You Are Not Like Oth­er Mothers

Ange­li­ka Schrob­s­dorff; Steven Ren­dall, trans.

  • Review
May 22, 2012

For any­one who has won­dered how Ger­man Jews could have ignored the his­tor­i­cal events swirling around them when Hitler was com­ing to pow­er in the 1930s, Ange­li­ka Schrobsdorff’s dif­fi­cult-to-cat­e­go­rize book — it’s been called a nov­el, a his­tor­i­cal nov­el, and a mem­oir— should be of inter­est, with its focus on the life and mores of a cer­tain class of Ger­man Jews dur­ing that peri­od. Schrobsdorff’s account, which begins with her Jew­ish mother’s birth in 1893 and ends with her death in 1949, details her mother’s rela­tion­ships, which yield­ed three chil­dren with three dif­fer­ent fathers, as well as the authors’ own wartime sojourn with her moth­er in Bul­gar­ia, and their return to Ger­many in 1947, great­ly changed peo­ple from when they had left. Schrobsdorff’s Jew­ish moth­er, Else Kirschn­er, had exact­ly four liv­ing cousins by the war’s end, slight residue of a large extend­ed family. 

Else Kirschn­er want­ed only to assim­i­late. From a young age, when she wished for a Christ­mas tree, she felt comtempt for her Jew­ish rel­a­tives and their work in the trades, and yearned for a life filled with art and poet­ry. Her daugh­ter Ange­li­ka was shield­ed from under­stand­ing what it meant to be a Jew until she need­ed to flee her Ger­man home. All three of Else’s children’s fathers were non-Jews; the father of the youngest was the scion of a wealthy and well-con­nect­ed Ger­man fam­i­ly. Though Erich Schrob­s­dorff arranged for a divorce from his wife and her mar­riage to a Bul­gar­i­an cit­i­zen in 1939 to get her out of Ger­many, and sent her mon­ey as long as it was pos­si­ble, he was, with all his wealth and con­nec­tions, unable to pro­tect Else and his daugh­ter Ange­li­ka entire­ly from the rav­ages of the war. And yet, the book ends with Else’s voice, her let­ters, and this is a kind of redemp­tion for her in final­ly being able to enter into the life of art she had yearned for, a trib­ute to this most unusu­al mother.

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