The Last Jews in Berlin

The Last Jews in Berlin

In February 1943, four thousand Jews went underground in Berlin. By the end of the war, all but a few hundred of them had died in bombing raids or, more commonly, in death camps. This is the real-life story of some of the few of them - a young mother, a scholar and his countess lover, a black-market jeweler, a fashion designer, a Zionist, an opera-loving merchant, a teen-a...

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Title:The Last Jews in Berlin
Author:Leonard Gross
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Edition Language:English

The Last Jews in Berlin Reviews

  • Meaghan

    This book covers in detail the stories of a dozen or so Jewish individuals who managed to survive the Holocaust hiding in plain sight in Berlin, in the very heart of Nazism. The author conducted extensive interviews with his subjects and, I expect, those that helped hide them, and he covers their stories almost day by day. It's very well-written and at times almost reads like a suspense novel -- I didn't want to put it down. Highly recommended.

  • Toni Osborne

    This is an amazing account and the real-life story of some Berlin area Jews who managed to stay alive in hiding till the end of the war after the S.S. lightning roundup of all remaining Jews in Operation Factory. Such Jews were known as “U’Boats”. This book is based on interviews of the survivors conducted in 1967 and 1978 and is a powerful and gripping portrait of life during WW11.

    The author fills in the backgrounds of all these survivors and we follow their travels and observe them under varie

    This is an amazing account and the real-life story of some Berlin area Jews who managed to stay alive in hiding till the end of the war after the S.S. lightning roundup of all remaining Jews in Operation Factory. Such Jews were known as “U’Boats”. This book is based on interviews of the survivors conducted in 1967 and 1978 and is a powerful and gripping portrait of life during WW11.

    The author fills in the backgrounds of all these survivors and we follow their travels and observe them under varied situation. Each story is broken into many pieces and the narrative weaves a suspenseful mosaic of experiences. This dramatization is solid and reads like a thriller.

    The day to day struggle to stay alive is a harrowing and poignant experience which capped the essence of fear, hunger and desperation to a tee. Being hunted by the Gestapo, the SS and the Jews called “catchers” and still manage to hold your sanity and stay alive all that time is short of a miracle. Thanks to the good heart and courage of some German citizens and members of the Swedish church of Berlin few cheated the gas chambers and lasted long enough to see the Russian invasion and their liberation.

    This book is so well-written and captivating it is hard to put down. I do agree with those saying this book is a tribute to the survivors as well as to their protectors.

    This is an amazing read I highly recommend.

    My thanks to Netgalley and the publisher Open Road Integrated Media for the opportunity to read an advance copy of this book

  • Anthony

    A Review by Anthony T. Riggio of the "Last Jews in Berlin "by Leonard Gross, 5-18-15

    The Author, Leonard Gross reviewed the extensive work of a friend and colleague named Eric Lasher who compiled numerous interview of survivors of the Nazi persecutions during their regime from 1932 to the end of World War II. The taking of the interviews of the survivors physically sickened Lasher and years later Leonard Gross asked permission from Lasher to compile some of the stories in greater details, if he c

    A Review by Anthony T. Riggio of the "Last Jews in Berlin "by Leonard Gross, 5-18-15

    The Author, Leonard Gross reviewed the extensive work of a friend and colleague named Eric Lasher who compiled numerous interview of survivors of the Nazi persecutions during their regime from 1932 to the end of World War II. The taking of the interviews of the survivors physically sickened Lasher and years later Leonard Gross asked permission from Lasher to compile some of the stories in greater details, if he could locate and re-interview these survivors, with the idea of going into much more details.

    It was a passion for Gross to find these survivors and get their stories. Gross located 18 of the people interviewed by Lasher several years ago and their stories formed the contents of The Last Jews...

    I have often wondered how so many Jews readily surrendered to the oppressions of the Nazi's and have formed varying beliefs of why though not truly clear to me. Gross' book at least, made me understand the will of these survivors and the many more not listed in this work, to survive the terror of the Nazi regime.

    Not all Germans were Nazi's and not all Nazi's were monsters. Unfortunately because of the German psyche, many were caught up in the thinking's and emotions of Adolph Hitler and a many German leaders.

