The Dark Room
By Rachel Seiffert
Completed November 30, 2010
Over the past year or two, I have been drawn to books about World War II. Most are told from the perspective of the Allied nations or Jewish people affected by the Holocaust. I am glad to have stumbled upon Rachel Seiffert’s The Dark Room, which offers the perspective of the average German citizen affected by World War II.
The Dark Room is divided into three separate stories:
1) Helmet is a young photographer’s apprentice, whose family supported Hitler and prospered during The Third Reich’s heyday. Even at war’s end, Helmet still clung to Nazi Germany’s ideals. Then, one day, he stumbles into a round-up of gypsies by German soldiers and sees the gross mistreatment of these people. He took pictures of the atrocity and ran away from the scene. As he reflects over his photos, you feel his heartbreak for a nation lost in so many ways.
2) Lore is a teenage girl – one of six children – who must embark on a treacherous journey from Bavaria to Hamburg at the end of the war. Through Lore’s journey, you see how war affected the home front and the people who once were bound by the same cause. No longer united, they stole and cheated from each other. Like Helmet, Lore didn’t realize Germans was killing innocent people, until she saw pictures posted in a village. Confused by what she saw, she befriended a young man, Tomas, who confirmed the genocide. Lore was devastated, especially as she considered her father and brother might have been involved in these mass murders.
3) Michael is a school teacher living in 1990’s Germany who began wondering why his grandfather had been imprisoned for so long after World War II. He began to research and learned that his grandfather was part of the Waffen SS, the elite police force of the German Army. He traces his grandfather’s service to Belarus and traveles there to learn more. The important theme in Michael’s section is national guilt – how after 50+ years, some Germans truly mourned what their country did, while others didn’t grasp it, or were too far removed from the war to be impacted. Michael, though, couldn’t forget and carried the weight of guilt for his whole family.
Admittedly, The Dark Room is a bit bleak, but Seiffert pulls you right in so you can experience the characters’ emotions. Seiffert writes simply but effectively, and her sparse prose adds to the brevity of her stories. Despite the grim subject matter, I found this book to be enlightening and engaging – and would highly recommend it, especially to those who believe, like me, that war has no true winner. ( )