With skill, sensitivity, and spirit, “Eyes are Watching, Ears are Listening” tells the story of Strickland’s unusual childhood in the Third Reich. In beautiful prose, the author relates fascinating memories of a large, loving, and unconventional family in pre-war Germany and in war-time (German-annexed) Poland. Strickland’s evocative anecdotes and candid commentary paint a richly-layered portrait of family ties and tensions, on the one hand, and of childhood adventures and anxieties, on the other. Simultaneously, the book contributes to our understanding of life and death under National Socialism. From the viewpoint of a young, but perceptive, daughter in an anti-Nazi family, we learn about relations between Germans and Jews, Germans and Poles, and ordinary Germans and Nazi officials in a Polish town located close to Auschwitz. Above all, we are introduced to a courageous family that resisted a criminal regime and survived total war.
Strickland’s father, Karl Laabs, rescued many Jews from deportation to Auschwitz. Her mother’s civil treatment of Poles led to repeated threats from Nazi stalwarts. Their resilient children helped the family endure a terrible time. This poignant, informative memoir deserves a wide readership.
–- Donna Harsch, Ph.D., Professor of History, Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburgh, PA and author of German Social Democracy and The Rise of Nazism, and Revenge of the Domestic: Women, the Family, and Communism in the German Democratic Republic.
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In “Eyes are Watching, Ears are Listening: Growing Up in Nazi Germany,” author Eycke Strickland has written a testament to persistent love. One could entice potential readers with some of the crystalline details that linger long after the cover has closed: skinny-dipping children, bloomers flapping on a clothesline, a father bluffing his way past Nazi guards, a mother devastated by the death of her youngest. But the most insistent call to examine this book comes out of a simple question – How did love survive? In the shadow of the great horror of the 20th century, how did this child and her family remain human? One gets a sense of the author’s own search for the answer. Yes, her father is a true hero for his efforts that saved many from certain death. Just as heroic are the wife who stood by him and the daughter with courage and generosity to share their story.
–- Michael Rivers, Port Angeles, WA.
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I’ve read and written a lot in the area from which Eycke Strickland carves her story, but each time I read this memoir it strikes me again as one which must be heard. Born the year the Führer came to power, the oldest in a large family, beleaguered on all sides by the usual issues which face a shy but very bright child, she is confronted by the Nazi death machine. Her parents, sent by the Reich to a town only eleven miles from the Auschwitz concentration camp, are afraid to explain what is happening, partly because to know is to be more vulnerable in a terrorist regime. She spends every day caught between love and fear, growing up with a father who has the courage to save Jewish workers from the camp by his sheer bravado but is unable to meet the needs of the domestic life he has chosen for himself. Strickland is particularly gifted at reaching back and presenting the thoughts and feelings of herself as a small girl, one who like so many in postwar Germany, faced the slow starvation a civilian population undergoes after a devastating war.
-– Alice Derry, Professor of German and English Literature, Peninsula College, Port Angeles, WA and author of Stages of Twilight, Clearwater, andStrangers to Their Courage.
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A beautiful and deeply moving book about love and survival in the shadow of Auschwitz. I finished reading it with tears in my eyes.
— Dale M. Brown, Alexandria, VA. Writer/editor, Time-Life Books.
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This book is a story about a brave and courageous family during the Germany of the Third Reich and its aftermath. It is told through the eyes and ears of a sensitive child now distilled through the maturity that comes from years of honest, thoughtful reflection upon the events the book relates.
The reader will see glimpses of Oskar Schindler in the story of the author’s father, Karl Laabs, and of his efforts to save Jewish people. I was also reminded of parts of Elie Wiesel’s memoir of what the chaos of post World War II life in Germany meant for those who endured it.
The story of Karl Laabs and of his daughter’s attempt to understand her father who was a true but humble hero can profitably be read along with that of a novel by Ruth Rehmann “The Man in the Pulpit: Questions for a Father” which is a German novelist’s own exploration of her Evangelical (Lutheran) father’s silence during the Holocaust. Why did one seemingly quite secular man act with great moral courage, while a very devout and pious man said and did nothing at all in the face of great evil?
