Children and Fire:
Review and analysis
This year I have been given the opportunity to read a great novel called the Children and Fire by Ursula Hegi. This novel is a great example for what German culture was like during Hitler’s third reich. The story begins in the winter of 1934, in Fraulein Thekla Jansen's classroom. We start off reading a discussion about what happened one year ago, in Berlin, when a fire destroyed the parliament building. Addionally, with the anniversary of the burning, speculation has been rampant; leading to many theories as to who caused the attack. One theory is that communists torched the building, while another is that Nazis did the deed to frame the communists. The town is paranoid that the same accident can happen in this village. Jansen's students voice their concerns, with possible solutions for flight to safety. The teacher feels it is her duty to settle wild imaginations, yet remain within the rules set forth for her profession by the government. She admits to them that she, too, was afraid on the nights following the Reichstag's burning.
Thekla has grown up in this village striving to teach in the convent classroom. However, this means she gets to replace someone she loves and admires. Fraulein Siderova loses her position because Adolf Hitler has decreed that Jews can no longer hold such a position. Thekla is offered her mentor's job but is embarrassed to visit the woman. She is conflicted by the changes she sees in her country, but cannot rise to object. Her job itself may be at risk for the least impropriety.
Thekla rents a room in the home of one of her students, Bruno Stosick, landing in the middle of family turmoil. Bruno's father opposes the rallies that are held by Hitler's command, which plant strong political emotions in Germany's youth. Bruno is forbidden to attend these youth rallies. His mother has to walk Bruno to school and picks him up afterward, to his embarrassment. To attend the rallies, Bruno sneaks out at night when he feels his parents are asleep. Thekla observes him sneaking out at night and is conflicted. Thekla knows that she should intervene and let the parents know. But she prefers to ignore the purpose of these youth meetings, thinking that Bruno will become accepted by his peers if allowed to attend.
Further on, the chapters delve into the year of 1934 where Hegi illustrates how people had to deal with the fears they had by rules and regulations that were being enforced from their central government. Hitler took over a country from deep depression, bringing in new mandates that the citizens may not understand but promised a renewed and stronger Germany. On a daily basis, propaganda from radio broadcasts, tireless salutations to the Fuhrer, changes in administration of daily workplace duties and endless animosities against Jews keep the people in emotional disorder. Thekla loses several students when their families pack and move to America. But Bruno and the others defy logic and don the uniforms that give them unity.
Throughout the novel, Hegi illustrates on backstory chapters that tell of earlier times, beginning in 1899. In these chapters, Hegi discusses Thekla’s background. Her beloved father has married her mother, a girl pregnant with another's child. The boys resent the fact that she travels with her mother to be a housekeeper for the wealthy Jewish businessman, Herr Abramowitz, and his wife, Ilse. The family spoils her with manners, clothing and education that her father cannot afford. Behind her back, the rumors fly about how spoiled she has become. Later, she accepts courtship from Emil, who is known for his revolutionary thinking. He tries to enlighten her about their government, but she ignores his unconventional statements, terrified of losing her job.
Being a German writer, Hegi deploys heavey use of German language throughout the book. Thi is personally fascinating and bring a more realistic feel when reading a story over German culture.The Character Thekla is interesting in that we want to admire her but not the things that she does. She feels stiff at times, taking obvious measures to avoid conflict. I did enjoy how Hegi used her character to illustrate pivotal moments in history. Ultimately, Hegi tells a story where one society that has a strong education system, cultural, and compassionate can slip into a reality that’s fabricated by propaganda and controlled by fear. How one man can manipulate a nation into the dehumanization of a perceived enemy and the justification of torture and murder.
A link to a summary and where to purchase the Children and Fire.