Rising up from the ashes of war

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By Special to the Monitor

 “In its blindness, war destroys the lives of civilians and soldiers alike,” writes Jorg Jansen, author of “And New Life Blossoms from the Ruins.” Jansen will sign his memoir about his childhood growing up in World War II Germany, at 6 p.m. Thursday at Otowi Station Bookstore and Science Museum Shop. Before the signing, he will share  his childhood memories in a talk at 5 p.m. at the Bradbury Science Museum.

The memoir covers the 10 years of the young Jansen’s experience spanning World War II, the collapse of Hitler’s Third Reich, and the early years of the German Federal Republic West Germany).

“And New Life Blossoms from the Ruins” was almost 50 years in the making, Jansen said. “It originated 48 years ago, when my wife Brigit asked me about my life and when I also began to tell her about the war and the years thereafter. Later, other friends wanted to know about my past. So, I started thinking about a book; but there was never enough time to bring thoughts to paper until I retired in 1997. I wrote the book first in German and published it over there with the title: ‘A German Boy in the Eye of the Hurricane.’ Then, of course, my American friends wanted to have it in English. So, finally I succumbed and partly translated and partly rewrote it for a different readership. I think the English version is much better.”

As Jansen developed the memoir, his intent changed. “Originally I wrote it for the next and following generations of my family who know very little about me and that time,” Jansen said. “However, as I wrote, its intent broadened to all younger people who do not know anything or very little about that time and the terrible impact of that or any war has on people’s lives. Hopefully, younger people can identify with that boy and learn from his experiences.”

One way of helping readers identify with the young boy growing up in the Third Reich was to be thoroughly honest.  Jansen said, “I wanted to be as candid as possible with respect to myself because I began writing the book for my nieces and nephews and their children, so that they could make themselves a better picture of their uncle and grand-uncle, whom they barely knew. I was a little bit more careful with other persons, because I did not want to hurt their feelings or embarrass them. At the time of writing and in retrospect,” he said, “I think it was right to be totally candid about myself and my impressions, whether they are politically correct today or not — being and remaining candid throughout in spite of later generations’ propensity to apply their yardstick of today’s or tomorrow’s political correctness. What happened, happened. You cannot change history, although people try all the time.”

 “The other issue,” Jansen continued, “is that new life blossoms from the ruins! We humans have the ability to adjust to new circumstances. Those who do not adjust, go under. In my experience there are two classes of people, those who look forward and overcome the new adverse situation, and those who look backward and whine for the rest of their lives or get ill or die.

“The third issue, not surprisingly, is that children simply do what the situation requires without being impeded by deep understanding or philosophical considerations.”

Would he change anything about his life? Jansen replied, “That’s the kind of thought we all probably had at one time or the other. I would not change a thing. So far my life has been great and a wonderful experience in all its nuances, good and bad. And even if you would imagine having taken the path not taken, you could dream up any wonderful scenarios — and then what?”

Jansen was born in Mülheim, Germany in 1930. To escape wartime aerial bombardments, he and his family relocated from his still-intact hometown to Waldenburg in Silesia, a region situated in parts of present-day Poland, the Czech Republic and eastern parts of Germany. After escaping from the Soviet army, Jansen found his way back to his hometown only to find that bombs had destroyed much of it. Jansen studied electrical engineering and taught in Aachen, Loughborough, England and Santiago, Chile. He came to the United States in 1960. In 1975, he joined Los Alamos National Laboratory. Now retired, he lives in Los Alamos with his wife.