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

Little, Brown  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.

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