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In the Shadow of Silence: From Hitler Youth to Allied Internment: A Young Woman’s Story of Truth and Denial

by Gertrud Mackprang Baer

It is difficult to feel sympathy for someone who voluntarily became a Nazi spy, expected to rat on neighbours, schoolmates, and priests, possibly resulting in their imprisonment or worse. But what if the position was accepted without full understanding, a result of naiveté, laziness, and a teenage infatuation with power? And what if the former spy’s finger now points toward the German people for allowing these heinous crimes to go unchallenged?

These are some of the difficult questions posed in Gertrud Mackprang Baer’s memoir In the Shadow of Silence. Mackprang Baer (who now lives in Canada) writes of her difficult life in Germany toward the end of the Second World War and her decision at 19 – partly to avoid mandatory factory work – to join the notorious Nazi spy agency, Sicherheitsdienst (SD). The SD worked hand in hand with the Gestapo, but Mackprang Baer writes too little about what she actually did at the agency, repeatedly insisting it was innocuous. These protestations of innocence grate at times, though Mackprang Baer does admit to feeling shame and remorse.

After the war Mackprang Baer was (unjustly, she believes) imprisoned by the Allies, and lived under very poor conditions during her internment. In a different context, the reader would likely feel sympathy, even outrage, over this. But juxtaposed with the suffering caused by the people she worked for, sympathy becomes difficult. Throughout the memoir Mackprang Baer ponders the concepts of collective German guilt and amnesia, the Jewish question, the role of the Church in the Nazi genocide, and postwar “justice.” These passages are thoughtful, well researched, and refreshing, coming not from a detached academic but from a first-hand perspective.

The mixture of the personal story with the retrospective musings of a witness – and to a very small degree, participant – makes for a compelling read. But in the end too many questions remain unanswered, not just about this great tragedy but about the writer’s own part in it.


Reviewer: Marsha Lederman

Publisher: HarperCollins Canada


Price: $34.95

Page Count: 304 pp

Format: Cloth

ISBN: 0-00-200093-8

Released: May

Issue Date: 2002-6

Categories: Memoir & Biography