Monsignor Harry J. Byrne, JCD * * * Comment/

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Location: 3103 Arlington Avenue,, Bronx, NY 10463, United States

May 30, 2007


“SURVIVAL IN THE SHADOWS: Seven Jews Hidden in Hitler’s Berlin”,
Barbara Lovenheim, Center for Holocaust Awareness and Information, Rochester, NY 2002, 239 pp.

Out of the author’s smooth flowing prose, the fascinating story is told of Doctor and Ms. Arthur Arndt, their children, Erich and Ruth, Charlotte Lewinsky and her daughter, Ellen, and Erich’s friend, Bruno Gumpel, and their successful survival in Berlin while it was being “cleansed” of Jews by the Gestapo. As the “cleansing” intensified, the seven went into hiding. They became “U boats” –living under the surface. Since neighbors knew them as Jews, they resorted to various subterfuges to explain their disappearances from the community, as, for example, alleging a visit to a distant sick relative or staging a fictitious suicide, leaving a farewell note and their yellow star and Jewish identity papers. They had to find friends and neighbors who would house them for a while. A kind of network developed and the members of the group moved separately from place to place around the chain, finding shelter and the meager food that they could somehow obtain. It was a chilling existence: the danger of being apprehended by the Gestapo or turned in by a Greifer – a Jew who had turned informer as a way of surviving. They lived under the constant threat of capture and then shipment to Auschwitz, or one of the other death camps. Heart-breaking scenes occurred as individuals kissed mothers, aunts, and others as they were relentlessly marched off to the collection centers.

The men were more vulnerable than women because a strip search would reveal circumcision. The women with Aryan features, especially the young, attractive Ellen, could afford to move around more easily, employing various stratagems to survive. Ellen’s mother one day entered a restaurant and was told that there was no available table. She pointed to a table occupied by a single German officer and joined him with his pleased agreement. She fumbled in her pocketbook for her ration cards. “Oh, my!”, she said, “I must have left them at home”. The officer gallantly offered his cards and Charlotte was able to continue the meal with him. He invited her to join him the following week. She agreed and found a series of such luncheons quite pleasurable and valuable as meal tickets. Then one day after lunch, he invited her to his room for a chat and a glass of wine. She had not counted on this but accepted for the following week, but then failed to show up, deeming the situation too risky.

Who were the “Righteous Gentiles” who sheltered this little group? They were pious Lutherans and other Christians, individuals following no religion, and some former patients of Doctor Arndt. Then there were Jose and Carmen Santaella, devout Catholics, who sheltered some of the group at their country house and hired Ellen and Ruth to care for their four girls. As an official at the Spanish Embassy in Berlin, Santaella was in a privileged position yet risked international complications if caught harboring Jews.

The allied bombings of Berlin brought new dangers both from the devastating explosions and the threat of recognition in the air-raid shelters, which they prudently decided not to use. As the war ended and Russian and American troops arrived, there were a series of happy endings. Erich and Ellen having been married while in hiding, now had their marriage consecrated in a double ceremony with Ruth and Bruno at the Kottbuser Ufer synagogue, where Erich had been bar mizvahed. The synagogue had been destroyed but a small annex had been reconstructed with American aid. The author describes in details the gowns in which the brides were dressed and the clothing of the grooms. The author’s splendid writing, with rich details of personal appearance, street scenes, the hiding places, the weather, and personal characteristics that set the reader down in the various scenes themselves. (A classic sentence: “Erich went to the factory the next morning as usual, pedaling through the chilly air and watching the sun rise as it cast a warm yellow glow around the squat brown tenements.”) Being thus placed on the scene, the reader feels the terror, the strength, and resourcefulness of the dramatis personae as they move through Hitler’s horror to the war’s end, encountering American and Soviet troops, arrival in New York on May 20, 1946 aboard the USS Marine Flasher, and their new lives in the United States on through old age.

The readers’ immersion in the lives of these survivors is enhanced by thirty pages of photographs, showing the various personages in more youthful years before the war, then immediately after the war, and on to old age with family photos of Erich and Ellen, Ruth and Bruno, with their children and grandchildren in 1993 in Rochester, NY. on the fiftieth anniversary of their weddings. This is a memorable page-turner of a book with its incredible story of suffering, deaths, redemption and new life.
. Review by Msgr Harry J. Byrne


Blogger Daniel Alder said...

Dear Harry,

Thanks for your thoughtful review of this book. I was privileged to meet the author and one of the survivors of the family. It brought home to me the great human will to survive, which requires a good deal of chutzpah, a little mazal (luck), and a faith in the goodness of others and of God.

June 25, 2007 at 5:14 PM  

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