    The Jews were a readymade scapegoat for the ills that Germany was suffering. I often wondered if the Nazi's had not been so fanatical and capitalized on the natural genius of the Jews who were devoted Germans pre-Hitler, how his side would have fared in this world holocaust. Of course that is not the screen play Hitler was using and his domination and control of the Jews was too deep rooted.

    This book, when I bought the Kindle version, upset my wife who accused me of having a fixation on the suffering of the Jews during these times. It was not a fixation but a quest to understand man's inhumanity to his fellow man; which frankly, I will never truly grasp and hopefully never will because of the scope of its monstrosity.

    Reading The Last Jews in Berlin opened my mind to the self-sacrifices people would go through to survive by going underground while being sought by the SS, Gestapo, and fellow Jews known infamously as the Jew Catchers. These individuals turned in fellow Jews to save themselves from the extermination camps.

    The individual stories are both heartwarming and profoundly sad and inspiring. A summary of all the stories is not the object of this review but a capsulized view of what the reader should seek out on his own. I found the author Leonard Gross a great story teller who keeps the reader's attention and desire to find out the outcomes of these survivors, who lived the entire war in hiding in and about Germany and Berlin.

    I, as a reader felt the painful emotions of these suffering people and I was gratified to see the goodness of so many people without whose help survival would have been impossible absent a determined and supported partisan movement, which was not possible due to the ingrained sense of duty to obey by the German population, in general.

    There were many heroes in this book but too many victims only because they were Jews. The book itself is an emotional up and down ride and the reader will find themselves desperately hoping for the end of the war.

    I highly recommend this book to any reader wanting to know: What happened and why? I gave this book five stars and wished I could have given more. It is superbly written and guaranteed to hold the readers interest.

  • Paloma Meir

    I found this book in a used book store in the mid 90s. The cover was crumbly, and the pages were yellowed but the subject matter was interesting, and an aspect of the Holocaust I hadn't read much about.

    I devoured the book in one sitting, and immediately flipped back to the first page to read it again.

    I don't remember many of the details of this book, but I do remember being powerfully struck by the bravery and ingenuity of the real life people living their endangered lives in plain sight. Brav

    I found this book in a used book store in the mid 90s. The cover was crumbly, and the pages were yellowed but the subject matter was interesting, and an aspect of the Holocaust I hadn't read much about.

    I devoured the book in one sitting, and immediately flipped back to the first page to read it again.

    I don't remember many of the details of this book, but I do remember being powerfully struck by the bravery and ingenuity of the real life people living their endangered lives in plain sight. Brave, so brave.

    I lent the book to a friend not long after reading it, and never saw it again. I found myself thinking about the book this morning, but I couldn't remember the title. I googled the summary and here we are. I plan to reread it within the next week or two.

    Thank you Google.

  • Manchester Military History Society (MMHS)

    Leonard Gross provides fascinating insight into a rarely covered subject. Written like a thriller and with an unlikely cast of helpers including Horst Wessel's sister, a pro-Nazi Field Marshal's son and a Prussian Countess, the book holds your attention throughout.

    Known as die Taucher, the divers, they were also referred to as U-Boats. 11,000 Jews went underground in Berlin during the war years of 1939 – 1945. 1400 surv

    Leonard Gross provides fascinating insight into a rarely covered subject. Written like a thriller and with an unlikely cast of helpers including Horst Wessel's sister, a pro-Nazi Field Marshal's son and a Prussian Countess, the book holds your attention throughout.

    Known as die Taucher, the divers, they were also referred to as U-Boats. 11,000 Jews went underground in Berlin during the war years of 1939 – 1945. 1400 survived the war.

    It's a tale of human decency, but also human weakness and selfishness.

    The decency is represented by those Germans who stayed true to their pre-Nazi era political beliefs and conscience by helping Jews survive despite knowing that this could be at the cost of the lives of themselves and their loved ones. One story I wasn't aware of was the leading role played by the Swedish Church in Berlin in saving hundreds of Jews.

    Weakness is shown by those that sold out to the Nazis especially those Jews who became “Jew catchers” in the hope that this would save their own and their families lives, one of whom survived the war and continued to live in Berlin.

    Selfishness is portrayed by the infighting and the situations where stealing or informing would be used for personal gain.

    The book reads like a thriller and despite the regular switches between the different characters, I found it easy to follow the individual stories.

    Recommended for insight into this rarely written about aspect of Holocaust history.

