Underground in Berlin: A Young Woman’s Extraordinary Tale of Survival in the Heart of Nazi Germany by Marie Jalowicz Simon

Underground in Berlin: A Young Woman’s Extraordinary Tale of Survival in the Heart of Nazi Germany by Marie Jalowicz Simon (translated by Anthea Bell with a foreword and afterword by Hermann Simon)

Hermann Simon knew his mother as a loving parent who was a Professor of Classical Antiquities at the Humboldt University of Berlin. He also knew that his mother survived World War II by staying and hiding most of the time in Berlin. During that period in Berlin, so she would not be discovered as a Jewish girl in her 20s and sent to a concentration camp. She rarely spoke about this experience and her son really didn’t know the details. Shortly before her death in 1998, he put a tape recorded in front of her and she agreed to tell her story.

Not only did Ms. Simon tell the story chronologically in vivid detail, but she also revealed her inner thoughts and feelings. She related how at first she wore the yellow Jewish star as was expected to be worn by all Jews in the city, although periodically she would hide it. She did the required work in a German factory making screws for war weapons. Then when her parents were “deported” and nobody knew exactly what their fate would be, she decided to “go to ground” which meant to go underground living in Germany. She hid her Jewish identity and found temporary lodging with non-Jewish friends. She would spend a few days or a week or two and then have to move on and try to find some other place to live.. At times, the circumstances was such that she had to give sexual favors and even got married for a short time in order to have a place to live. She had trouble getting food and most of the time she was in great hunger. Sometimes she had to sit in a wicker chair for hours at a time or sleep in the makeshift bed in the corner of somebody’s apartment who was risking their own lives by hiding her.

She was “underground” for about three years. She recalled not only the details of each phase of her hiding but painted a clear picture of the people she met and with whom she interacted. But most interesting was her ongoing recounting of her fears and feelings as she walked around the city or read books in an uncomfortable living arrangement with constant hunger. There’s no complicated plot or strongly unforgettable characters (other than Ms. Simon). We could appreciate the kindness of so many people who risked their lives to hide her. Her experience after the Russians liberated Berlin was also quite interesting.

We owe a debt of gratitude to Ms. Simon and her son for leaving the legacy of her experience as the young Jewish woman in Berlin during the war who “went to ground.” This book may not achieve the literary acclaim of some of the classic Holocaust books, but I still found it unforgettable. We all should be appreciative that the author and her son made the effort to preserve her story for future generations.

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