Author: Charlotte R. Bonelli with translations from the German by Natascha Bodemann

Publisher: Yale University Press

ISBN: 980-0-300-19752-5

Few personal letters, diaries or journals have been saved from important periods in history and sadly, valuable insight into such times has thus been lost.  But every so often, treasures are unearthed from basements, attics, storage units and closets which provide an irreplaceable record of the sacrifices made during historical moments and describe a story that could easily otherwise gone unknown.

Exit Berlin is one such rescued story.  Author Charlotte Bonelli has skillfully crafted a fascinating insight into a time when German Jews were trapped inside the ever-worsening political situation of Nazi Germany.  The story of members of one German family from pre-WW11 to the Holocaust comes to light through a heartbreaking collection of letters sent to cousins Luzie Hatch in the United States and Arnold Hatch (son of a successful German immigrant) in Canada.

The story begins in Germany shortly after Kristallnacht in 1938 when 27 year old Luzie (thanks to Canadian cousin Arnold’s generous sponsorship managed to leave Germany) found herself in the United States on the receiving end of letters from family, begging for help to secure visas and safe passage out of Nazi Germany and Hitler’s grasp.  Luzie becomes the intermediary between Arnold and family members still in Germany who lacked the finances and bureaucratic know-how to emigrate.  The letters between Luzie, Arnold and family members not only offer insight into the horror, desperation and fear of the untenable situation, but provide a unique window revealing broken human relationships, cultural mores and the tenacity of one woman, Luzie Hatch, whose dogged persistence activated Arnold and his brother to use their financial abilities and business-connections to save lives that would otherwise have been lost.

Some, able to be helped, found themselves in Bolivia, Cuba, Canada, Palestine, Shanghai.  Others not so fortunate, like Luzie’s Aunt Dora, tragically end their lives in concentration camps.

What is intriguing about this book is that Luzie made copies of the letters she wrote and saved the letters she received from her parents, Aunt Dora and others in Germany and as such, this book is more than a poignant record of one family’s tribulation; more than an important historical document; more than a powerful story.  It is a powerful reminder of the art of letter writing and provides a fascinating contrast between today’s world (where a response to a life-threatening situation can have an instant response via modern technology) and the world of the 1930’s and 40‘s where postage rates and lengthy delivery times complicated already-desperate situations.

Written by an author who ‘let the letters tell the story,’ this is not the story of “how one woman saved her family from Nazi Germany” as the sub-title suggests.   Rather, it is a story of how two cousins saved family members from Nazi Germany.  Both - together.  There would be no book had it not been for Arnold because Luzie would not have gotten out of Germany in the first place and the subsequent rescue of other family members would not have been possible without the two of them, working together.     Excellent book - poor choice of sub-title.

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