Retreat Without Song

Title: Retreat Without Song
Author: Margot Benary-Isbert
Publish Date: 1961
Genre: Historical Fiction
Page Length: Approximately 200 pages (exact page length not specified)


“Retreat Without Song” by Margot Benary-Isbert is a compelling historical fiction novel set during World War II. This summary provides a comprehensive overview of the plot, characters, themes, and significance of this poignant book.

Plot Summary:

“Retreat Without Song” unfolds against the backdrop of a small German village called Falkenberg during the final days of World War II. The story revolves around four main characters: Liesel Naumann, a young girl determined to keep her family safe amidst the ravages of war; Martin, Liesel’s mentally disabled brother; Mutti and Vati Naumann, Liesel’s loving parents.

Chapter 1: The story begins with the Naumann family attending a Nazi rally, where Mutti discovers Martin’s forbidden book. This event sets the stage for the family’s eventual decision to flee Falkenberg.

Chapter 2: The Naumanns resolve to escape the oncoming Allied forces by retreating to a nearby cave hideout, referred to as the “retreat cave.” In an effort to protect Martin, Liesel devises a plan to keep his intellectual disability a secret.

Chapter 3: Inside the retreat cave, Liesel discovers a hidden diary left by a former cave occupant named Jacob, who fought against the Nazis before being conscripted into the German army. Jacob’s diary acts as both a guide and a source of inspiration for Liesel throughout the story.

Chapter 4: As the family grapples with fear, hunger, and isolation, they are joined by several other refugees seeking shelter in the cave. Among them are Anna, an elderly woman whose sons are away serving in the war, and Ernst, a former soldier who struggles with guilt and despair.

Chapter 5: The presence of German soldiers and frequent bombings in Falkenberg intensify the challenges faced by the Naumann family and the other refugees. Despite this, Liesel’s determination to maintain hope and persevere remains unwavering.

Chapter 6: The harsh winter conditions in the cave take their toll on the refugees’ physical and emotional well-being. Food shortages and deteriorating health make daily life increasingly difficult, leading to tensions and conflicts among the group.

Chapter 7: An unexpected act of kindness from a Nazi officer stationed in Falkenberg brings fleeting respite to the refugees. However, this temporary relief is met with uncertainty, as they continue to face the imminent threat of discovery and peril.

Chapter 8: The war finally ends, and the people in the cave cautiously emerge into the outside world. The journey back to normalcy proves challenging and painful for the survivors as they confront the destruction, loss, and guilt left in the wake of the war.


“Retreat Without Song” explores several significant themes, shedding light on the human experience during times of conflict and devastation. One of the central themes is resilience and the power of hope amidst despair. Liesel’s unwavering determination to protect her family and find beauty even in the bleakest of circumstances symbolizes the indomitable human spirit.

The novel also examines the moral dilemmas faced by ordinary people during war. The Naumanns, along with other characters in the story, grapple with their loyalty to the Nazi regime and the consequences of their choices. The theme of sacrifice is intertwined with this moral dilemma as characters must make difficult decisions to ensure their survival and protect others.


“Retreat Without Song” provides an invaluable depiction of the human cost of war and the struggles faced by individuals trapped in its midst. By focusing on a fictional German family, the book offers a unique perspective on the impact of World War II on civilians living within Germany. It humanizes the hardships and complexities faced by ordinary individuals, shedding light on the universality of suffering and the nuances of morality.

The historical accuracy and vivid descriptions in “Retreat Without Song” immerse readers in the experiences of those affected by war. By emphasizing the importance of empathy, integrity, and resilience, the novel invites readers, particularly students, to reflect on the choices made by individuals during times of crisis and consider their own roles as global citizens.

In conclusion, “Retreat Without Song” by Margot Benary-Isbert is a powerful work of historical fiction that delves into the lives of ordinary Germans during World War II. Through its well-crafted plot, memorable characters, and thought-provoking themes, the book provides a poignant portrayal of the human spirit’s ability to endure and find hope even in the darkest of times.