The author energetically chronicles his life as a young Jew living underground in Nazi Germany.
Born in Berlin of Russian immigrant parents, the 20-year-old Schönhaus saw his entire family deported to concentration camps in 1942. His own deportation was temporarily deferred due to his “voluntary” employment at an arms factory, where other Jews taught him to sabotage German gun barrels to prevent them from firing. The former graphic-arts student was then hired by prominent and heroic Jewish sympathizers to forge identity passes. He eventually used his talent to counterfeit hundreds of cards and passports for Jews threatened with deportation to Auschwitz and Majdanek. Schönhaus’s intelligent, engaging voice truly emerges in the second half of the book, where he describes his adventures as a Jew living under the Gestapo radar. He adopted the wildlife survival tactic of mimicry, determining that the more he acted like a swaggering German, the less likely anyone was to suspect that he was an illegal Jew—and the longer he would stay alive to aid the persecuted. Encouraged by memories of his father’s wisdom, Schönhaus lived like an apparent Prussian prince, dining in high-class restaurants, learning to sail, falling in and out of love. He resourcefully continued to frustrate the Gestapo, who posted his wanted photo all over Berlin. Heavy on adventure and light on violence, this brand of Holocaust memoir frees the author to voice the raw, poignant questions that Jews outside the camps pondered: “Would you have a toothbrush there?... Surely my vision of white huts was wrong. Where was Mama now? What had she been forced to see?” The climax delivers both structurally and emotionally, as Schönhaus tosses his bicycle in the bushes to swim the rest of the way to freedom in Switzerland, where he still lives.
A courageous, surprisingly buoyant memoir from one of modern history’s most somber eras.