My parents immigrated here from Germany, I’m a 1st Generation American. My grandfather was part of the North African Campaign during World War 2. He was a member of the Afrika Korps. My story is partially fiction given that I don’t know absolutely everything he did during the war. However, I wanted to tell his story as best I could, so I took a little literary license based on what I knew of him. I’m very happy with how my story came out, but I’m worried about publishing it, given that people might think I’m glorifying Nazis. What do you think I should do?
(Geeking out, non-history buffs can skip this section).
Your grandfather was in North Africa???? Please email me! My grandfather was with the 320th Glider Division of the 82nd Airborne! I’d love the compare notes and share stories!
(Okay I’m done.)
So… in all seriousness… That’s admittedly a tough one. I can certainly understand your concern. The problem with who knew what/where/when and who participated in what is still a subject of heated debate even to this day.
So honestly, full disclaimer to my readers, I’m not trying to downplay the seriousness of what happened. My grandfather (as stated above) not only fought in the war, but also aided in the liberation of Wobbelin, which was a concentration camp that housed roughly 5,000 victims at its height. He never spoke about it, but I dug up as much information as I could find. The Holocaust was a terrible tragedy that can never, and should never be denied.
That being said… the first thing you want to do is go through your book and see if, in your opinion, you’re glorifying anything or anyone that shouldn’t be glorified, in your opinion. If yes, my advice would be to consider a rewrite. If not, then I would say go ahead and publish it. Without actually seeing your book, or knowing your grandfather’s specific history, I can’t tell you either way.
There is a difference between telling a story and glorifying a certain group of people. The problem is that where that line is drawn is constantly being skewed. So where does the line fall? Where should it fall? Well… that’s extremely arbitrary.
One school of thought says that glorification is painting a person or event in any positive light, or even just making said subject sympathetic.
Another school of thought is that glorification is as simple as making a person or event the central focus of your story, regardless of whether they’re portrayed positively or objectively.
The final school is probably the most obvious one… where said person or event is blatantly heralded as a hero and portrayed as the moral ‘right’ in the story.
Honestly, IMO the line should be drawn somewhere between that first and third schools of thought. The people who fall into the third category would just assume that these people never be written about at all… which is the antithesis of everything the subjects of history and literature should be.
If you just want to tell the story of what your grandfather did/saw that shouldn’t be a problem. I’m not saying you won’t get blowback, you might. So you’ll want to be ready for that.
Personally… I don’t think it should be a problem though. The commander of the Afrika Korps was Irwin Rommel and they were never accused of war crimes (At least not based on any of the research I’ve done. If there have been new developments, please let me know). The people who would likely read your book would be able to put that into context.
I hope this advice helps in some way. The best thing to do in this case is do a little soul searching and ask yourself a couple of questions;
- Who was my grandfather?
- Do I know everything I can possibly know about where he was and what he did?
- Why do I want to publish this book about him? What is my goal here?
Regardless of your answer, legally (At least in the U.S.) no one can stop you from publishing it if you want to. However, there is also the line between legal and ethical.
So I apologize if this is all over the place, but I’m really struggling to give the best answer I can on this one. I guess in summation, all I can tell you is that as long as you’ve documented everything as historically accurate as possible, and are putting it out there for the right reasons, then I would go ahead and publish it. There’s always going to be detractors and people who are looking for controversy where none exists. That’s just how it goes.
Please let me know when it’s published. I’d love to look into it a little and definitley shoot me an email as I’d love to get your insight into your grandfather’s experiences from the other side.
Readers… this was a fairly touchy subject. What do you all think? Should stories be out there where the central focus or “Hero” is a German Soldier from WW2 or should that be left for the history textbooks? As always, I’m very interested in your thoughts, let me know in the comments.
Do you have a question about writing, publishing, my stories, etc? Please feel free to post a comment or email me.
I’ll use those comments to select my next blog post.
I have been writing for several years, have 4 published works, experience with publishing and independent work, so I can hopefully be of assistance.
Please note, I only do one of these a day and will do my best to respond to everyone, but it may take some time.
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Catch you on the flip side!