“Eyes are Watching, Ears are Listening” speaks tenderly and compassionately about how Strickland’s family of origin lived with grace and dignity and humor through the darkest of days. The integrity, deep spirituality and intellectual insights that Ms. Strickland’s mother shared with and instilled in her family deeply shape and inform the author’s work and life.
This is a well written, compelling story about what is best in the human spirit. Everyone will profit from reading it.
-– Charles W. Mays, Everett, WA.
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A true and touching story about a family living in Nazi Germany. As the war unfolds Eycke is just a young girl becoming aware of the horrors of war. With faith, love, and perseverance her parents risk their lives to save others.
-– Lori Madison, Port Angeles, WA.
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When I finished reading “Eyes are Watching; Ears are Listening,” I sat in silence, frozen in my chair for a long time in order to absorb the full impact of the author’s experience. Her story, beautifully written, is told through the eyes of a child with a child’s sense of wonder as she, like all children, attempts to make sense of the world around them. But this is no ordinary world as the Laabs family struggles to survive the maelstrom of WW II. The author shares her story with a clear and resonant voice, as she and her family navigate through a unique period of a poorly understood time. Their survival becomes our survival–the survival of the human spirit and a deepening awareness of the values that form our lives. I assure you that this story will remain with you for a long time after you have turned the last page.
–- J. M. Erikson, Branford, CT.
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A gripping account of a child growing up in Nazi Germany.
Once I started the book this past weekend, I simply couldn’t put it down! It is so compelling. I became enchanted with the Familie Laabs with all of its trials, triumphs, tragedies, altruism, and sheer determination to survive. I am so glad that the author persevered and saw her memoir/family history through to completion.
Besides the sheer human drama of tracing the lives of an appealing family with all of its human strengths and frailties, this book is instructive to me because it puts a human face on the persons who were ordered by Hitler and his minions to “repopulate” the East. We historians speak vaguely about the Nazi’s Lebensraum goals and “Drang nach Osten.” Yet, few of us can picture what it was like for those families and individuals who were actually ordered to migrate to the East in WWII into, off all places, Poland. Strickland’s sensitive account of daily life in that hapless region with her altogether decent family interacting with Poles and Jews and Volksdeutsche while at the same time trying to save so many of them from the cruelties and blatant racism of the awful Nazis (especially awful in Occupied Poland) is compelling.
I confess to feeling ambivalence about her father at first. However, his courage in blunting the worst of Nazi persecution at risk of his own life (and endangerment of his own family) commands the highest respect. Despite his human weaknesses, I came to admire Karl Laabs, and no less his wife, Auguste Viktoria (ach wie kaiserlich!) Wallbach. They created a very special family. I recommend this book to the general readers and to specialist historians alike.
–- James F. Tent, Professor and Chair, Department of History, University of Alabama at Birmingham. Author of In the Shadow of the Holocaust: Nazi Persecution of Jewish-Christian Germans.
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Darcy recommends: “Eyes are Watching, Ears are Listening. “A beautifully and deeply moving book about love and survival in the shadow of Auschwitz. I finished it with tears in my eyes.” – Dale M. Brown, writer/editor, Time-Life Books. I continually hold out hope that the next book I read will be one that stays with me forever -– a book that I must own because I’ll find myself going back to the bookshelf time and again to find certain scenes or passages; a book that is so beautifully written that recalling certain passages involve all senses. From what I’ve read so far, Eyes are Watching, Ears are Listening is one of those books. I’ve had the privilege to meet Eycke Strickland several times; she is an amazing person with an important and fascinating story to tell.
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Eycke Strickland’s Eyes are Watching, Ears are Listening: Growing up in Nazi Germany, 1933-1946 is a passionate journey of the heart, disarmingly engaging and rich with evocative, lingering overtones. At one moment she is the central dynamic character; and at another she slips into the tapestry as a totally unobtrusive, but keenly attentive observer. Tracing the major experiences in her early life, she movingly reflects upon things seen, heard, undergone and “felt with every cell of my body” over those perilous and perverse years when Adolf Hitler first seized control of Germany and drew the world into the horrors of World War II.
