Mischling, Second Degree Critical Essays

Ilse Koehn


(Critical Edition of Young Adult Fiction)

While books about girls in the Third Reich are rare, Koehn’s autobiography is all the more unique because she viewed the National Socialist world from an atypical political perspective. After the Nazi seizure of power in 1933, Koehn’s family members secretly clung to their socialist principles, although they conformed outwardly to the behavioral mandates of Hitler’s regime. While her family repeatedly cautioned Koehn never to mention their opposition to Hitler, they did not hide their political beliefs from her. On the other hand, because legal proscriptions against Jews and partial Jews could run the gamut from job discrimination to execution, Koehn’s parents concealed the fact of her paternal grandmother’s Jewish heritage from their daughter. By recounting the events of her life in a matter-of-fact tone, Koehn creates prose that unmasks the evil inherent in Hitler’s state by revealing the insidious small horrors with which everyday life was replete, even for children.

The first serious intrusion of Hitler’s ideology into Koehn’s life came in 1937, when her maternal grandparents, the Derecks, persuaded their daughter to divorce her half-Jewish husband in order to ensure her safety and that of her daughter. Koehn understood only that her happy life had been destroyed despite her parents’ love for each other and that she could seldom visit her beloved Oma Koehn, whose home always was filled with laughter, books, and delicate porcelain—things that the Derecks considered to be frivolous luxuries. Ironically, the ultrapractical qualities that Koehn disliked about the Derecks almost certainly saved her life in 1945.

During the late 1930’s, Koehn’s friends’ and teachers’ enthusiasm for National Socialism was countermanded by her family, who contended that Hitler was leading them to perdition. This debate set up a mental conflict for the author, and, while she never...

(The entire section is 782 words.)