Ursula Hegi grew up in Germany and moved to the United States at age eighteen. As she grew older and raised a family, questions about her roots and her native land haunted her until, at last, she felt compelled to write about them. Tearing the Silence brings together her interviews with dozens of German-born Americans, and their confrontations with the taboo of the Holocaust.
Hegi (Stones from the River) interviewed 233 German-born Americans of varied backgrounds to speak about their lives in the U.S. Then she selected 15 of them as a cross section. These longtime U.S. citizens, children of Hitler-generation Germans, emigrated after WWII with their parents, with American husbands or alone. All were born between 1939 and 1949 and thus were aware of the war's effects, yet they often remembered happy childhoods. About the Holocaust, their parents almost universally maintained silence or, when questioned later, responded typically, "We suffered too." Almost all describe their shock after arriving in the U.S. at learning that being German meant they would be treated as pariahs and were assumed to be Nazis and Jew-killers. Although some excused themselves from any guilt thanks to "the grace of late birth," more often their reaction was one of horror and shame. Their parents' inability or unwillingness to discuss the war alienated many of these interviewees, but today some of them have salvaged pride in Germany's pre-Hitler culture; a few are unapologetic bigots. Many see a familiar repetition of indifference to genocide in the contemporary world. Hegi expresses an urgent need to confront realities and to not allow the Holocaust to be forgotten. These are powerful portraits of survivors of Hitler's legacy.