It was the Wandervogel—a popular, free-spirited youth movement that arose in the late nineteenth-century with its nature-loving poets, artists, and idealists—that had shaped the lives of Strickland’s parents, Karl and Auguste Viktoria Laabs (nee Wallbach), and inspired their interactions with their own offspring. The lovers treasured the memory of their Wandervogel years when they had “strapped on their guitars and took off for the woods, hills, and valleys. They cooked their meals over open fires and spent the night in barns or under the stars. In the process, they formed a mystical and spiritual relationship to nature.” As Strickland tells us, “Together by the fire, our father and mother opened our ears to stories, the song of the nightingale and the old melodies. They opened our eyes to the mysteries of nature: God’s creatures, the forest, the sun, the moon and the stars.” Eldest child Eycke and her four younger siblings imbibed fiercely independent spirits from their idealistic, romantic parents. In 1933, Hitler unsurprisingly banned the Wandervogel and incorporated elements of other youth organizations into his infamous Hitler Youth movement.
Earlier that same year, Karl Laabs wryly commemorated the date on which Hitler had become Chancellor by writing on a blackboard at Goethe University, “January 30, when fools begin to rule.” He was summarily declared politically unfit to complete his doctoral studies. Returning to the area of Kassel, Laabs then resumed his architectural career. In 1939 the German government ordered him to build airfields on an island in the North Sea. In 1941, he was ordered—and a year later his entire family as well—to Poland to promote German resettlement of the East as part of the Lebensraum movement.
Family life for the Laabs was to resume at the edge of Krenau, in a run-down tar-papered cottage. Their modest home—with its inviting private gardens and outbuildings—offered an ongoing feast of pleasures for the lively and creative Laabs children. But on the street just beyond their idyllic little world, columns of tormented prisoners regularly trudged by on their way to Auschwitz, a mere eleven miles away. In Poland the Laabs’ lives had taken a dramatic turn indeed: Paradise at home, perdition just beyond.
Eyes are Watching, Ears are Listening offers fascinating anecdotes of school life in Nazi Germany, of tensions between Catholics and Protestants, Gentiles and Jews, and especially of the elder Laabs’ furtively determined efforts to save as many Jews as they could. Nazi agents were suspicious of Karl Laabs—and suspicious they deserved to be. For under their noses and aided by his wife, he harbored and saved many Jews from the unspeakable horrors of Auschwitz, smuggling many of them into his barns in the process.
All the while over the years of her childhood and early youth, Eycke Strickland watched, listened, eavesdropped and yearned to make sense of her world—so full of suspicions, furtive shadowy movements, her parents’ and friends’ whisperings. Her parents taught her to be wary of conversations with strangers. As she came to understand that spying ran the engines of fascism she took to heart her father’s cryptic warning: “Eyes are watching, ears are listening.”
In January of 1945, as the guns of the approaching Russian army could be heard to the east of Krenau, the Laabs family’s dramatic escape from Poland is fit for the wide-screen movie magic of a major Hollywood director. As their crowded train lurched out of Poland and into Germany, I wondered how close Eycke might have come to passing fellow youngster Elie Wiesel who was being forced to slog his way to Buchenwald from Auschwitz, at first on foot, then in a boxcar at about that same time. And when her train passed through Dresden, hopelessly unable to accommodate all the Dresden folks desperately trying to get aboard, I wondered how close she might have been to POW Kurt Vonnegut who, in just one month, would find himself one of the few survivors of the devastating fire-bombing of Dresden. Placing these names in my mind helped me bring back into human scale the mind-numbing volume of concentration camp tortures and murders. It helped me think of individuals like you and me—with our special hopes, plans, decent lives to live—simply obliterated, either indiscriminately in fire-bombings or in deliberate acts based on the perverse conviction that some people simply do not deserve to live on our planet.
In 1972 Karl Laabs would be honored by the Federal Republic of Germany for his anti-fascist stand, for saving Jews, and for rebuilding a democratic Germany; and in 1981, he was posthumously named a Righteous Gentile and awarded the Medal of Honor awarded by Yad Vashem, the Holocaust Memorial for the Martyrs’ and Heroes’ Remembrance Authority in Jerusalem. The Holocaust Museum in Washington, D. C. includes his name among those heroes listed on its Wall of Remembrance.