  • Dov Zeller

    About a year ago I read "Paper Love" by Sarah Wildman (which I highly recommend) and it was the first time I had come accross detailed accounts of the lives of Jews who lived in and around Berlin during the later years of the war. I hadn't realized that a number of Jews were "allowed" to stay in Berlin through 1943 and 1944 and even perhaps into early 1945 because of their work in hospitals and factories -- only to be rounded up and sent to camps in the last year or two of the war.

    "Paper Love"

    About a year ago I read "Paper Love" by Sarah Wildman (which I highly recommend) and it was the first time I had come accross detailed accounts of the lives of Jews who lived in and around Berlin during the later years of the war. I hadn't realized that a number of Jews were "allowed" to stay in Berlin through 1943 and 1944 and even perhaps into early 1945 because of their work in hospitals and factories -- only to be rounded up and sent to camps in the last year or two of the war.

    "Paper Love" was also the first book I read that mentioned Jewish people going "underground" and hiding in Berlin, often hiding in plain sight. In fact, it is possible I found my first reference to "The Last Jews In Berlin" in "Paper Love." I don't remember, but it's a likely connection.

    I'm very glad I read "Paper Love" for its loving articulation of the story of Wildman's connection to her grandfather, her sudden understanding, after her grandfather's death, of the complexity hiding under his stubborn determination to remain joyful in the face of his history. When she reads his letters after his death, Wildman discovers her grandfather had a lover before the war and decides to try to find out what happened to her. Wildman does a beautiful job of exploring not only the fate of her grandfather's dear friend and lover, and the helplessness he suffered while trying to help people escape Austria and Germany during the war. She also explores her (our) generation's connection to her grandfather's, and to the war itself, by visiting Vienna and Berlin, by doing all kinds of research, by delving into her grandfather's loves and losses though he worked very hard, a costly endeavor, to put the war years behind him. I'm grateful to have found "Paper Love" and glad, though it was painful, to have deepened my understanding of the war years by reading "The Last Jews in Berlin."

    "The Last Jews In Berlin" has an interesting story behind its genesis that offers insight into the work that goes into such a book, and the choices a writer makes when putting together a book of investigative journalism or historical non-fiction.

    The author, Leonard Gross, describes in his introduction, how the subject of the book, and much of the early research, came to be in his hands. The idea and the initial interviews (many many hours of interviews) were conducted by his friend Eric Lasher. But Lasher was so disturbed and sick from the work, he even developed a stutter while researching the experience of the Jews hiding in Berlin, he couldn't go on with the project. And at some point, maybe five or ten years later? he asked Gross if he would take over and complete the book. But it wasn't as simple as taking Lasher's interviews and realizing Lasher's vision. Gross had to make the book his own, to make decisions about how to focus and organize the material, which interviews to follow-up on, whose stories to include and how to develop the ideas. He went to Berlin, unsure if he would be able to find the people Lasher had interviewed, really having no idea how the process would unfold.

    What Gross wound up writing is a book focused on a small group of survivors and their small supportive communities. He also wrote quite a bit about a church in Germany whose clergy were devoted to helping those in hiding. So though we do zoom out at times and get a look at the bigger picture, the organization of the book is such that we mainly focus in very closely on a small number of people and a church (and haven for so many.) The book moves chronologically in such a way that each person's story is broken up into several parts and so we go back and forth from story to story moving gradually forward in time.

    All in all this book is well-researched, well-written, important, intriguing, and offers a bit of courage and hope from a time when people were broken on so many levels. My main complaint is that the organization can be confusing. I think the use of photos and pictures of documents, timelines, newspaper clippings and other organizing and grounding media, would have helped a lot.

    One thing this book offers is a sense of deep personal connection to the intimacies, fears, resourcefulness, daring, boredom, hunger, sights, sounds, smells... the every day things and the extraordinary things (sometimes one and the same, but not always) experienced by a select and small group of people. Readers also get a bit of a sense of the experience of Berlin as a city (if it can be said one can see a war from a city's point of view.)

    What this book leaves room for is a non-fiction account with a similar focus but a broader scope.

    One thing that comes up a lot in this book is the subject of catchers, Jewish people who worked for the Nazis to catch other Jewish people who were living "underground." There doesn't seem to be a non-fiction work dedicated to catchers during the war, but Donna Deitch is in the process of finishing up a film about one of the most notorious catchers, Stella Kubler Isaaakson nee Goldschlag and Peter Wyden has written a biography of her.

