My German Question: Growing Up in Nazi Berlin
This is an account of the author's experiences as a young, assimilated, anti-religious Jew in Nazi Germany between 1933 and 1939. Gay describes his family, the life they led, and the reasons they did not emigrate sooner.
Tante Hede was all business and activity, Onkel Samuel pasty-faced, choleric, and insignificant in family councils. In that couple, Tante Hede, with her formidable energy and need to be in command, was necessarily the leader; her husband, always too heavy and growing more flabby with the years, was no match for her. The story went that in her younger days, when, as photographs show, she approached what one might call stern good looks, she had been in love with a man who was killed in the war.
distinctly was the aria in which Tauber laments the artifices governing his deeply repressed culture: “Always smiling and always cheerful,” he sings, “but what goes on inside is no one’s business.” But whether directed against myself or others, what place should rage of any kind have in my young life? Surely if there ever was a boy who had no cause for it, I was that boy. One thing is certain—I have no doubt on this point—I was never consciously angry at my parents. Then I recall the bicycle
changes of fortune were yet another reminder that major public tremors and mundane private matters easily co existed. Living under a dictatorship did not entail living consistently at a level of high tension. For Jewish lawyers without clients, Jewish actors without parts, Jewish professors without students, the persecution mania of the regime eclipsed all else. Whether to change careers, whether to emigrate, whether to seek employment in the Jewish agencies and schools the regime was foisting on
than ever, but I found on my dates for a soda or at one of the amusement parks popular with the young crowd in Denver that I had somehow incorporated some of my mother’s anxiety symptoms: a crippling feeling of nausea when sitting in a restaurant with my date, or at a theatre or a concert hall. Just thinking about going out could be agony for hours before I left home. These symptoms of a deep maladjustment took years to wane; it was as though I was finding my sexual needs too untamed to handle
followers who tried to make the Nazi New Order a reality; animals kill from instinct and hunger and have not had the advantage of studying Kant or learning the catechism. The abysses of human nature revealed in the Holocaust might even have given Freud pause. It was aggression at its ugliest and most unchecked, linked to a rush of power and, more perversely, in many killers to sexual excitement. When I reduced this monstrous catastrophe to the narrow world of my immediate family, as I did at