After Auschwitz the world shouted, “Never again!” But wholesale senseless pain and anguish continued—including the Killing Fields in Cambodia, ethnic cleansings in Rwanda, Bosnia, Darfur, and the shameful torture of fellow humans in shoddy little CIA hideouts and in grimy prisons like Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo. It is still fitting to declare “Never again!” Strickland’s important memoir strikes a new flame of hope in our hearts.
–- Charles Burgess, Professor Emeritus, University of Washington, Seattle, WA.
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As I continue to think about “Eyes are Watching, Ears are Listening,” I would have to agree with other readers, who are enthralled with the point of view of the girl child Eycke. The stories of her everyday life and adventures and fears and family interactions felt familiar in many ways even though the setting was so obviously different from those of us who grew up in America. Maybe part of why the book is so engaging is that a child’s experience, conflicted emotions, and struggle to make sense of the world can feel so universal. Given the enormity and historical context of Eycke’s experience and how she and her family were able to somehow survive, make sense of, and even thrive in a world of unspeakable horror, this memoir is an honor to read. I am not sure that I want to use the word “haunting”, but Eycke’s story is staying with me. Maybe in addition to the child’s point of view, the other reason it stays with me is the sense of humanity that permeates the book. Eycke puts such a human and lovable face on what was, after all, our “enemy” in World War II. Perhaps we need to be reminded of that perspective as we try to navigate our current crazy world. That perspective is subtle, ever present, and ultimately compelling.
–-Ann Dacy, Bend, OR.
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“Eyes are Watching, Ears are Listening.” Eycke Strickland is an outstanding and gifted author. Bald truth crackles from the first to the last sentence. Her memoir is unvarnished, bitter, cutting. Yet, it has a solemn beauty. The author has made her heart and soul transparent for the reader. It is not easy to accept such a gift. I suspect not easy to give, either.
–- Charles Rivers, Valparaiso, IND.
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After reading Eyes are Watching, Ears are Listening, I liked it so much I read it out loud to my husband whose response was just as enthusiastic. Eycke Strickland’s voice on the page comes across vividly, with a warmth and intelligence that infuses the narrative.
I especially admire the way we see the emerging world through the eyes of a child, and how she and her family come alive for us by a patient gathering in of details that brings us close. Those desperate, calamitous years in Germany and Poland during World War II, as seen through a child’s sensibility, add both tension and an intimate unfolding of events, waking us up to the human side of history, the courage and kindness that Eycke, her parents and others practiced in the face of so much brutality.
-– Charlotte Gould Warren, author of Gandhi’s Lap, Word Works, Washington, D.C. and Jumna, Austin University Press.
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Eycke Strickland’s memoirs present an account of life in Hitlerite Germany from a child’s perspective. Focusing on the early school years through adolescence, she brings the reader up to the snug hearth of a household under siege. Eycke’s history diverges from other wartime accounts: she is the daughter of a German rescuer of Jews, a very small group, indeed. Her father, Karl Laabs, received recognition by the German government shortly before his death in 1979 and a posthumous award from Yad Vashem two years later. He had served as an architect for the region surrounding Auschwitz and used his position to secure work permits for hundreds of Jews, assuring them respite from the various “actions” that swept up hapless residents to their death. Living about a dozen miles outside the city of Auschwitz in a rural setting, Laabs used the farmstead to hide Jews along with providing assistance in flight. In February, 1943, he “escorted” about 100 Jews under the nose of the SS to trucks waiting to take them to relatively safety miles away. Risking extraordinary danger to himself and his family, we gain some insight into his and his wife’s values that set the family apart from the millions of others who conformed.