  • Tim

    Sometimes you have to wonder what exactly it is editors do to earn their keep. To my mind this book suffers from a very bad editorial decision. The material is organised in such a way that a lot of the reader’s intimacy with the characters is lost.

    The title tells the story. It’s the story of several Jewish individuals trying to elude the Gestapo in Berlin. The problem is, just as you start getting emotionally involved with one character, the narrative switches to another story. And so on and so

    Sometimes you have to wonder what exactly it is editors do to earn their keep. To my mind this book suffers from a very bad editorial decision. The material is organised in such a way that a lot of the reader’s intimacy with the characters is lost.

    The title tells the story. It’s the story of several Jewish individuals trying to elude the Gestapo in Berlin. The problem is, just as you start getting emotionally involved with one character, the narrative switches to another story. And so on and so forth. When, several chapters later, you’re returned to the first character you’ve forgotten who he is. I can’t help feeling this would have been a much more gripping and moving book had the author been allowed to write each story consecutively from beginning to end instead of the rather crazy idea of fragmenting the book to a chronological imperative. We all have a basic idea now of the timeline of events in WW2 so I never understood what purpose was served by jumping abruptly from one narrative to another.

    I did learn some fascinating facts. That Jews were offered their freedom if they betrayed ten other Jews and then became what were known as “catchers”. That Catholics were terrified they would be next, after the Jews, and so were more willing to help Jews. And that so many German citizens were willing to put their lives at risk often to help complete strangers. Of course you can’t help asking yourself how you yourself would have behaved in such a situation. I’m ashamed to say I found it hard to believe I would put my family at risk to shelter people I didn’t know. It’s rather like asking yourself if you’d take a migrant family into your home but with the added risk of knowing you’d be deported or killed if your act of charity were discovered by the authorities. The ordinary Germans were in an awful situation and this book allows you to sympathise a little with their plight. It also makes you realise that some people are simply destined to survive – because to survive as a Jew in Berlin you needed not just one stroke of good fortune but an unbroken continuity of almost miraculous good fortune. There’s much that’s heartwarming here; it’s just a shame the material was organised so clumsily. 3.5 stars.

  • Ron

    (edited June 4, 2016 with "A Footnote on Faith" at end)

    “There comes a point when life is so unredeemed that great risks seem of no consequence.”

    The focal point of Nazi power and policy was Berlin. As soon as Hitler came to power in 1933 he began to marginalize, deport and exterminate all Germany Jews. A special goal was to make Berlin

    . But a surprising number went “underground” and illegally, miraculously survived one man’s approximation of hell on earth. How? This book explores that

    (edited June 4, 2016 with "A Footnote on Faith" at end)

    “There comes a point when life is so unredeemed that great risks seem of no consequence.”

    The focal point of Nazi power and policy was Berlin. As soon as Hitler came to power in 1933 he began to marginalize, deport and exterminate all Germany Jews. A special goal was to make Berlin

    . But a surprising number went “underground” and illegally, miraculously survived one man’s approximation of hell on earth. How? This book explores that question. Published in 1982, it is based on interviews with survivors. Well researched; well written.

    “Make yourself invaluable to someone and you’ll survive.”

    “None of the Jews who went underground in Berlin … would have survived without the help of at least one Gentile benefactor.” Jews found help among other Jews, Swedes, even Germans. The Church of Sweden had an official, but secret program to help Jews and political dissidents escape. There were German Gentiles who cared for them to the point of risking their lives. Gross seems to discard the notion that some of these “Gentile benefactors” did so out of Christian compassion. He posits guilt, but I can’t imagine someone risking death to assuage a guilty conscience. Countess Maria von Maltzan was so extraordinary that she deserves a book (she has a movie: Forbidden (1984)) of her life. Did you know there was a resistance movement inside Germany--a German resistance? I didn’t either.

    The most successful Jews were those who could hide in plain sight, the Aryan-looking Jews, who except for the lack of proper papers, could mingle with Gentiles on the streets. Survival required papers, shelter, food and luck.

    “One Jew brings another to the knife.”

