Read The Past is Myself by Christabel Bielenberg Online


Christabel Bielenberg, a niece of Lord Northcliffe, married a German lawyer in 1934. She lived through the war in Germany, as a German citizen, under the horrors of Nazi rule and Allied bombings. Closely associated with resistance circles, her husband was arrested after the failure of the plot against Hitler's life on 20th July 1944, and she herself was interrogated by theChristabel Bielenberg, a niece of Lord Northcliffe, married a German lawyer in 1934. She lived through the war in Germany, as a German citizen, under the horrors of Nazi rule and Allied bombings. Closely associated with resistance circles, her husband was arrested after the failure of the plot against Hitler's life on 20th July 1944, and she herself was interrogated by the Gestapo. Not only do we meet her friends whose tragic bravery shines from the book, but dozens of everyday Germans, from the simple-minded Nazi official who was also her odd-job gardener, to the good-hearted Black Forest villagers who sheltered her till the liberation. They are presented with humour and sympathy, allowing the reader a remarkable insight into their character. All the more haunting, then, is her night-time encounter with an SS man from Riga who searches desperately for death on the battlefield. The human dimension of her writing brings about an unforgettable portrait of an evil time....

Title : The Past is Myself
Author :
Rating :
ISBN : 9780552990653
Format Type : Paperback
Number of Pages : 288 Pages
Status : Available For Download
Last checked : 21 Minutes ago!

The Past is Myself Reviews

  • Amy
    2019-06-09 17:00

    This was a fascinating memoir from a slightly different perspective. Though Christabel is English, she is married to a wonderful German man and spends the entirety of the war in Germany. I readNot I by Joachim Fest last year and the perspective of a regular German family living in Nazi Germany was completely new viewpoint to me. To be honest, it isn't easy for me to think warmly of Germany circa 1940; I don't hate Germans, but their fate never moved me in the same way as the Jewish, British, Polish, French, etc. populations affected by the war. I probably should have thought about it more, but the World War II lessons in school weren't incredibly nuanced. This book was incredibly powerful and drove home how excrutiating war is for everyone. Average German citizens suffered horribly as the Nazi regime tightened its grim, enduring air raids and bombings, food shortages, suffering from the deaths of their sons, brothers, and husbands. The sheer waste of life on both sides is breathtaking. It's a narrative we often don't read or hear about, but it's so important. I can't imagine how desperately awful and terrifying it must have been, watching helplessly as your beloved country slides farther into fascism and your entire world combusts around you.There were so many heartbreaking moments to reflect on: the toneless recounting of hangings, the Latvian soldier recounting his experience on a death squad extermining Jewish children, the hapless gardener who becomes the neighborhood Nazi warden and is strung up after the war, the Nazi typist who slapped the manacled prisoner typing his confession, the women at Ravensbruck forced to stand against a wall for an entire day after being beaten, the dentist who falls in love with a half-Jewish woman determined to prove her illegitimacy (which would ironically exclude her from the Nuremberg laws), Christabel's son's rapid maturation when he finds out about his father. This was terribly difficult to read and it made me feel sick, but it is such an important book. It's hard to see the good in the world after reading a book like this. Please read it if you can get a copy!

  • Johanna
    2019-06-11 14:36

    Possibly the best memoir I have ever read, excepting maybe Out of Africa by Isak Dineson. I found this book totally by chance at a used English bookstore in Italy and have now reread it probably four times. It is absolutely thrilling. The story of an English woman who marries a German man in the 30s and goes to live in Germany. They have children and then the war descends. It is a view of WWII that I believe is unique - that of a woman essentially trapped behind enemy lines and just trying to survive - and keep her family alive - the best way she knows how. She is a wonderfully observant writer as well, and her characters come fully alive for you. I also learned a lot about the German resistance, which I didn't even know existed before I read this. If you can get your hands on this, read it.

