Survival in the Shadows: Seven Jews Hidden In Hitler’s Berlin, by Barbara Lovenheim *****

survivalintheshadowsAt one point I promised myself, no more Holocaust memoirs! I can’t change history, and I know enough. I am retired. Why make myself feel worse? But then this wonderful biography became available, thanks to Net Galley and Open Road Integrated Media; thank you to both of them for the free DRC. Not only was it worth delving back into this difficult period in history, but it kept me awake till 2 AM because I could not put it down unfinished. What a terrific story!
Many of those of us that have studied the Holocaust, whether for reasons of family and culture, historical interest, or something else, have maxed out on the horror, the numbers, the gut-wrenching details. This book isn’t more of that. Instead, it is the remarkable true story of Jewish Germans that found a way to conceal themselves, not only in Nazi-occupied Europe, but in Berlin itself. Within the belly of the beast, there were still some good people left. There were people that would house the Arndt family members; there were those who had no space or were too afraid to do that, but who would provide food; and there were those who took no active role, but were willing to see, and to say nothing. And perhaps more than anything, there were seven really smart people who were determined not to die, and who beat the odds by surviving till the Russians came in to rescue them.
Young people are often the quickest to respond appropriately when big changes occur quickly, and so it was with the Arndts. Dr. Arndt had grown up in Germany as a member of a respected family, and he was reluctant to give up on the German government as a source of justice and order. He had fought in World War I, and didn’t think his country would allow him or his loved ones to be hurt. Erich, his son, thought differently. Ultimately, it was the teenagers, Erich and Ruth, who persuaded their parents that they had to disappear. In fact, they tossed down an ultimatum: disappear, or we will disappear without you! To keep the family together, the doctor and his wife, Lina, complied with their children’s wishes, and it is a very good thing they did so.
Once Goebbels, the monstrous architect of Nazi Germany’s “final solution” to its Jewish scapegoats, declared Berlin to be completely free of Jews, a lot of Germans believed him. For most of them, it was not really an important issue; they were more concerned with paying their bills and finding food than with spying on the neighbors. The truth was that more than 5,000 Jews had slipped by the cops, soldiers, and members of the SS; of those, 1,600 managed to hide somewhere until the whole thing was over. However, this was the only family to emerge intact—not that no one in their family died, but that seven of them managed to ease themselves in and out of safe houses, factories, even basements and sheds, with the help of the doctor’s former patients and others who were willing to do the right thing.
It’s enough to give us faith in humanity, because there was a good deal of both real and perceived risk in doing so.
Wouldn’t you like to read some good news for a change? Lovenheim’s survival tale is fantastic. I was spellbound both by the bold, clever things done by the family members—especially the young folks—and by the inspirational actions and words of those that could not look away, who just had to help in spite of what could happen to them if they were caught.
Highly recommended, and recently released, this one is a real day-brightener. Get it right away. You’ll feel so much better if you do!

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