
Our flag flies in front of us,
Our flag is the new era,
Our flag leads us into eternity,
Yes, the flag is more than death.
Birdsnest continued reading from his book about becoming heroes, but my thoughts, sped up by the gnawing in my stomach, wandered to the dinner waiting at home. On dismissal, Birdsnest gave me a nasty look before reminding us to practice marching and standing to attention. He never mentioned camping or making fires. Boring. We weren’t allowed to use our knives either. Worse, we’d have to go again Saturday.
By the time I arrived at my house, it was late and I was in a rotten mood. Helmut is much more of a talker, but he was grumpy, too, and we’d walked home in silence.
I lived on the first floor of an apartment house on Weinsbergtalstrasse, one of a row of identical three-story homes. Recently built of brick and stucco, they were considered modern, each house painted the same pale green except for an occasional flower box in a white-framed window. I loved our new water closet. You pulled on the chain, which I was strictly forbidden to play with, and the water released from a tank under the ceiling, flushing everything away. Helmut still had an outhouse.
Entering our flat, I tossed my cap in the corner and headed to the kitchen. “I’m hom—”
The words stuck in my throat because the table, set for five, was untouched, the room deserted. A sense of unease crept up inside me, quickly forgotten because of the delicious smell emanating from the cast-iron pot. I lifted the lid and let out a sigh: bean soup with ham and smoked sausage. I glanced at the clock, seven-thirty. No wonder I was starving.
We never ate later than six. Something was wrong.
Reluctantly, I turned away from the soup and tiptoed down the hallway. Voices came from my parents’ bedroom.
Stopping at the threshold, I knocked. “Vater?”
I cracked open the door. “Are we going to eat?”
Mother sat hunched over on the bed, my father kneeling in front of her. I wanted to enter, but something in their expressions held me back.
My father straightened with effort. “I’m leaving tomorrow.”
“What do you mean?” I looked back and forth between my parents.
“I’ve been drafted.”
End of chapter sample…
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