Summer of My German Soldier

Title: Summer of My German Soldier

Author: Maureen Daly

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Summer of my German Soldier is a first person narrative based on the author’s real life experiences. This story is a lesson in one’s own self-worth in the face of adversity. Twelve year old Patty Bergen is a smart and curious girl during a summer in her small town of Jenkinsville, Arkansas during WWII.  She and her family are the only Jewish family in town. German POWs are brought to Jenkinsville and this sets off a series of events bringing friendship to and validation that Patty is a person of value.

The author uses first person narrator Patty to take us on a journey seeking self-worth and finding validation through the people she meets this particular summer.  Patty’s voice is written with a lilting regional accent and creates very readable text.  It also allows the reader to know and like Patty.  While Patty’s younger sister, Sharon is pretty and Patty is not, her parents seem to favor Sharon.  Her parents own a department store in town and also have a “negress” named Ruth, who raises the children.  Ruth becomes Patty’s confidant and is a source of unconditional love. The author creates a strong and likeable character in Ruth through her southern black dialect and loving nature.

When the POWs are brought into the Bergen’s dept. store to buy hats to protect them from the hot sun as they work in the fields, Patty strikes up a conversation with one of the POWs, Anton Reiker.   She asks him how it is that he speaks such beautiful English.  He explains his parents are from England and took jobs as university professors in Germany.  When the war started Anton was in medical school.  It is at this point in the story that the author brings these two particular victims together. Patty is a victim of emotional and physical abuse by her parents and Anton had to join the Nazi army instead of pursuing his studies and in that sense he too is a victim.  Patty’s curiosity and intellect are lost on her parents, but not on Anton.  He perceives her desire to learn and her curious nature.

In an especially cruel scene, Patty’s mother forces Patty to get a perm. Patty is threatened with a beating when she doesn’t want to comply. Patty loves her hair, one of the few things that give her self-esteem. When Patty’s mother forces her to destroy her hair with a perm, we see what little self-worth Patty has disappear, and we see what a cold, calculating, and unfeeling woman her mother is.  Although she endured violent belt beatings by her father, this cold act by her mother seems even more of a violation than the painful beatings.

Anton escapes and she hides him in a room above the family garage.  Ruth is the only other person who knows this and she keeps this secret very well.  It is in this hideout that Anton introduces Patty to R.W. Emerson and where he becomes a sort of teacher to a very receptive student in Patty.  He tells Patty how smart she is and that she is a person of value.  As he readies himself to escape via train he gives Patty a ring that used to be his grandfather’s when he was president of the University where his father was professor of history.  It is a very valuable ring to Anton and his family and this is not lost on Patty when she says, “Maybe you’d better keep it Anton.  “. . . it’s been in your family for so long.” Anton responds, “The greater the value, the greater pleasure in giving it.”  As his last and most important lesson to Patty, Anton wants her to remember this last lesson above all others, “Then I want you to learn this, our last, lesson.  Even if you forget everything else I want you to always remember that you are a person of value and you have a friend who loves you enough to give you his most valued possession.”

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