    Unfortunately, some Jews betrayed by their own people. Called “catchers,” they would help the Gestapo identify, capture and deport illegal Jews. Their motive was the hope that, by helping the Nazis fill their quotas, they might themselves be spared.

    “The greatest adversary he faced in his fight to stay alive was … himself.”

    When the Russians conquered Berlin, the nightmare was almost over. Almost. Russian soldiers raped a thirteen-year-old survivor. They were arrested, tired and executed by their officers. Stella Kübler, the notorious “blond ghost” catcher, was sentenced to ten years hard labor by the Russians. The Russians burned the Swedish church on Landhuasstrasse, focus of the Swedish rescue program. (The staff fled to the Swedish embassy.)

    “Once we go, we’ll never return.”

    By June 1945 1123 Jews remained in Berlin out of 160,000 before the Hitler rose to power. Paradoxically, after all that many who survived stayed after the war. Gross suggests they stayed because they were inside Germans. They just wanted to be accepted: “free to be a Jew.”

    A Footnote on Faith:

    My review is incomplete without reference to the role of faith in the survivors and their benefactors. Leonard Gross doesn’t mention it, though he does relate strings of coincidences and “charmed life” contributing to their survival. He even mentions people maintaining the external rituals of their faiths, but no inquiry into their internal life.

    Perhaps all of those interviewed were only nominal Christians and Jews, but my conversations with World War Two veterans in general and holocaust survivors and liberators in particular reveals a high degree of active, sincere faith. Perhaps Gross didn’t see that because he wasn’t looking for it. Perhaps, being a modern, secular New Yorker of the 1980s, he just filtered it out.

    But it seems highly improbable that those Jews and Christians took the risks and survived the hardships just based on patriotism, stubbornness, guilt, or altruism. Thousands of their fellows gave up and died. Or sold out and betrayed fellow humans. Why didn’t these? Is it possible some were motivated--even assisted--by a power beyond what they and we can touch and see?

    So many died for the faith; mightn’t some survived by their faith?

    An inspiring book, but I suspect we weren’t told the whole story.

  • Peter Mcloughlin

    Written shortly after the war this book chronicles a handful of Jewish survivors who made it through the Nazi regime by going underground and beat the odds saw the end of the Third Reich. Some of the figures I identified with. Stories like this are uplifting and heroic. But Paraphrasing Bertold Brecht, Heroes are great but it is better to live in times when we don't need them. How I wish we lived in such times as to not need heroes.

  • LindaJ^

    This was an interesting account of a few of the Jewish people who managed to stay alive in Berlin through Hitler's reign. Those who did were referred to as "U-boats" because they had to hide in plain sight by going underground. The author relied on interviews of these people, and those who helped them, that in most part were done by another researcher who was unable to complete the task and report his findings. The stories are harrowing - both those of the survivors and those who helped them. Th

    This was an interesting account of a few of the Jewish people who managed to stay alive in Berlin through Hitler's reign. Those who did were referred to as "U-boats" because they had to hide in plain sight by going underground. The author relied on interviews of these people, and those who helped them, that in most part were done by another researcher who was unable to complete the task and report his findings. The stories are harrowing - both those of the survivors and those who helped them. The Germans who provided assistance to the U-boat Jews were as brave as the Jews. If discovered to have been aiding Jews, they and their families would suffer severe consequences.

    I learned some interesting things in this book, in addition to the stories of the individual Jews who survived the stories of the individuals who helped them. First was the degree to which the Church of Sweden was involved in assisting Jews to escape to other countries. The Swedish Church was up to its ears in illegal activity -- forging documents, harboring Jews and others being hunted by the Nazis, and organizing escapes. Second was the discussion of the Jews who went around hunting for other Jews in order to turn them in. Third concerned the number of German policemen who hated the Nazis and were involved in assisting the Jews and others targeted by the Nazis.

    I did not find the book that well written, particularly in how it was organized. The author mostly used a chronological scheme, which resulted in switching among the stories of the Jewish survivors. There were a number of them and I found it hard to keep track of who was who. The portrayal of the efforts of the Church of Sweden was not so spread out and pretty much told in one go. It was the part of the book that I felt was most well done, in terms of style.

    I do recommend reading this if you are interested in what happened within Germany during the war with respect to average people - Jews, Germans, shopkeepers, housewives, doctors, policeman, etc.

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