A turbulent family history, told with wry humour
‘I was born in Posen on 13 April 1944,’ writes Dutch journalist Alexander Münninghoff in Heir and Successor, his family’s story. This fact conceals a horrifying reality.
The Polish city of Posen (Poznań) was the logistical hub from which the German army invaded the Soviet Union. In the last year of the war, Münninghoff writes, Posen was subjected to a ‘miserable setting of scores’, with large numbers of wounded or dead and an ‘endless procession of refugees wanting only one thing: to get away’. Münninghoff’s family was not merely affected by this drama, it also bore some of the blame.
The story of the author, his parents and grandparents is marked by a series of astonishing and tragic events, which reflect much of the complexity of the Second World War. Born the son of a German-Russian mother and a Dutch- Russian father, Alexander Münninghoff grew up in the postwar years with his grandparents in Voorburg in the Netherlands. His grandfather had founded a trading empire in Riga before the War and in January 1940 fled to the Netherlands with his wife - a Russian countess - and their children. There he traded with the German occupier while at the same time hiding Jews and negotiating with members of the resistance about postwar Dutch politics. His eldest son Frans joined the SS and left for Posen, where Alexander was born.
These contradictions and conflicts of interest had huge consequences for Alexander and his family. After the War their difficulties only increased, especially when Frans threw his wife out of the house and she fled to Germany with young Alexander. Alexander was the Münninghoff family’s heir and successor, so his grandfather then had him abducted and brought back to the Netherlands. The relationship between Alexander and his father, who had by no means renounced his Nazi beliefs, failed to improve. He lost all contact with his mother, and when he found her again as an adult she was living in wretched conditions.
In the end it took Alexander more than fifteen years of investigation and writing to free himself from his traumatic childhood - which is fortunate for us, since no general or official history can match family stories written with such care and appropriate detachment.