  • Francis
    2019-06-12 09:56

    This is an incredible book that tells the story of the author and her husband who lived in Nazi Germany during WWII. The author was from England and married a German lawyer from Hamburg. They really didn't think Hitler was going to go anywhere and by the time they realized he was it was too late to leave. They suffered incredible hardships and deprivation. While they were not directly involved in the plot to assassinate Hitler, some of their friends were. As a result, her husband was arrested which ultimately would have meant a death sentence. Christabel,kept her cool and acted with audacity which ultimately saved her husband and got them out of all sorts of jams.If you are concerned about the times in which we live, Christabel's cool head and tactical and strategic audacity are valuable lessons with which to benefit from.

  • Elma Nap-kolhoff
    2019-06-08 09:38

    Indrukwekkend autobiografisch verslag van een Engelse vrouw die in de jaren dertig met een Duitser trouwt. Ze besluiten met hun gezin in Nazi-Duitsland te blijven tijdens de oorlog en zijn zijdelings betrokken bij de aanslag op Hitlers leven. Boeiend van de grote lijnen (zoals: lukt het om genoeg mensen bij elkaar te krijgen om Hitlers dictatuur omver te werpen; wat is het nut van de geallieerde bombardementen?) tot de kleinste details. Veel anecdotes uit haar eigen leven en dat van mensen die ze op allerlei plekken ontmoet. Het boek leest als een in memoriam voor de vele Duitsers - 'goed' en 'fout' - die de oorlog niet overleefden. Spannende mustread voor iedereen die de tweede wereldoorlog beter wil begrijpen.

  • Chris
    2019-05-18 09:49

    After I came home with a reprinted book of letters from a mother in Germany during WWII to her family outside, my grandmother pointed this book my way. More of an episodic narrative, this book is the memoirs of an English born woman who marries her German husband and they start a life together in 30's Germany. Not having been exposed to much more than the usual extreme stories of WWII, it's just as fascinating and perhaps more real to read a more day-to-day account of a woman struggling to make the best of an uncontrollable situation. There must be millions of individual stories from this period of time, all equally compelling.

  • Bobbi
    2019-06-11 10:00

    I bought this at a used book store in Scotland last year, but it is still available to buy. Bielenberg gives a first-hand account of life in Germany preceding and during WWII under Hitler's regime as a young Brit married to a non-Nazi German husband. The true story of their survival and the ethical dilemma of preserving their family amid a moral question of opposing the evil vs. keeping alive is well-told and fascinating.

  • Forthbridge
    2019-05-23 16:55

    The author was an Englishwoman from a wealthy background who married a German liberal During the 1930s she lived a tranquil life in a small town in Germany raising her family.Her account of the Nazi years is chilling and the eloquence of the language is admirable. An outstanding and very moving book.

  • Valerie
    2019-05-29 16:35

    Really interesting, beautifully written, humane book by an englishwoman who marries a German and moves to Germany in the mid-late 30s. This talks about her experiences throughout the war etc. Her follow up book is boring though. Don't remember the name but i don't recommend it.

  • Lucy Lang
    2019-06-10 10:51

    A remarkable insight into life in Nazi Germany from the point of view of an English woman who married a German lawyer. This is a truly stunning account of the war years from a German angle and showed the staunch opposition to Hitler that existed in the country. One of the best memoirs I have ever read.

  • Abigail
    2019-06-06 16:32

    Wow!!! This was an eye opening read for me! For one, I have definitely not read enough history, and especially not enough first hand accounts! The beginning of the book threw me off a little because she seemed to be summarizing and hypothesizing about post war things, but a few chapters in she really begins speaking in a more narrative way, which made more sense/seemed to flow better to me.I think one of the things that really drew me in to the book was how much I related to Chris. I felt that if I had been in a similar situstion, I would have acted very similarly. I think what made the book beautiful was how it was a kind of tribute to those who had died, both those whom she could name personally as well as the nameless people she had met.

  • Claire O'brien
    2019-05-18 12:53

    A very interesting insight into life in Germany during the war.

