‘It was boiling hot on the balcony. Even though it was on the shady side of the street, you could feel the scorching heat with which the August sun seared the streets of Berlin.’ With these words, Else Ury opens the volume Nesthäkchen und der Weltkrieg [Nesthäkchen and the World War], and we, the readers, are drawn in and carried along into the world-war adventure!
Nesthäkchen’s devotion to the cause ‘in this great time of Germany’s rising’ is also seen in her knitting for the ‘soldiers in field grey’, although she regrets not being a boy, because ‘then I could do something completely different to help, rather than sitting here with my silly knitting’. Nesthäkchen does learn how to make sacrifices, and she grows up quickly into a good patriot. She identifies possible enemies of the fatherland, like her Polish classmate Vera, and treats her with disdain (although when it becomes known that Vera’s father died a hero’s death for the Germans, Annemarie feels deeply ashamed). She becomes a linguistic purist: anyone who uses a foreign word must pay five pfennigs into a moneybox – really, one might just as well say the Germanic word instead of the Latinate one – and she is horrified by the ‘spitefulness’ of the enemies who want to ‘let German women and children starve’.
When her father comes back from the front on short leave, she drags him into school with her because the ‘schoolchildren should see her father, of whom she was so proud, with his Iron Cross.’ Ury concludes the volume in the middle of the war with a happy ending in the form of the surprise return of Annemarie’s mother and the highly optimistic words: ‘No doubt, many of you, like Nesthäkchen, have made sacrifices, large and small, for the World War. But I am convinced that you have done so for our fatherland with joy in your hearts. When the difficult struggle around us is at an end and our dear country is granted a victorious peace, I will tell you more about what became of Doctor’s Nesthäkchen.’
In 1920, the next Nesthäkchen volume was published. The remainder of the war and the German defeat do not, however, make an appearance. Else Ury’s patriotic views failed to curry favour under the National Socialist regime, and as a Jew, she was murdered in Auschwitz in 1943. Since that time, the Nesthäkchen books have been through countless revisions and editions. Only the World War volume fell victim to Allied censorship due to its chauvinistic content. To this day, it has never been reprinted, with one curious exception: a translation was published in the USA in 2006.
Translation: Aimee Linekar
Stephan, Friedrich: Nesthäkchen im Weltkrieg. Das Kinderbuch erklärt den Krieg, Geschichte Politik und ihre Didaktik 24, Heft 3/4, Paderborn 1996, 222-231.
Daraus Zusammenfassung: Stephan, Friedrich: Das Kinderbuch erklärt den Krieg – Nesthäkchen im [Ersten] Weltkrieg, 2001. Unter: http://www.ajum.de/html/j-j/pdf/0305_wk1.pdf (19.06.2014)
Ury, Else: Nesthäkchen und der Weltkrieg, Berlin 1916.
Ury, Else: Nesthäkchen and the World War: First English Translation of the German Children's Classic, New York 2006.
Ury, Else: Nesthäkchen und der Weltkrieg. Unter: http://gutenberg.spiegel.de/buch/7646/1 (19.06.2014) (Translation)