The Jews who survived the Holocaust . . . in Berlin

HOW THE BOOK CAME ABOUT

Gross, an author best known for his novel The Memoirs of JFK, did not begin the project that resulted in this book. “The interviews on which much of this book is based,” he writes at the outset, “were actually begun a decade before I became involved… In 1967 Erik Lasher, an editor and writer, journeyed to Berlin in the hope of finding Jews who had spent the entire war in that city. . . Eighteen men and women responded” to advertisements he placed in a Jewish community newspaper published there. “He interviewed all of them, as well as other survivors to whom their stories led him. All the interviews were extensive, and all of them were taped.

THE LAST JEWS IN BERLIN BY LEONARD GROSS (1982) 354 PAGES ★★★★★

Adolf Hitler reviewing Hitler Youth on parade in Berlin in 1938. Imagine what it would have been like to be a Jew living there at the time. Image: United States Holocaust Memorial Museum

A RAPIDLY SHRINKING COMMUNITY

Surprisingly, even by the close of hostilities in May 1945, a thousand Jews survived in Berlin. They were but a shadow of the vibrant community of 160,000 people that existed when Adolf Hitler came to power in 1933. [A total of some four million people lived in metropolitan Berlin at the time.] The city’s Jewish population was “approximately one-third of a German-Jewish population of 500,000 persons who, by and large, considered themselves at least as German as they were Jewish.” Jews had made innumerable contributions to the nation — in science, business, the arts, medicine, and law . And they had volunteered and fought for the German Empire in World War I in disproportionately large numbers. Despite all that, “by September 1, 1939, when World War II began [in Europe], the Jewish population had been cut in half.” Hundreds of thousands had fled, committed suicide, or fallen victim to murders perpetrated by Nazi thugs.

MANY JEWS STILL IN BERLIN WHEN THE “FINAL SOLUTION” BEGAN

By the time of the notorious Wannsee Conference on January 20, 1942, where the Nazi hierarchy agreed on the “Final Solution,” propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels estimated that “there are still 40,000 Jews in Berlin.” For a year, Goebbels lobbied Hitler to authorize the complete removal of Jews from the nation’s capital. Finally, on “February 27, 1943, units of Hitler’s elite corps, the S.S., undertook a lightning roundup of Berlin’s Jews.” They were predictably efficient.

JEWS WHO SURVIVED THE HOLOCAUST

To tell the story of thousands through the experience of a handful, Gross carefully selected survivors whose experiences struck him as representative. His subjects included:

  • a teenager, 17 years old in 1942, the oldest of three sons of a Jewish father and a Christian mother who had converted to Judaism
  • an “avant-garde intellectual” who wrote plays throughout the war that were produced in the name of the Christian woman he was living with
  • a poor Jewish man with an encyclopedic knowledge of theater and the opera
  • a blonde, blue-eyed woman and her husband who survived in plain sight for months because they looked “Aryan”

THE PIVOTAL ROLE OF CHRISTIANS WHO HELPED

“None of the Jews who went underground in Berlin or elsewhere in Germany could have survived without the help of at least one Gentile benefactor,” the author asserts. For several of Gross’s subjects, many Christians — especially Catholics — helped. In at least one case, a whole neighborhood came together to protect a Jewish couple because the man had acted heroically to put out a fire caused by a bombing that threatened their homes.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Leonard Gross. Image: Amazon

FOR MORE READING

Check out 15 good books about the Holocaust, including both fiction and nonfiction and More than 30 worthy books about Jewish topics.

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