  • Charlotte Green
    2019-06-13 11:02

    The Past is Myself recounts the life of Christabel Bielenberg under the Third Reich. Born Christabel Burton a niece of newspaper magnates Lords Rothermere and Northcliffe, she was named after the suffragette Christabel Pankhurst. Christabel moved to Hamburg to study singing under Alma Schadow. There she met Peter Bielenberg a 22-year-old law student. Neither had much interest in politics. Indeed, on attending a Nazi rally Peter whispered to Christabel “You may think that Germans are political idiots but I can assure you that they won’t be so stupid as to fall for that clown.” However, they did, and the couple married as Anglo-German relations were beginning to slide. When the newly married Christabel Bielenberg exchanged her British passport for a German one, an official at the London embassy told her, “You have not made a very good swap, I’m afraid; except of course that this handsome fellow is included in the deal.”As Hitler’s terrors began, Christabel and Peter seriously considered moving to Ireland. But Peter felt he could not turn his back on his country, so he accepted a position in the Ministry of Economics and they moved to Berlin. However, Peter’s relationship with several known anti-Nazi figures caused him to be watched by the Gestapo and he decided to take a civilian job in Norway. At this point Christabel moved to Rohrbach in the Black Forest area where she stayed for the duration of the war.The novel is divided into two parts: the first details the period in Berlin, the second her stay in Rohrbach. Rather than diary entries this book is written in an episodic style. Each episode gives a little insight into life in Germany before and during the war. There are many grim images of poverty, air raids, food rationing, and fear. We see Christabel interviewed by a Gestapo officer and an encounter with an SS officer on a train. But there are humorous anecdotes as well, including descriptions of various shopping trips at the black market in Berlin and the antics of her three young boys.Christabel is an interesting figure and I enjoyed watching her develop. She had a traditional middle class upbringing but once the war begins to affect Berlin we see her quickly adapt. She becomes adept at picking out the best bargains and on a few occasions we watch as she deals deftly with Nazi figures at dinner parties. Then once in Rohrbach she fits in with a rural working class community. In fact she becomes a mother hen figure that people go to for advice and guidance. She is quick-witted but also caring, looking out for those she lives with in Rohrbach and her neighbours in Berlin.An irreplaceable witness to our history, I would recommend this to anyone with an interest in the Second World War.

  • Chris Chester
    2019-06-05 14:48

    After reading some rather dire presentiments about the future of American democracy, I wanted to get a first-hand account of what the rise of a fascist region felt like. Having the perspective on a whip-start British woman seemed like the next best thing to being there.Spoiler alert, Donald Trump is not Adolf Hitler, and we are not on the verge of the collapse of American democracy. Yet.A renewed faith in the strength of the republic notwithstanding, this is a tremendously well-written account of an incredibly interesting time. Chris Bielenberg — Frau Doktor — is a captivating storyteller. She captures the character of her friends and neighbors with subtlety, deftly explaining the ways Hitler and his Nazi followers indirectly intruded on the lives of ordinary people.That's kind of the incredible thing. Chris' family was remarkably isolated from the pressures of the regime until late into the second World War. I felt like this lends her account a more realistic every-man kind of feel. There's been a lot of fiction on WWII, mostly focused on the actors who took part in the more direct, cinematic parts of the conflict. The Past Is Myself feels closer to what an average person must have felt. And the essential goodness of the people in her life rings through the decades.That's not to see that Bielenberg's story isn't dramatic. There are some scenes in this book, particularly in the latter half, that read almost too sensational to be real. A conversation with a Nazi officer in a dark, empty train car with air raid sirens going on? A tit-a-tat with a Nazi prisoner conveyed in code and hand signals? It's hard to believe they're real. Indeed, one wonders if some of her depictions of her friends don't contain embellishments or careful omissions.Still, one gets the sense that Bielenberg is a straight-forward person, and it's hard to imagine what political benefit there would be when this book was publishing in the 1960s to cover the deeds of others. And since the book is utterly thrilling, can one really help but give her the benefit of the doubt? Fantastic book, glad I bought it.

