WOLFRAM: THE BOY WHO WENT TO WAR
Most reading group discussions are set by critics or enthusiasts.
I thought it might be interesting for me, the author, to raise some points that could spark an interesting discussion.
I don’t know the answers to many of these questions: I’d be most interested to hear what you think.
1) Discuss the moral dilemmas faced by Wolfram’s parents. How much would you have allowed yourself to be compromised by a detested regime?
2) Would your reaction to the regime have been different if you were a parent with young children?
3) Wolfram suggests a more complex view of domestic life under the Third Reich than is often depicted. There are people mentioned who voted for Hitler but are clearly not bad. Did the book challenge your preconceived ideas about Nazi Germany?
4) Wolfram’s father, Erwin, was friendly with several Nazi’s in senior positions in the local hierarchy. (The Nazi official, Herbert Kraft, even got him his promotion at Karlsruhe art school.) Did such friendships surprise you? Did it change your opinion of Erwin?
5) Wolfram’s mother is said to have had ‘moments of hesitation about Nazism.’ Can you see why? Can you understand why some Germans might have voted for Hitler - and continued to support him for many years?
6) Wolfram is in many ways an anti-hero. He steadfastly did nothing heroic. Does this detract from him being the book’s hero? Or does it make him a more interesting character?
7) Which story or anecdote in the book most surprised you?
8) Very few non-fiction books have attempted to see the Third Reich through German eyes. Do we need the distance of time to have a balanced historical perspective? Is now the right time to bring out such a book?
9) Wolfram: The Boy Who Went To War could have been written as a novel. Would it have been better?
10) Wolfram is written in the third person and the narrative relies heavily on his taped interviews. Would it have been better to have had direct quotes from him?
11) Wolfram was 17 when he was sent to Russia. The book sub-title is supposed to be ironic. Is it also misleading?
12) Wolfram is not a conventional war book but there is plenty of war between its pages. Is the depiction of war - as experienced by Wolram - believable? Did you get any sense of what it must have been like to be on the battlefield?
13) There is a moment in the Normandy chapter when a French lady takes pity on Wolfram’s young comrade and gives him a bag of sweets.
14) Were you surprised by the attitude of the French in Normandy towards the German soldiers and conscripts?
15) Does the book adequately cover the subject of Nazi Germany’s extermination camps? Did you believe the assertion that most families knew nothing about the extermination of the Jews?
16) Was the bombardment of Pforzheim by the RAF justified? Did you feel any sympathy for the town’s inhabitants?
17) The manner in which the French treated their German prisoners-of-war is rarely mentioned in history books about the Second World War.
18) Did you feel any sympathy towards Johannes when he was a prisoner? Do you feel that the French were justified in behaving harshly towards their German captives?
19) When Wolfram and his comrades were prisoner-or-war in America, they spent much of their time cheating their guards and stealing from the storehouse. What did you think of their behaviour?
20) Did the book benefit from the author being Wolfram’s son-in-law? Or did it detract from the book? Was there any point at which you doubted the veracity of the narrative?
21) Were your opinions about Germans living under the Third Reich fundamentally changed by the book?