Wednesday’s Book Review: “Exit Berlin”


Exit BerlinExit Berlin: How One Woman Saved Her Family from Nazi Germany. By Charlotte R. Bonelli. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2014.

This is both a fine historical study and a strikingly intimate portrait of one individual’s efforts to help members of her family leave Germany before and during World War II. Luzie Hatch, a German Jew, prevailed upon her cousin, businessman Arnold Hatch, in the United States to help her leave her native Berlin. She escaped to New York City in 1938 just a week after the horrific Kristallnacht, gained employment at the American Jewish Committee where she served as a translator, and relentlessly worked on her own to help her relatives depart Germany. She enlisted the aid of Arnold Hatch to help other members of the family, providing funding, lobbying immigration officials, and corresponding with desperate relatives. They had considerable, but not complete success. The result is a compelling, often positive and sometimes tragic story of a single family’s efforts to escape the Nazis.

Luzie Hatch remained with the American Jewish Committee from 1938, when she was only 27 years old, until her retirement. She never married, had no children, and lived throughout her life in the same small apartment in a New York neighborhood. She died only a few days after the 9/11 attacks in 2001, at the age of 89. After her death Charlotte R. Bonelli, archivist of the American Jewish Committee, was contacted by the executor of Luzie’s estate to ask if they wanted her papers. Among them was a remarkable set of correspondence between Luzie, Arnold, and other Hatch family members concerning efforts to “exit Berlin.”

Bonelli’s work here is one part historian, one part editor, and one part annotator of this correspondence. This book tells a compelling story of desperation, assistance, and not a little success in helping family members to various parts of the world. Some ended up in Americas, in other parts of Europe, in places like Shanghai, and in South America. Some did not make it out of Germany and some made it to France where they were interned in Vichy France.

The most interesting character in this account, from my perspective, was Arnold Hatch. He had been born and raised in the U.S., spoke no German, and had a less than close relationship to his relatives in Germany. He was concerned about their welfare, and helped where he could, but he had to balance that with his concern for his immediate family and his business interests. He responded to never-ending pleas for help—political, legal, monetary—as best he could. Neither he, nor anyone else fully understood at this time that the systematic extermination of the Jewish people would be the aim of Hitler’s Germany.

Exit Berlin presents a deeply moving story, both personal and poignant as well as broad and dramatic.

 

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