  • Tracy Terry
    2019-06-07 15:37

    A memoir written by a Englishwoman married to a German citizen living in the Germany of World War II? Being written by what to all intents and purposes was a 'foreign born' citizen I was hoping that The Past Is Myself would provide a somewhat different perspective from the multitude of books written by soldiers (both English and German), prisoners of war and the survivors of the Holocaust.And in some ways it did. But not nearly a personal enough account - I really wanted to know more about the authors experiences and especially her feelings - I felt much of it had been well documented before.Essentially what felt like a chronicle of events, of what happened, where and when, and to whom. Whilst the descriptions of everything from the treatment of the Jewish population, the economy, and the 'Suicide Season' were dealt with admirably the book as a whole could have benefited, as I explained before, from a more personal touch.Ultimately a book that I found a chore to read. Frustrated by the words/sentences written in German for which no translation was given, footnotes being the exception rather than the rule, the narrative was constantly disrupted by my having to ask what such and such a word meant. Then there was the fact that the author regularly used phrases that left me totally puzzled - for those of you who are wondering, a 'hairy Mary' is apparently used to describe an exceptionally hairy woman though whether or not this is what Ms Bielenberg meant by it is any ones guess.Copyright: Tracy Terry @ Pen and Paper.

  • Mary Warnement
    2019-06-10 12:59

    Ever wondered how worthy you'd be in the face of societal evil? Christabel Bielenberg's memoir of living as an English woman who'd married a German during WWII is one example. She lived as well as she could and treasured every moment of humanity (and fumed against numerous cruel acts) perpetrated by all sides of the conflict. The introduction revealed that her husband was released from prison. At first, I cursed not saving the intro for last, just to avoid such spoilers, but as I reached her account of his imprisonment, I was glad to know all would end well for these two. (By well, of course, I mean surviving.) Therefore, I have no qualms is mimicking the editor's choice and letting anyone who may read this have the same relief. This was published in 1968, well past the events described. How could she recreate the dialogue and scenes? It's true, certain events, even the small effect of the pattern of snow blowing across the road, can be worthy of recall, esp if it's the road you're walking to meet your husband imprisoned in a concentration camp. Her bon mots of regular germans stayed with me. These are the small matters that link us all. And her reaction to the actual end made me believe in humanity again, even if I despair of mankind.

  • Andrew McClarnon
    2019-06-13 17:51

    This book has been staring at me from my in-laws book shelves for 20 odd years - but I'd never got beyond musing about the slightly clumsy title. Last year, reading in 'Life after Life' the section where the heroine is braving allied bombing raids on Germany, I made a note to at last get beyond the title.There's some fine, precise writing in here, essentially a series of stories from different moments during the war. Chris is focused on her children, while worrying about her husband, who is away from home a great deal, and is friendly with many recognised anti-Nazi's. All comes to a head after the July 20th plot, and we follow Chris into bombed out Berlin, and a trip to a concentration camp, and Gestapo questioning, as she tries to clear her husband. Amazingly, as the regime crumbles and chaos begins to reign, the family makes it (very sensibly staying in the American sector). This is always going to be a popular read, if only because of its unusual point of view. Its also a strong picture of family fortitude, and of getting on while all crumbles.

  • Johanne
    2019-05-25 13:59

    Compelling account of living in Nazi Germany as a British woman married to a German. Two aspects were engrossing. First, there's an account of trying to survive and bring up children as daily life splinters and food/clothes become impossible to obtain. Christabel and the children go to a small village to live - and she draws wonderful pictures of the people there.Secondly, because many of their friends were involved in the General's Revolt, her husband was arrested. Her recounting of efforts to see him, and to get him released are very well done.It would easy to forget this is a memoir, her writing is so good and flows so well. And there are vinettes that have stayed with me since the first time I read this several years ago,I've read it three times now - I'll be reading another memoir (such as Marie Vasiltchikov's "Berlin Diaries") or a novel, and "Ride Out The Dark" is a good reference point.

  • David
    2019-05-22 12:45

    Recommended in the WSJ 11/2/13 by a writer, Susanna Moore, as one of the "Five Best" books about "the unvanquished in war." It may also have been included in the bibliography of some book I read on WW II -- perhaps Victor Klemperer's memoirs -- because I read this book and four or five other German WW II memoirs at about the same time in the summer of 2011. In any event, this is quite interesting -- memoirs of an English woman married to a German who "rode out" WW II in Germany. She was friends of several people executed in connection with the July 20 1944 plot to kill Hitler.The WSJ "five best" also recommended two other memoirs I read at the same time: "Berlin Diaries 1940-1945" and "A Woman In Berlin." Will get around to entering and reviewing those at some point.

