Belonging: A German Reckons With History And Home

Belonging: A German Reckons With History And Home

Synopsis

This reading group guide for Belonging includes an introduction, discussion questions, and ideas for enhancing your book club. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book.

Introduction

Nora Krug was born decades after the fall of the Nazi regime, but the Second World War cast a long shadow throughout her childhood and youth in the city of Karlsruhe, Germany. For Nora, the simple fact of her German citizenship bound her to the Holocaust and its unspeakable atrocities and left her without a sense of cultural belonging. Yet Nora knew little about her own family’s involvement in World War II: though all four grandparents lived through the war, they never spoke of it.

In her late thirties, after twelve years in the United States, Krug realizes that living abroad has only intensified her need to ask the questions she didn’t dare to as a child and young adult. Returning to Germany, she visits archives, conducts research, and interviews family members, uncovering in the process the stories of her maternal grandfather, a driving teacher in Karlsruhe during the war, and her father’s brother, Franz-Karl, who died as a teenage SS soldier in Italy. Her extraordinary quest, spanning continents and generations, pieces together her family’s troubling story and reflects on what it means to be a German of her generation.

Belonging wrestles with the idea of Heimat, the German word for the place that first forms us, where the sensibilities and identity of one generation pass on to the next. In this highly inventive visual memoir—equal parts graphic novel, family scrapbook, and investigative narrative—Nora Krug draws on letters, archival material, flea market finds, and photographs to attempt to understand what it means to belong to one’s country and one’s family. A wholly original record of a German woman’s struggle with the weight of catastrophic history, Belonging is also a reflection on the responsibility that we all have as inheritors of our countries’ pasts.

Topics and Questions for Discussion

1. What was Krug’s earliest conception of World War II and the Holocaust? What were the limits of her knowledge as a child—and why?

2. Define fehlerfrei. Is it an attainable goal to be fehlerfrei? How did Krug and her childhood classmates try?

3. What is Heimat? Do you have your own sense of Heimat? If so, what is it?

4. Krug’s graphic memoir is interspersed with pages labeled “Things German,” which describe an essentially German product or element of life. What do you make of these pages? Are they an educational tool, a scrap of Krug’s memory, a reminder of another side of the German character?

5. Krug’s paternal uncle, Franz-Karl, decorated the exercise book he had as a child with swastikas and drawings of Mein Kampf, as well as notes about Mother’s Day and classroom exercises. What does this juxtaposition of juvenile writing and horrific imagery evoke?

6. Why didn’t Krug’s maternal grandfather, Willi, become a soldier? Do you believe the family story about the Jewish linen salesman?

7. What events does Krug choose to emphasize in “A fragmentary history of Külsheim”? How and why do you think she made these choices, when looking at more than seven hundred years of history?

8. Was Willi ever a prisoner of war? What might it mean to Krug and her family if he were?

9. Krug’s father never asked his mother about the events surrounding World War II, or the war itself. Why is this, and how does it compare to Krug’s “insatiable curiosity”?

10. Describe how Krug’s illustrations of her great uncle Edwin, accompanying excerpts from his letters home to his wife, represent his “emotional disintegration” at the front. What do you feel for Edwin, a German soldier, as you read these letters?

11. At Külsheim’s archive, Krug finds a 1963 questionnaire filled out by the town’s mayor, stating that the relationship between Jews and Christians in town had always been “normal.” How does this assertion compare to what Krug finds in her other research? What do you think the mayor’s motives were for making such an assertion?

12. Krug doesn’t know where her grandfather was, or what he said or did, on the night of Reichkristallnacht. How does she reconcile her desire to understand the depths of his involvement with the Nazi regime and the persecution of Jewish people with the impossibility of perfect knowledge?

13. When Krug finds Willi’s US military file, she discovers that he classified himself, postwar, as a mitläufer—a “person lacking courage and moral stance”—rather than a major offender, offender, lesser offender, or exonerated person. What does this classification mean to Krug? Does the idea of being a “follower” have any contemporary political resonance?

14. In that same file, Krug finds a letter from a merchant who was married to a Jewish woman, vouching for Willi’s good character. Krug eventually tracks down the child of this merchant and his wife, a retiree named Walter living in Florida, who tells Krug of his parents’ suffering during the war, including the fact that his mother survived internment in a concentration camp. “You shouldn’t feel guilty,” Walter tells her, and yet Krug knows she cannot accept “forgiveness for the unforgivable.” How responsible do you think she is for the sins of her family? Of her country? How responsible are you for the sins of yours?

15. Krug meets with her aunt Annemarie, sister of her father and of the Franz-Karl who died as a German soldier in the war. Krug wonders what Annemarie and her father’s relationship would have been like if their brother survived. What effect do you think that kind of trauma can have on a family?

16. The last “Things German” section in the book describes an incredibly strong resin adhesive called Uhu. Krug writes that she uses it to fix “objects that are brittle and have been glued together many times before.” Nevertheless, she writes, “it cannot cover up the crack.” Taking the story of Krug’s family into account, what do you think she means by this? What kind of responsibility do all of us have, collectively, to bear witness to a painful, even horrific, past? And can the present ever heal wrongs from long ago?

Enhance Your Book Club

1. Read “Kamikaze,” Krug’s ten-page visual biography of a Japanese kamikaze pilot, which provides another perspective on World War II.

2. Consider reading other classic graphic memoirs, like Maus by Art Spiegelman or Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi, both of which deeply engage with history in a unique visual format.

3. For more information on Nora Krug and Belonging, visit http://nora-krug.com.

Chapters

  • 001 Belonging Open
    Duration: 50s
  • 002 Belonging Dedication
    Duration: 06s
  • 003 Belonging Prologue
    Duration: 02min
  • 004 Belonging Chapter 1 Early Dawning
    Duration: 17min
  • 005 Belonging Chapter 2 Forgotten Songs
    Duration: 14min
  • 006 Belonging Chapter 3 Poisonous Mushrooms
    Duration: 13min
  • 007 Belonging Chapter 4 Keeping Time
    Duration: 11min
  • 008 Belonging Chapter 5 Unhealed Wounds
    Duration: 08min
  • 009 Belonging Chapter 6 Looking Inside
    Duration: 09min
  • 010 Belonging Chapter 7 Closing In
    Duration: 07min
  • 011 Belonging Chapter 8 Fathomless Forests
    Duration: 08min
  • 012 Belonging Chapter 9 Melting Ice
    Duration: 10min
  • 013 Belonging Chapter 10 Looking For Traces
    Duration: 23min
  • 014 Belonging Chapter 11 Soft Return
    Duration: 16min
  • 015 Belonging Chapter 12 Following the Flock
    Duration: 27min
  • 016 Belonging Chapter 13 Peeling Wallpaper
    Duration: 12min
  • 017 Belonging Chapter 14 Blinding Whiteness
    Duration: 16min
  • 018 Belonging Chapter 15 Shaking Hands
    Duration: 14min
  • 019 Belonging Epilogue
    Duration: 06min
  • 020 Belonging Close
    Duration: 03min

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