Jews In Berlin

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Jews in Berlin
By Andreas Nachama, Julius H. Schoeps and Hermann Simon
Berlinica – £20.00

The thirties, once described by the poet W.H. Auden with such devastating force in ”September 1, 1939,’ as a ”low dishonest decade,” were years during which Germany descended into what was probably the greatest moral disaster of its history.

No-where was this more horribly pronounced than in the country’s capital city of Berlin, still one of the most exciting and greatest of cities in the world, although as written in the Forward herein: ”The city associated with glamour, decadence, sophistication and terror has become a city of serious scholarship and research on Central European Jewry, which, of course, includes glamour, decadence, sophistication and terror.”

To be sure, in the fifth chapter of this rather wonderful, at times poignant, and all round informative book (‘Jews during the Period of National Socialism (1933 – 1945)),’ Hermann Simon leaves no ghastly ideological stone unturned – especially in relation to the city’s Jewish population: ”The transports followed one after another until, on Frebruary 27, 1943, the so-called ”Factory Action” took place. More than 11,000 Jews had been working in armaments factories. They were arrested on the job and deported. Berlin was now considered ”free of Jews!” The expression comes from Goebbels, who needed a new success bulletin to take people’s minds off the defeat at Stalingrad.”

In and of itself, the last sentence is as inflamatory as it is fundamentally hard to believe.

Not only was the Battle of Stalingrad (23 August 1942 – 2 February 1943) a complete and utter disaster for Germany; it’s close to impossible to believe, let alone imagine, that the ruinous deportation of Berlin’s remaining Jews, would constitute as a ”success bulletin.”

Whether or not at the time it (subliminally) did, is yet another chapter in the city’s dark and quintessentially chequered history. An unfortunate chapter that could well warrant a book in its own right, for as Simon further clarifies, Goebbels most defiantly gave it his utmost: ”He entered into his diary: ”The rest of Berlin’s Jews are finally being forced to go; as of February 28, they will all be put in camps and then deported, up to 20,000 per day. My goal is to make Berlin completely free of Jews by mid or at the latest the end of March.”

Assimilate such madness as you will, but there’s no doubting that the key words in the above paragraph are quintessentially chequered history, which Jews in Berlin really does cover and portray magnificently.

From the very outset, wherein authoress Claudia-Ann Flumenbaum states: ”The earliest trace of Jewish history in the area is a gravestone dating back from 1244 found in the western district of Spandau, once an independent city. This was the same year that Coelln’s sister city, Berlin (which wouldn’t give its name to the entire city until 1709), is first mentioned in an official document. The year 1244 thus marks both the first official mention of Berlin and of the region’s Jews” (‘From the Beginnings until 1789’); right through to where Judith Kessler and Andre Anchuelo semi-conclude with: ”The exotic combination of West Berlin’s solidity and East Berlin’s optimistic spirit has contributed to the fact that young Israelis and Americans prefer to take up residence in old Berlin neighbourhoods, rather than locating in Paris or Rome. The decades long condemnation of the ”land of the perpetrators” is apparently over” (‘Jewish Life after Reunification (1990 – present’)); Jews in Berlin covers a tumultuous terrain.

A deeply entrenched terrain that is all the more enhanced by the varying tonality of the several writers involved.

Along with an array of black and white as well as colour photographs, predominantly Jewish newspaper headlines – which still resonate with a clarity of authenticity and power – a Jewish related Chronology of the city and a superb Selected Bibliography, these 300 pages are more than likely to touch many a heart of the inquisitive, humane persuasion.

As Carol Kahn Straus so eloquently reminds us in the book’s aforementioned Forward: ”the secret of redemption lies in remembrance.”

And once again, no-where on earth is this more pronounced than in Berlin.

David Marx

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