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Memoir by MC's Bruce chronicles life in postwar Germany

Barry McNamara
10/30/2013
Monmouth College professor Mary Bruce is shown in this 1950 photo with her father, an American diplomat, who was stationed in Germany. Bruce has written a book about her experiences, titled “Swimming in the Villa Hügel: An American Girl in Postwar Germany.” This photo appears on the book's cover.
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Monmouth College English professor Mary Bruce, who spent two of her childhood years in post-World War II Germany, has completed a book about her memories of that time.
 
“When Mary Bruce loses herself in thought about her childhood, a melancholic expression spreads over her face. Her brown eyes become more clouded than usual … (and she) looks into the far distance, back through time. Back to the year 1949, in a devastated Germany. Englishmen, Americans, Frenchmen and Germans lived next to one another, but not with one another. And in the middle of it all: Mary.”
 
So begins an blog entry by freelance writer Eva Hieber, who chronicled Bruce’s return to Germany earlier this month to promote Bruce’s memoir, titled “Schwimmen in Villa Hügel: Ein amerikanisches Madchen im Nachkriegsdeutschland.” There is currently no English publication of the book yet, but the title translates to “Swimming in the Villa Hügel: An American Girl in Postwar Germany.” It will officially be released on Oct. 31.
 
“It went so smoothly, and I received a lot of attention,” said Bruce of her promotional tour.
 
That included meeting with her father’s secretary, who is now 89, and the 89-year-old son of their family’s doctor, who provided details about her father that she didn’t know or was too young to remember.
 
Although the book is not yet available in English, it was written in that language. German philanthropist Bernard Beitz paid to have the book translated to German.
 
Bruce came to Essen, Germany, in 1949 as the 9-year-old daughter of an American diplomat, who was placed in the management of Krupp Industries while Alfred Krupp sat in prison, his entire business confiscated by the Allies for his role in helping finance Germany’s military during World Wars I and II.
 
Her father’s office was in the Krupp’s mansion, Villa Hügel, which Bruce calls “the Buckingham Palace of Germany.” Now a museum, she made an unplanned visit to the site in 2009 and said, “It was like walking into a time warp. I was amazed at how much I remembered. … It was exciting to get it on paper because I had forgotten very little. As I remembered one thing, I’d remember another.”
 
In Bruce’s book, which she completed in two years, the reader sees postwar Germany through the eyes of a child exploring a strange world. She had expected a land filled with monsters, but met ordinary people. Bruce made friends with German girls who played with her in the park and in the villa, and who also went swimming in the villa’s indoor pool.
 
“Because of my father’s work as a diplomat, I was mainly taken care of by the servants,” said Bruce. “They were Germans, and they could have treated me terribly, but they were very kind to me. I wanted to write the book to show my deep fondness I had for them and for the circumstances they were in after the war.”
 
Bruce also wrote the book to help the younger generation understand what Germany was like at the time. An appendix to the book is titled, in English, “Mary in Ruinland,” which speaks to the charred, bombed-out ruins all around the area.
 
“It’s so built up there now, and younger people today don’t know what it was like,” said Bruce. “When I was there, it was just shreds.”
 
That sentiment is echoed in another excerpt from Hieber’s blog:
 
“Deep moving, ambivalent political and social themes contain a naive authenticity: this above all gives the book its lesson for readers. That is what Bruce meant when she said, ‘Young people should learn from my story to make their own judgments.’”
 
“I was told it would be a good classroom book for young adults, helping them see history through the eyes of a child,” said Bruce, who related the reaction from the 15-year-old daughter of the man who in 2009 took her back to the home from which Alfred Krupp regularly corresponded with Adolph Hitler.
 
“She asked, ‘Why didn’t somebody do something?’” said Bruce.