By Ted Belman
I was attracted to read “Sitting on Top of the World” because of the jacket cover which follows. Most of the holocaust memoirs that I have read focussed on Jews in eastern Europe. This one was different in that it dealt with a Jewish boy who was quite young when deported from Germany where he grew up in 1940 over one year before the “final solution” was put in place. As a result it paints a picture of Germany in the thirties which I found very interesting especially the growth of the Nazi Party leading to its victory in 1933.
The latter half of the book deals with the the placement and ultimate adoption of boy, Kurt Wagner. As such we get an introduction the work of the social workers in the forties who were responsible for placing so many children during the forties. It also describers the process of integration by Kurt into the loving arms of his new parents. It was a joy to read, the last half, anyways.
After ten year old Jew, Kurt (Walker) Wagner is expelled out of Nazi Germany; he begins a seven year odyssey that culminates with his adoption in America. It is during this journey he learns that his unknown father is a Nazi Brownshirt and never seen eleven year old Christian brother lived only blocks from him. This true story exploration of family and faith weaves together the voices of the main characters to answer Kurt’s question, “Why?” The complex set of facts that answer this question, begins with the stunning revelation of an unwanted pregnancy that forces the marriage of Kurt’s parents. Over the 1930’s, a seemingly resilient Kurt bears witness to family members who wither under the effects of mental illness, divorce, poverty, lies and an emerging Nazi Germany. Then in October 1940 when the Holocaust was still unthinkable, Kurt and his family are deported to a concentration camp in France, where Kurt’s mother makes the tortured decision to allow Kurt to escape the camp for a safe house in the Pyrenees Mountains. In the emotional moments before Kurt leaves the camp, his promise to his grandfather to be a good Jew becomes a controlling commitment that he believes will forever keep his family alive. Fourteen months later when Kurt’s mother says “Yes” one last time so that he could escape to America, Kurt’s faith is painfully challenged when he learns that his father and brother are Nazis. When Kurt eventually moves in with a wealthy Chicago foster family in October of 1943, Kurt’s brother, Heinz is confronted with his own truth, that he is a Jew. His immediate search to find his lost family is cut short when he is forced to join the Hitler Youth Corp in order to ensure his survival as one of the last Jews in Germany. This story of emotionally wounded brothers reaches a climax in 1947 when Kurt’s foster family begins their well intentioned, but questionable adoption …read more