Under­ground in Berlin: A Young Wom­an’s Extra­or­di­nary Tale of Sur­vival in the Heart of Nazi Germany

Marie Jalow­icz Simon
  • Review
By – September 16, 2015

Under­ground in Berlin chron­i­cles the efforts of a twen­ty-year-old Jew­ish woman to go under­ground in Berlin rather than being round­ed up for depor­ta­tion to the east in 1942. As the Nazi roundup of Ger­man Jews was in high gear, Marie Jalow­icz Simon decid­ed to tear off her yel­low Jew­ish Star, leave her close-knit fam­i­ly behind, and van­ish into the city. In the process of going ground,” Marie need­ed the help and the kind­ness of non-Jews who were will­ing to give shel­ter to a Jew at great risk, despite the pun­ish­ment that they would receive for their efforts.

Marie, who sur­vived three years of hid­ing under an assumed name, would lat­er write of her expe­ri­ences with ordi­nary” Ger­mans. She informs us that the aver­age Ger­man house­wife was inter­est­ed in find­ing out where she could get food on the black mar­ket and would burst into tears if her soup was burned. She might or might not have been anti-Semit­ic in her head, but she was not aware of the oppres­sive reg­u­la­tions of the Jews.”

What makes this sur­vivor sto­ry dif­fer­ent from oth­ers writ­ten on the per­ils of going under­ground is the cast of char­ac­ters that Marie encoun­ters in her quest to sur­vive: an abor­tion­ist physi­cian, acro­bats, artists, clair­voy­ants, les­bians, dwarfs, and assort­ed odd char­ac­ters who all con­tribute to her safe­ty. There is also her descrip­tion of sex­u­al favors and con­ve­nience mar­riages” to pay the price for pro­tec­tion amid a colony of Chi­nese nation­als liv­ing in Berlin.

After the war, Marie went back to school, earned degrees in the lit­er­ary and cul­tur­al his­to­ry of clas­si­cal antiq­ui­ty, which led to her pro­fes­sor­ship at the Berlin Hum­boldt Uni­ver­si­ty. She also mar­ried Her­bert Simon, anoth­er aca­d­e­m­ic, and had a son who acts as her voice for the book.

I would high­ly rec­om­mend this book, though with a few reser­va­tions: the mem­oir speaks of fear of depor­ta­tions before it was insti­tut­ed in Octo­ber, 1941, and there is no men­tion of her reac­tion to Kristall­nacht in Novem­ber, 1938, nor to the pas­sage of the Nurem­berg Laws of 1935. Despite these laps­es, this is an impor­tant vol­ume which should gar­ner a large read­ing audience.

Relat­ed Content:

Jack Fis­chel is pro­fes­sor emer­i­tus of his­to­ry at Millersville Uni­ver­si­ty, Millersville, PA and author of The Holo­caust (Green­wood Press) and His­tor­i­cal Dic­tio­nary of the Holo­caust (Row­man and Littlefield).

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