Author Ursula Mahlendorf will be on campus tonight to talk about her new memoir, “The Shame of Survival.”
A professor emerita of German and women’s studies at the University of California-Santa Barbara, Mahlendorf will share her story on her indoctrination as a child during the Third Reich, and her realization of the horrors of Nazism.
Mahlendorf will speak from 4 p.m. to 5 p.m. in 143 Hillcrest Hall.
Collegiate Times: Could you explain the title of your book, “The Shame of Survival”?
Ursula Mahlendorf: Let me give you a little bit of background history of how I came to writing it. I have been retired for ten years, and during my last year I taught a freshman class. As I was teaching this course, I realized that the students had no idea what I was talking about, and the readings I gave them, particularly about the Hitler Youth — I couldn’t get them to read the literature that I gave them. In frustration, I decided to write this book, write about my experiences in the Hitler Youth.
More and more as I recalled precise incidents of my involvement in the Hitler Youth — of my enjoyment of it, my enthusiasm for it — [it] began to generate in me a sense of shame, when I realized who I could have become. The survival actually comes from the end of the war. I almost participated in a group suicide, just before the Russians came, mostly of fear of what the Russians would do to us. The survival refers to that. It also refers to [the fact] that I have a number of friends who survived concentration camps, and so, in a sense, this joy of having “survived” [felt triumphal], and yet that is a term that is usually used for survivors of the concentration camp. So there is a contradiction in the title, and I wanted to express that contradiction.
CT: One of the perspectives that makes your book so interesting is the perspective of a young girl, particularly of a member of the Bund Deutscher Mädel. Could you describe the role the organization played in shaping your world-view, and at what point you feel you were able to decisively break free from the indoctrination?