Book Review: Under a Leafless Tree: The Story of a Mormon Girl from East Prussia
One of my favourite things about the holidays is the story telling. My grandparents have long since passed away, but when I was little, I loved hearing the pioneer stories of my maternal great grandparents, and I loved hearing the stories of my paternal family as they migrated from Europe, to turn around and serve as American soldiers without taking a breath. I loved the stories of ovens without timers, cars without seatbelts and shoe holes repaired with gum. The kinds of stories that make you smile, and appreciate how good things are now.
If you are at all like me, then this is the book for you. It was recently released on kindel, though it was originally published in 2013.
Helga Meyer is a remarkable woman. This book is a collection of her memories. Friend had long asked her to record her story, so pinning a microphone to Helga, the words came. Lark Evans Galli lovingly recorded the words while an army of friends transcribes the recordings, then went back to Helga to ensure what had been written was right.
In reading this book, you feel the sense of a many helping hands. Most certainly you come to know Helga, and of her triumphs and trials. But mostly you feel the beauty and simplicity of her faith amid war, manifesting in a billion miniscule miracles:
“When Hitler came to the regime I was in my thirteenth year. Right from the beginning they wanted the youth to belong to the girls’ group. It was called BDM, or Bund Deutscher Mädel (League of German Girls). They had uniforms: white blouses and dark skirts. I think blue skirts. I came home one day when they recruited for the BDM, and all of my girlfriends were joining. I said, “Oh Mutti (Mother). I would like to go and belong to the group.” She said, “Kindchen, Helgalein, you are a Beehive girl, and you don’t need to belong to that group.” So I never belonged to any of these groups.”
Holding Helga’s hand, we can hear her voice through the typed words, as she tells us about her life before the war, and after the war in East Germany. Some of the stories are confronting, but told with simplicity, such as her description of the crystal night, being amidst flailing shrapnel and even being shot. I physically shook my head as I read her retelling of when she escaped East Germany by crossing into West Germany- while pregnant! And how a gypsy told her that better days would come. And how she was finally able to migrate to America.
This book is filled with photographs of the people in Helga’s life, making for a rich, immersive experience. Though I have never heard her voice, whenever I read, I felt like I could hear it- simply telling me about her, her life and her inspiringly positive perspective. I felt lighter in reading the book, and with a newfound gratitude for family, and freedom.
This is a remarkable book; I recommend it for World War II history buffs, those who enjoy non-American Mormon history, and church members who seek to be inspired by 20th century pioneers. It is easy to read, and a solid choice for the holidays. It can be purchased at Amazon from $9.99.