Belong­ing: A Ger­man Reck­ons with His­to­ry and Home

By – May 4, 2018

In this graph­ic mem­oir, illus­tra­tor and writer Nora Krug explores what it means to have Ger­man grand­par­ents who may or may not have been com­plic­it in the atroc­i­ties of the Nazi regime. They might have been offend­ers, or maybe bystanders, but were nev­er will­ing to share their mem­o­ries of those years.

After hap­pen­stance encoun­ters with Holo­caust sur­vivors that made her real­ize how much there was to dis­cov­er about her family’s past, Krug decid­ed to return to her ances­tral vil­lage. She vis­it­ed neigh­bor­ing towns and scoured region­al archives to painstak­ing­ly piece togeth­er facts about her fam­i­ly and their neigh­bors, both Chris­t­ian and Jewish.

Frame by frame, Krug illus­trates the com­plex­i­ties of her fam­i­ly rela­tion­ships; how deeply the events of World War II and the Holo­caust con­tin­ue to affect peo­ple today; and the courage it takes to probe (and over­come) the rifts and dis­con­nec­tions caused by events that occurred two gen­er­a­tions ago.

Through illus­tra­tions, col­lages, and text, Krug reveals an increas­ing­ly com­pre­hen­sive nar­ra­tive of what was and what may have been. She digs into sto­ries about life and death, sur­vival and mur­der, action and inac­tion, par­tic­i­pa­tion and wit­ness­ing. She asks how to reck­on with guilt and respon­si­bil­i­ty, and how to own what is yours — inher­it­ed or cho­sen, uncom­fort­able or delight­ful. We watch her for­go quick moral judg­ments and come to the com­pas­sion­ate real­iza­tion that war is hell for everybody.

Krug’s book is a worth­while jour­ney toward a deep­er under­stand­ing of one’s respon­si­bil­i­ty to repair what has been destroyed.

Rein­hild Draeger-Muenke left her native Ger­many as a young adult and has lived in the Unit­ed States for almost 40 years. She is a psy­chol­o­gist and fam­i­ly ther­a­pist in the Philadel­phia area, help­ing peo­ple heal from inter­gen­er­a­tional­ly trans­mit­ted trauma.

Discussion Questions

Belong­ing is a com­pelling and explo­sive­ly cre­ative mix­ture of dense imagery, nar­ra­tive mem­oir, exact­ing his­tor­i­cal research, and painful hon­esty. Nora Krug has fash­ioned some­thing more than a book; it is an expe­ri­ence that draws you in and changes your per­cep­tion of account­abil­i­ty and identity.

Born in Karl­sruhe, Ger­many decades after World War II, but liv­ing in the Unit­ed States as an adult, the author har­bors ques­tions about her opaque fam­i­ly his­to­ry and its mem­bers par­tic­i­pa­tion in Nazi orga­ni­za­tions dur­ing the Third Reich. With both courage and trep­i­da­tion, she returns to Ger­many to unearth the truth about the rel­a­tives she nev­er met, her mater­nal grand­fa­ther and uncle, an SS sol­dier mor­tal­ly wound­ed in Italy. Through­out her inves­ti­ga­tion, Krug hopes to find evi­dence to exon­er­ate them, (and there are times when that seems pos­si­ble), but she is impelled to con­tin­ue until she uncov­ers all the avail­able doc­u­ments. Krug’s account of the per­va­sive anti­semitism in Karl­sruhe and time­line of grow­ing per­se­cu­tion is chill­ing, espe­cial­ly because it is accom­pa­nied by vin­tage pho­tographs of her rel­a­tives, the town, and its Nazi leaders.

At the same time that Krug builds sus­pense about the out­come of her quest, she exam­ines her own con­flict­ing feel­ings about her attach­ment to Ger­many, her birth coun­try, as well as to Amer­i­ca, her adopt­ed coun­try. With hon­esty and insight, she relates expe­ri­enc­ing neg­a­tive com­ments about Ger­mans from Amer­i­cans, and also acknowl­edges a deep attach­ment to her home­land, despite feel­ings of shame and guilt. 

The his­toric and per­son­al events that unfold are rich and com­pli­cat­ed and both the draw­ings and design of the book reflect that. Krug’s inven­tive use of a scrap­book for­mat, anno­tat­ed with authen­tic hand­writ­ten quo­ta­tions, alter­nates with sev­er­al dis­tinct graph­ic styles. This visu­al vari­ety enlivens and struc­tures the sev­er­al threads of narrative.

Belong­ing is a decep­tive book; while at first the live­ly appear­ance attracts the read­er, the pro­bity of a sin­cere search for truth in order to find one’s essen­tial iden­ti­ty remains long after the sto­ry is over.