At no time does Eycke idealize or simplify people. The adults around her, including her father, are deeply flawed. The school teachers who embrace Nazi academics appear as complicit as any of the gossiping wives who turn her mother into the Gestapo for expressing the “wrong sort” of ideas. There are an abundance of grey areas through this narrative of personal experience: neighbors who look the other way as the German occupation drags thousands of Polish and Jewish locals to their imprisonment and death. Throughout the narrative, Eycke permits us to see how the Nazi ideology permeated daily life, creating an ambience of fear and uncertainty, the inability to trust anyone outside the immediate family. Readers with some background in this period will find the details relevant and fascinating. For readers just beginning to understand this time, the book is a welcome introduction.
-–Jeffrey Kleiman, Professor of History, University of Wisconsin-Marshfield. WI.
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Eyes are Watching, Ears are Listening: Growing up in Nazi Germany 1933-1946 by Eycke Strickland
Eyes are Watching, Ears are Listening is an outstanding memoir told from the unique point-of-view of a German child witnessing the atrocities wrought upon the Jewish (among others) during Nazi Germany. The book is told in three parts:
-In the Heart of Germany–1933-42
-Witnessing the Holocaust: Krenau, Poland–1942-45 and
-Return to Germany: The Collapse of the Third Reich and the Liberation–1945-46
The author’s parents, who met in an organization called “Wandervogel,” created a loving family of several children. The group is horrified when the father, an architect, is drafted into the dreaded Luftwaffe. Hippies before their time, the free-spirited German couple protest military abuses and the increasingly apparent ill-treatment of the Jews. At great risk of arrest and death, the family hides hundreds of Jews on their property at various times during the Holocaust; even issuing mock work permits in an attempt to save lives–or at least delay the inevitable.
The author describes a pleasant early life surrounded by her upper middle-class family; while the reader is introduced to the cast of characters, young and old, that made up her childhood. When the family is forced to move to Poland, the child is in a unique position to tell us of the experience of witnessing cruel acts on a daily basis, but being powerless to stop the self-righteous madness going on around her–indeed, being required to participate in it with every “Heil Hitler!” Bomb shelters and destruction become a way-of-life for all families.
Running from the Russians, the family is relegated to refugee status; riding on packed trains for days and walking for several miles. Strikingly, in reference to her newborn baby, a stranger advises the mother, “Should have left that thing behind–it’s just going to die anyway.” (Thankfully, all the children survived the trip, though barely. One of her siblings did die a few years before due to illness.). Settling in an abandoned German neighborhood in a relatively calm area, the family battles poverty and hunger, while living among the occupying American soldiers–some kind and others cruel. The author eventually meets and marries an American and subsequently starts her own life in America, where she finishes her higher education.
The author explains that both of her parents lived to be elderly, with her father being posthumously honored years later for his heroic works of humanitarianism in Nazi Germany. The reader understands her father to be an intelligent man, with a heart of gold and nerves of steel (though not always faithful, being quite the “lady’s man”). She credits their lives to his cunning. Her mother, a tremendously strong woman, helped her edit the book’s manuscript at the age of 101.
Eyes are Watching, Ears are Listening is a treasure of historical family photographs. The writing is lucid and touching. I especially appreciate that the author took the time to explain some of the things she learned after-the-fact as an adult. There have been a number of excellent books written by Jewish survivors of the Holocaust. But with Eyes are Watching, Ears are Listening the reader sees both sides of this horrific chapter in human history. In all honesty, in a forced situation, what could any compassionate family have done that this family didn’t’ do? What would you have done? Lest we forget, Eyes are Watching, Ears are Listening is a must-read for every generation. I consider it an honor to review this book.
-– Charyl Miller Pingleton, October 13, 2008.
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“Eyes are Watching, Ears are Listening: Growing Up in Nazi Germany” tells the story of a little girl who lived in an enemy country under the most difficult times imaginable. It tells how family loyalty can be strained under unbelievable adversity. It tells about strong parents who protected their children and about children who worked at an early age to help the family unit.
The memoir helped me understand that when we hear about casualties in Iraq, we do not know of the real hardship experienced by families living there. If recent wars had been waged on our soil, perhaps we would be less anxious to invade countries with which we disagree or do not understand. mIt is a great book with a great message. I am grateful that Eycke Strickland wrote it.
–Tom Strong, Springfield, MO.
