Laura Starink

German Roots

My family, the war and Silesia

In German Roots Laura Starink paints a very personal picture of her mother’s family in wartime. She visited Klausberg, a mining town in Silesia on the border with Poland, with her mother who was born there, in order to reconstruct the life of an ordinary teacher’s family under Nazism and Communism.

After Nazi Germany’s defeat and the arrival of the Red Army in Silesia, the Germans living in the region paid a terrible price for Hitler’s ruthless conquest of Poland. Stalin gave Silesia to Poland as compensation for Polish territories that he intended to keep. From one day to the next the family found itself in a hostile country. In the chaos of 1945 countless Germans were rounded up and put in their own concentration camps, where revenge was meted out for the war crimes of the Wehrmacht and the SS. Starink’s aunt Lotte, then seventeen, was imprisoned in Auschwitz and forced to do hard labour for the Russians.

Millions of Germans were deported, with the assent of the Allies. Others tried to adjust to their new circumstances. Starink noted down her relatives’ stories, read letters and documents, and spoke to historians and survivors, as well as search­ing Polish archives to discover the facts about Silesia’s post-war history, which remains little known outside Germany. She also asked her family about the Nazi era, the Hitler Youth, forced labour and the persecution of the Jews.

Her mother Elinor was the oldest of six children, none of whom bore any respon­sibility for the Second World War but who were nevertheless blamed for it all their lives. Only after the war did her mother learn of the existence of the nearby camp at Auschwitz. Fifty years later, in 1994, Starink visited the extermination camp with her mother. It was a harrowing confrontation. ‘I could feel shame in her, and horror,’ Starink writes, ‘but also a kind of inner protest: it’s not my fault. I don’t have this on my conscience.’

German Roots digs deep into recent European history and urges restraint in passing judgement on ordinary young people who were totally unaware of their part in a historical catastrophe. The author sought out and questioned her elderly rela­tives only just in time. German Roots is an astonishing story, but a common one; a similar fate struck millions of people in Central Europe after the war.

  • A shocking account in which a devastated world with all its tragedies is snatched from oblivion.
  • A disconcerting portrait of ordinary people in a war-ravaged corner of Europe.
  • Oral history combined with thoroughly researched evidence from the archives.

This is a story about ordinary people who were not permitted to be proud of their past but who do have a story to tell. Starink tells that story with admirable serenity.

de Volkskrant

More than simply beautifully written, it describes with great empathy how a family living in the heart of Europe in the bewildering 1930s and 1940s managed to survive. A riveting book.


Laura Starink

Laura Starink studied Slavic languages and culture and worked for twenty years as correspondent
in Moscow for the prestigious newspaper NRC Handelsblad, where she was also an editor and member of the board. She was later appointed editor-in-chief of M, NRC’s monthly magazine. Starink has…

lees meer


Duitse wortels. Mijn familie, de oorlog en Silezië (2013). Non-fiction, 318 pages.
Words: 96,650
Copies sold: 13,000

With illustrations in black-and-white and references


Atlas Contact

Prinsengracht 911-915
NL - 1017 KD Amsterdam
The Netherlands
Tel: +31 20 524 98 00
Fax: +31 20 627 68 51

[email protected]

lees meer