REFUGE IN HELL by Daniel B. Silver
Kirkus Star

REFUGE IN HELL

How Berlin’s Jewish Hospital Outlasted the Nazis

KIRKUS REVIEW

Fascinating footnote to Holocaust history that staggers the imagination, revealing the existence of a Jewish hospital in the heart of Berlin that treated patients to the very end of Hitler’s reign.

The story that Silver, former general counsel to the National Security Agency and Central Intelligence Agency, recounts is not unknown; still, it has been overlooked for many reasons, not least of them, he suggests, the uncomfortable implication that some of the wards there had traded on privileged status and others on betrayals of fellow Jews, in order to stay alive. This much is true, at least in some cases. But the mere fact that the Berlin Jewish Hospital was kept operational until unbelieving Red Army soldiers arrived and insisted, “You can’t be Jews, the Jews are all dead,” owes to several accidents of history and culture, Silver writes. One may have been the legendary German devotion to method: some German Jews who had already been incarcerated were sent there when they fell ill, presumably so that they would be healthy before being deported to labor or death camps. Another may have been a problem of classification, for the Nazi regime never quite knew how to handle the matter of mixed marriages, at least when an “Aryan” man married a Jewish woman (Aryan women who gave themselves to Jewish men were quite another thing), and many of the 800 or so patients and doctors in the hospital fell into this not-quite-official category. Yet another might have been the influence of hospital director Walter Lustig, “the overlord of the pitiful remains of German Jewry,” who, though something of a shadowy figure in Silver’s pages, somehow kept the Gestapo at bay. Still another may have been a quiet accommodation the Nazis reached with the British and Americans, allowing some Jews to live within the hospital’s gates in exchange for German nationals who had been captured in Palestine.

Whatever the explanation, the survival of the hospital was nothing short of a miracle, one that Silver captures with all due astonishment.

Pub Date: Sept. 17th, 2003
ISBN: 0-618-25144-8
Page count: 336pp
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1st, 2003