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The Neighbors Son Liesel Appel, Infinity Publishing, West

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					The Neighbor's Son Liesel Appel, Infinity Publishing, West Conshohocken, PA, $19.95 US, paperback, (388p) ISBN: 0-7414-2777-X In her moving and beautifully written autobiography The Neighbor's Son, Liesel Appel writes of a lifetime spent coming to grips with her native Germany and its World War II legacy. Born in 1941, Liesel writes that her parents "lavished so much love and attention on me that it helped me develop in mind, body and spirit." Her father, in particular, made an impression on the young girl because he "exuded such strength and confidence." As the war progressed, he always ensured that his daughter felt safe and secure. However, by 1951 her father was dead and she lived in Bottrop with her mother. It is here, while playing in front of the apartment building her mother owned, that nine-year-old Liesel is approached by a stranger. The man's name is Willi Meyer; he is a Jew and former neighbor looking for his son. He tells Liesel how his family was arrested one night and his infant son thrown from the second-story balcony. Mr. Meyer has heard that a brave man stepped from the shadows to catch the baby that night, and that his boy is still alive somewhere. Thinking that her father must have been that brave man, young Liesel takes Mr. Meyer upstairs to meet her mother. When her mother becomes angry and throws the man out of the house, Liesel guesses that her loving parents had been Nazis. The revelation is devastating. She writes that "I no longer believed in myself and was no longer proud of who I was! The love and devotion of my mother...no longer reached me." Shortly afterwards, Liesel attempted suicide with rat poison but was discovered unconscious and saved by her mother. Liesel learns that her mother led the Bund Deutscher Maedel, the female version of the Hitler Youth movement. Her father was the Minister of Education in occupied Poland, and their family friend "Uncle Erich" was Erich Koch, the man who masterminded the murder of 400,000 Jewish and Polish civilians. As she grows up, Liesel hears different views of her family. Uncle Friedel calls her father a fanatic who was dedicated to a lost cause. Her brother Fritz, who served in the German Navy and was captured by the British, says that several years after the war their father admitted he had been wrong and politically naive. But Liesel cannot reconcile her parent's love for her with their extreme hatred for Jews. "In my ordinary, loving German home I was taught a most deadly culture, so despicable and wrapped up in deceit, that to free my conscience from its impact had to mean to free myself from every German part of me." As a teenager she flees the pain by running away to England. When people there ask about her background, she claims to be Dutch or Swiss. She tells them her father fought against the Nazis and saved a young Jewish baby who was thrown from a balcony. In London she marries a black man and becomes an activist against apartheid. She earns international respect for helping the Congolese. But still she hides in shame from her past, using lies as shields.

After another attempted suicide, she attends a self-help meeting where for the first time, at age 37, she admits her parents were Nazis and that they had considered her a gift to Hitler. Liesel's admission brings sympathy and invitations from the Jewish community to tell her story. Other Germans identify with her shame and suffering. With newfound courage she revisits her past and discovers the identity of the man who really saved the neighbor's son. Liesel Appel's honest and sensitive narration illuminates the complex effects that hatred, prejudice, and racism have on both victim and perpetrator, but especially on the innocent. The Neighbor's Son holds hope and understanding for all who have suffered at the hands of hatred, and charts one courageous woman's road to redemption.

BookWire Review November 14, 2005


				
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