As I sort through books, unable to give up a (too large) number of them, I go down rabbit holes of reading. The above scan is of the cover of a book I bought some years ago in a second-hand store. I read it and found it intriguing because this escaped German POW who turned himself in forty years later got this book published before turning himself in. When I got this book, probably around 1993, online research was in its infancy. So I never found out the story's end...what happened when he turned himself in. I lent the book to my dad in 2001 to read and then stumbled on it in 2003 again while looking for books for him to read. Then I did some research with the Internet capabilities of ten years later. Here is an excerpt from my 2003 journal about that:
I started collecting first person accounts from World War II over twenty years ago. I picked up a book (Howard K. Smith's Last Train from Berlin) at my in-laws' house and read it. It was so interesting reading abuot events just before I was born and seeing the events through the eyes of one person in the vortex of history. The story had such individual urgency and yet the events were sweeping the whole world along. I went to the secondhand book stores and searched out similar books. A lot of them were like this copy of Smith's book. They were printed during the war or just after and were now old and musty, especially since the best quality paper couldn't be used. There were stories by refugees and journalists, foot soldiers and pilots, resistance fighters and civilians in the way of war. There were harrowing accounts of concentration camps, POW camps, fox holes and war rooms. There were touching accounts of lives touching, caroming off and spinning away from each other forever. Sometimes I felt that a big patchwork quilt of a story was being told to me, adding up to something like the truth. If truth is chaos and confusion. Sometimes the stories touched, recounting the same event from two sides or the people actually met.
About ten years ago I picked up a more recent book that still fit the genre. I bought it at Half Price Books for $2.98. It was published in 1985. The book was Hitler's Last Soldier in America by Georg Gaertner with Arnold Krammer. Georg was a member of Rommel's Afrika Corps and was captured and sent to New Mexico. He escaped from the POW camp in 1945 when the war was over. He was afraid of being repatriated into Russian hands. He lived without detection until 1985 when he published a book. The book implied that he would turn himself in, in conjunction with the publication.
As Dad and I talked about the book, I told him that I'd never found out what happened to the guy when he turned himself in. It had been a while since I'd tried to search and I'd never been that serious about it. I had tried the Internet once, I think, a few years ago. I gave it another shot and found the resume of the co-author, a professor at Texas A&M. I clicked on his e-mail and told him about buying the book and wondering. He wrote back in short order. Amazing. I printed his e-mail and put it in the book.
Georg's story is so improbable. You live in Germany, there is a war, you end up in the U.S. living a life. Your hometown is now in Poland. Life goes on for forty years and then you admit that you are not just a ski instructor, tennis player and amateur painter, but this last unaccounted for POW.
But everyone's history is interesting when you dig into it and see what happened and how and when. How some things seemed to be choice and some events just steamrolled the person. And how the generatons come and go, considered less than you might think by children and grand children.
Yesterday I found the book again. I was pretty sure I'd keep it, but I decided to see how easy it would be to replace if I didn't. This is something I often do. I'll say "yeah I might read this some day" and then I'll see that I could get one secondhand on the Internet easily. So I'll give it away and figure I'll buy one if I ever want to read or reread it. Well, Georg Gaertner's story wasn't that available. Powell's offered to let me know if they got one. A couple of dealers offered them at high prices. I decided to keep it. The e-mail from his writing collaborator is printed on paper and tucked inside. The reason I scanned the cover is so that my Library Thing bookshelf could show the cover. (By the way, on Library Thing, four other people have cataloged the book.)
As I sort through the books some have wonderful covers, beautiful paper (although the WWII era ones alluded to above are on awful wartime paper) and great inset pictures. It's hard to beat the experience of a book. Or a newspaper. I still like to fill in the crossword on the newsprint even though I have access to the fancy online crosswords.
The end of paper? No, paper and pixels will blend. Your book will come with a WEB page. As most do today. You will research things online and then buy an obscure book from a store across the country or find out online that it is in your library down the street or across town.