Monday, August 27, 2018

“The Radio Signal” by Friedhelm Radandt

In early 1945, Friedhelm Radandt was 12 years old when he, his mother, and a sister were forced to flee their home in Pomerania, a region south of the Baltic Sea and part of both Germany and Poland. At the time, the area was part of Greater Germany and inhabited primarily by ethnic Germans. Freidhelm’s father was with the German Army in Italy; an older brother was with the Hitler Youth and a related organization and an older sister was working as a governess on a rural estate to fulfill her requirements with the Nazi state. 

The reason for the family’s flight was the approaching Soviet Army. Nazi Germany was crumbling, with the Americans and British invading from the west and Soviet Russia from the east.

In Warsaw, the Job family were ethnic Germans who had considered themselves Poles – until Germany invaded in 1939 and gave them German citizenship papers. Ludwig Job worked for the electronic manufacturer Phillips as a research and developer of radio tubes. Ludwig learns that Polish partisans have placed his name on an execution list, and he’s able to transfer to a research site in Germany. But the family stays in Warsaw, until they, too, face the approaching Soviet armies, which, as the Germans knew, had been given full leeway to take all manners of revenge upon the German population.

Friedhelm Radandt’s The Radio Signal is the story of these two families during World War II and immediately after. While they didn’t know each other until well after the war, they had several things in common – their ethnic heritage, living in Poland, becoming part of the German refugee flood that was desperate to escape the Soviets and reach the Americans or the British, and their religious faith. Friedhelm Radandt would also marry Elizabeth Job, bringing the two families and their histories together.

While this is a story of family, The Radio Signal also answers another question – what did practicing, believing Christians do during the Nazi regime? And the answer is rather candidly mixed. They did their jobs; they served in the military. Radandt’s father drew the line, however, at having his sons sent to an elite Nazi training camp, and he lost his job as a result. He solved the unemployment problem by joining the German Army, where the Nazi leaders had less control. And just as everyone else did, they suspected that the Jews were being taken away for evil purposes.

Friedhelm Radandt
Friedhelm and his wife Elizabeth eventually emigrated to the United States. He earned graduate degrees at the University of Chicago. and taught there and at Lake Forest College before serving as president of Northwestern College in Iowa and The King’s College in New York. He is also the author of From Baroque to Storm and Stress 1720-1775: The Literary History of Germany (1977). He now lives in Seattle.

The Radio Signal is an extraordinary story of how ordinary people get caught up in great upheavals, and the choices and decisions they make to save their families.  

Top photograph: German refugees and soldiers fleeing eastern Prussia ahead of the Soviet troops, February 1945; photo by Bundesarchiv via Wikimedia Commons

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