  • Hannah
    2019-05-30 15:44

    I spent the first third of the book interested in what was happening, but not really engaged with the action because Christabel felt quite distant to me. It was only when she, and those close to her, were in real danger that she seemed to throw off the reserve and I felt I could actually engage with her and was really swept along by her story.The book is very interesting as a piece written by someone who lived alongside the resistance movement in Germany during World War 2, it is also interesting as an account of the thoughts of a British person living in Germany during this time. The writing itself is very good and the only reason I have given it 4 stars instead of 5 is the rather slow-paced reserve of the first third of the book.

  • Rurae
    2019-05-29 11:02

    I read this book a long time ago as a young woman and found it fascinating. We had studied the second world war in school but this book gives a different insight and provides a personal account of living in Germany during the Nazi years. I think it got made into a tv drama at one point. It's a great read if you're interested in the history of that period. I'm currently reading The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich - which is incredible and so far beyond five stars for the incredible depth and scope. This book provides a counterpoint to the sweeping historical narratives of that time by giving a personal insight to the period.

  • Costi B.
    2019-05-23 09:56

    "You may think that Germans are political idiots, Chris," he said very loudly and firmly, "and you may be right, but one thing I can assure you, they won't be so stupid as to fall for that clown." Three months later on January 30th, 1933, Hitler became Germany's Chancellor...'The book is outstanding for many reasons: the writing is excellent, and the author gives an astute insight into the German character and why exactly Naziism happened. There are many chilling moments, but the one that struck me the most was towards the very end of the war

  • Karen
    2019-06-12 12:45

    This is such an interesting book, particularly for a British reader. Christabel Bielenberg was an Englishwomen married to a German, and this is her account of WWII, living in Berlin and then the Black Forest. There is some high drama, in particular the account of her husband's time in Ravensbruck, but a lot of the book is about her day to day experiences in wartime Germany and the stories of many ordinary Germans living through that time. An interesting contrast to the many books about day to day life in wartime Britain.

  • Joanne
    2019-05-20 13:53

    It's a really fantastic book - I learnt more from this book about what happened during Hitler's rise to power and what it meant to live through fascism and a world war, than in all my school history. What I learnt here will also stay with me forever. We're all just people, just doing our best, and the blame game is not only boring but also very destructive. I love history as the stories of ordinary people. This and BBC's 'People's Century' can replace my A Level History course, and most welcome!

  • Craig
    2019-05-26 14:32

    Although highly readable I had difficulty in deciding exactly where the author stood politically and consciously. An Irish/English woman married to a German during World War Two. Little, if any reference to 'The Holocaust' and her apparant ability to move around Europe using contacts in high places only served to confound me.

  • Michelle Barker
    2019-06-15 16:41

    The last third of the book was gripping, but to get there you had to wade through a lot of trivial material written in a strangely dense and confused style. For research purposes there was some good information in here. But if I hadn't been doing research I'm not sure I would have hung in to the end.

  • John
    2019-05-17 11:41

    Fantastic book, you feel there may be some post-fact editorialising of the past, but it doesnt take away from the story and what she (and her family) had to go through. When it is Compared to alone in berlin (novel about the same time), the novel feels more contrived than the actual true story.

  • Paul Taylor
    2019-05-30 17:39

    Difficult to commit to initially but ultimately a rewarding and highly personal view of an individual who was uniquely positioned to give a German's eye view of the second war from an alien's perspective.

  • Bob
    2019-06-07 16:59

    Excellent stuff. This is the book the reading group should have picked. I'm almost tempted to urge everyone to read this. It will change the way you think about the second world war and our German friends forever.

  • Alison 1965
    2019-05-30 11:56

    Fascinating from a historical point of view as it paints a very vivid picture of everyday life in Nazi Germany. Quite hard going to read at times though as she writes in very long, complicated sentences.

  • Noel
    2019-05-23 11:45

    An amazing insiders view of Germany during WWII by an English woman who married a German lawyer just before the war and spent the war in Germany.