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The lasting impression I gained from Eycke Strickland’s memoir, “Eyes are Watching, Ears are Listening: Growing Up in Nazi Germany” is one of perspective – and an unusual one at that. It is not frequently that one sees enormity, wickedness, massive transformation, social upheaval, and war through the eyes of a child. In Strickland’s book, the child’s perspective is unique – she notices details, questions and understands, and finds simple pleasures through that special resilience that only children have. What is amazing to me is that she preserved the freshness of that perspective through all of these many ensuing years, so that when she wrote this book, the memories were untouched by the years that have passed since the forties. To convey that freshness, and originality of perception is a singular achievement. Reminiscence and memory are of special interest to me, both as a writer who works on historical fiction, and as a cognitive psychologist who works on attention and memory in the laboratory.
I also liked the way in which Strickland brought out various details and scenes – her father hoodwinking the SS guards, the death of a child, and yes, even the making of potato soup and the myriad ways in which her mother (a true hero) made do with the bits of food she could manage, and feed so many people. The numerous women in the book are also of interest, and she brings out very well the necessity and the difficulty of holding families and life together in times of extreme stress and hardship – mostly accomplished by the women. It is unusual to see such a feminine perspective in memoirs of the war.
The main themes of trying to save Jewish people, hiding them and transporting them to safety – that is certainly brought out well. Her father, Karl Laabs, is certainly the equal of people like Oskar Schindler and others like him, who did the right thing under great personal danger. It was a miracle that he survived all of that. I think this book is eloquent and moving.
-– Padmanabhan Sudevan, Professor and Chair, Department of Psychology, University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point, WI.
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“Eyes are Watching, Ears are Listening” is absorbing, difficult to set down until finished. I highly recommend this book to any reader.
–- Leah Erb, Seattle, WA.
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“Eyes are Watching, Ears are Listening: Growing Up in Nazi Germany” is a deeply moving and a significant book. It is well written, and the fact that Strickland told the story consistently throughout from the point of view of a child makes it especially powerful. Her parents, Karl and Auguste Viktoria Laabs, conducted themselves with greatness. Their story has been entered into our data bank, and we have added “Eyes are Watching, Ears are Listening” to our library.
–- Barbara Schieb, Gedenkstätte Deutscher Widerstand, Projekt Stille Helden (German Resistance Memorial, Department: Quiet Heroes). Berlin, Germany.
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“Eyes are Watching, Ears are Listening” is a powerful and compelling book in so many ways – exquisitely (and honestly) written – and full of feeling and beauty amidst horror and hardships. I loved the poems and the songs and the wonderful photographs and description of the family’s lives and the farm in Krenau.
— Alicia Kaufmann, Fresh Meadows, N.Y.
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Much has been written about this subject in the literature, but I have never read a more poignant narrative from the perspective of a child.
–- Gerhard Simon, Kassel, Germany.
FOR MORE REVIEWS, PLEASE CHECK THE AMAZON.COM PAGE FOR “EYES ARE WATCHING, EARS ARE LISTENING” and the AMAZON.DE PAGE FOR “AUGEN SEHEN, OHREN HOEREN.”
Project MUSE – Recently Published
Works in Holocaust and Genocide Studies, Volume 22, Number 3, Winter 2008, pp. 544-599
Oxford University Press
Strickland, Eycke. Eyes Are Watching, Ears Are Listening: Growing up in Nazi Germany 1933-1946: A Memoir.
New York: iUniverse, 2008. xix + 294 pp., ill. muse.jhu.edu/journals/
Re-examining the Holocaust through Literature
Edited by Aukje Kluge and Ben E. Williams.
Strickland, Eycke. Eyes are Watching, Ears are Listening: Growing up in Nazi Germany 1933-1945. New York: iUniverse, 2008.
Recently Published Works in Holocaust and Genocide Studies by M Czajka – 2008. http://hgs.oxfordjournals.org/cgi/pdf_extract/22/3/544
Strickland, Eycke. Eyes Are Watching, Ears Are Listening: Growing up in Nazi. Germany 1933–1946: A Memoir. New York: iUniverse, 2008. xix þ 294 pp., ill.