THE LAST JEWS IN BERLIN by Leonard Gross

THE LAST JEWS IN BERLIN

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Based on interviews with Holocaust survivors: six stories of Berlin-area Jews who managed to stay in hiding from February 1943 (when the city's remaining 30,000 Jews were rounded up) till the end of the war. Gross (Mirror, The Last Best Hope, etc.) has broken each of the stories up into many pieces, attempting to reshuffle these fragments into a suspenseful, chronological mosaic; and, while this tends to make the individual experiences seem melodramatically inflated (or sometimes hard to follow), the appeal of the basic material here does come through. Fritz Croner, dashing son of the richest man in a small town, retains ""an almost sublime sense of his ability to survive"" as the situation worsens: he thrives on the underground gem trade, uses the money to pay exorbitant hideout rent (for his wife and child), buys black-market papers, is betrayed by a Jew (one of the loathed ""catchers""), but escapes from the Gestapo and (helped by a black-market colleague) rejoins his family. Avant-garde intellectual Hans Hirschel is protected throughout the war by his mistress--Countess Maria von Maltzan, who not only gutsily stares down the Gestapo (while Hans hides inside a sofa-bed) but also risks her life working with a Swedishchurch group that helps Jews to flee. (And in 1945, she butchers horses for meat and adopts Russian orphans.) Fashion-designer Ruth Thomas survives--thanks to her Aryan appearance, her talent, and the help of an SS officer's wife. Middle-aged Willy Glaser--an ineffectual lover of music and theater--sleeps in assorted houses, in the woods, is captured, escapes (twice), finds love (and protection) with a ""privileged Jew"" whose mother is Christian. Kurt and Hella Riede are bravely hidden, again and again, by a young Catholic couple. And 18-year-old orphan Hans Rosenthal, helped (unenthusiastically) by his non-Jewish grandmother, is taken in by a saintly Christian woman. Gross fills in the backgrounds of all these survivors, follows their travels, and (least predictably) observes them under the varied effects of late-war bombing and Russian invasion. His dramatization is solid, a trifle corny, not strong on atmosphere (everything is smoothed out rather blandly), and perhaps a bit gullible in accepting the recollections of long-ago derring-do. But if somewhat homogenized and far from unique--there are similar stories in Voices from the Holocaust (1981)--these efficiently interwoven accounts are readable, often suspenseful, and occasionally inspiring.

Pub Date: April 22nd, 1982
ISBN: 0786706872
Publisher: Simon & Schuster