REVIEW. What was life really like growing up in the Third Reich? Vera Oredsson’s childhood memoirs offer a very different version of history to the one portrayed in modern media.
Many readers will no doubt be familiar with Vera Oredsson. One of the most well-known figures in Nordic National Socialism, she has long been active in the struggle and gained fame as the first female party leader in Sweden when she took charge of the Nordic Reich Party in 1975. In recent years she’s been a prominent face of the Nordic Resistance Movement, and in 2018 she stood for election for the organisation’s parliamentary branch at the age of 90.
In When the Flagpoles Bloomed Vera tells the story of her early years, from her birth in Berlin in 1928 until the final year of World War II. Written in Swedish in 1993 and translated to English in 2018, the book takes the form of a series of recollections, arranged in chronological order. The chapters are short, with most tending to encapsulate a single event or contemplation, making for an easy and accessible read which recounts the changing face of Germany throughout the most significant era of the 20th century.
Vera begins by telling us about her immediate family and her early childhood. Born Vera Schimanski to a Swedish mother and a German father, she lived the first five years of her life in the Weimar Republic, and though her recollections from such a young age are understandably few, she remembers enough to draw stark contrasts between that time and the subsequent National Socialist era.
“The times changed in 1933,” Vera writes. “Now I was allowed to play on the street where the big poplars framed the avenue. There was now a liberating atmosphere over the home’s protection and the parent’s mood. Gone were the quarrels, the anxieties, and worries. A new time had come!”
Herman Göring’s policy of lowering rents for old apartment buildings meant Vera’s family could move into more spacious and far more suitable living quarters. The quality of life improved in other areas too: extensive public healthcare was made available to everyone, unemployment disappeared, the standard of living was raised with every year the National Socialists were in power, and the social welfare system became a model for other countries. As Vera puts it, “Everything got better under the banner of the swastika!”
Vera understandably relives this period with great fondness, and her recollections are filled with heart-warming anecdotes from day-to-day life in the Third Reich. (The book itself takes its title from the time Vera heard a young boy exclaim, “The flagpoles are blooming!” when he saw fluttering swastika flags wound with garlands and crowned with bouquets.)
But When the Flagpoles Bloomed is more than just a retelling of Vera’s early days; it also serves as a rebuke to the defamation and lies told about National Socialist Germany, both during and after its existence. Throughout the book Vera counteracts numerous myths with her own personal experiences, dispelling the representation of the era as some kind of totalitarian, Orwellian nightmare via affectionate portrayals of the inhabitants of Berlin and honest descriptions of the rudimentaries of daily life.
The result is a striking contrast to the image of National Socialist Germany we are invariably subjected to today – with the biggest revelation for the uninitiated being that growing up in the Reich was, essentially, a very normal existence, similar to many of our own childhoods.
As Vera writes, “Life was not much different from the daily life in other countries […] It was presumably safer, though. In German fashion it was more uniformed, disciplined, and had the decisive ideology of solidarity of the people as its foundation.”
With the outbreak of the war in 1939, Vera’s world became much less stable. In 1940 she was evacuated from Berlin and spent the next two years in various KLV (Child Land Dispatch) camps, followed by a return to the capital and then a spell in an NSV (National Socialist People’s Welfare) school. Despite this fragmented lifestyle, Vera remained in positive spirits throughout the majority of her changing circumstances, not least thanks to her wholehearted belief in – and commitment to – the Führer and National Socialism. Much of her narrative from this period revolves around the friendships she formed with other girls at the camps, and she regales the reader with tales of the hijinks they’d get up to, such as sneaking out of their lodgings at night to pick lilacs to give to passing soldiers.
Throughout these remembrances, Vera continues to debunk numerous common misconceptions about the NSDAP, such as the true character of members of the Hitler Youth – of which she became an ardent member – and the SS. Suffice it to say that, according to Vera, the real-life organisations were as far removed as possible from the Hollywood-movie versions we are presented with today.
Yet as the war entered its final stages, and the previously unthinkable prospect of defeat slowly became a reality, even the headstrong Vera succumbed to dejection – an inevitable slide that is made all the more heartbreaking when contrasted with the early chapters’ light-hearted and optimistic nature. Vera would go on to escape Germany on the White Buses and move to Sweden, where she would continue the struggle for her people for many decades to come – but, as she admits, she would never again be as happy as during those all-too-short years she spent under the banner of the swastika…
When the Flagpoles Bloomed is a compelling and moving account of life growing up in the Third Reich. Its first-hand, ground-level description of events offers an alternate perspective to the narrative we are so browbeaten with in the 21st century, and thus should be of great interest to anyone seeking the truth about what life really was like – and could be again – in a National Socialist nation.