Sometimes you don’t like a book as much as you respect it. That’s how I feel about Marie Jalowicz Simon’s 2015 memoir Underground in Berlin: A Young Woman’s Extraordinary Tale of Survival in the Heart of Nazi Germany. For whatever reason, I just didn’t enjoy reading it that much. Maybe it was the writing, maybe it was the overall structure, maybe it was the editing but for whatever reason, I just never fell in love with it. I never took a liking to memoirist Jalowicz Simon either. But my goodness, after reading how she survived as a Jew in Nazi German during World War II whatever issues I had with Underground in Berlin seemed oh so trivial. I came away from her memoir in awe that any human being could have pulled off what she did and lived to tell the story.
I came across a copy of Underground in Berlin through my public library and knowing I could use a book set in Germany for Rose City Reader’s European Reading Challenge I secured myself a copy. (Come to think of it, I think I might have seen the book listed on Goodreads since it looked kind of familiar.) Probably because I wasn’t too enamored with the book, it took me forever to get through Underground in Berlin. But like I mentioned earlier, once I did finish it, my respect for its author knew no bounds.
It’s one thing to cheat death once, or even twice during a lifetime. Jalowicz Simon did it on a daily basis for over half a decade, living under one of history’s most efficiently murderous regimes. The fact she survived at all is proof her own resourcefulness and perseverance. She also never would have survived without the assistance a huge constellation of individuals, each person with his/her reason for helping, and not all those reasons pure and noble. Lastly, to risk being profane even Jalowicz Simon concludes good fortune, usually masquerading as simple dumb luck played no small part in keeping her alive.
If you’re like me and a big Alan Furst fan, my guess is you’re also fascinated to some degree what civilian life must have been like in Nazi Germany. If that’s the case, then you might want to explore Underground in Berlin. If you’re a reader who finds yourself drawn to books on the Holocaust, you too might want to read this since Jalowicz Simon’s memoir shed light its horrors right down to an individual, almost prosaic level. Once again, while I might not have enjoyed Underground in Berlin, I sure as hell respected it.