BOOK REVIEW News Weekly
What the Nazis did not know did not hurt her
, August 1, 2015
GONE TO GROUND: One Woman’s Extraordinary Account of Survival in the Heart of Nazi Germany
by Marie Jalowicz Simon, trans Anthea Bell
(London, The Clarkenwell Press: distributed in Australia by Allen and Unwin, 2015)
Hardback: 339 pages
Reviewed by Michael E. Daniel
In 1943 the Nazis declared that Berlin was free of Jews; yet, when World War II ended there were still over a thousand Jews alive in Berlin.
Most of these survived either by remaining hidden in buildings, and/or by adopting false identities. One of these was Marie Jalowicz, whose extraordinary survival story is recounted in this book.
A professor of classical antiquity at the Humboldt University in Berlin, like many survivors she never spoke about her survival until just before her death in 1998. At that time her son, Hermann Simon, encouraged her to recount her tale. Recorded onto several tapes, he and author Irene Stratenwerth compiled this recount.
The narrative begins in 1941 when Marie, who was born into a middle-class Jewish family, was working as a forced labourer, along with other Jewish women, in a Siemens factory. By this stage Jews still remaining in Germany had been relegated to the fringes of society, eking out a living performing menial tasks.
The first stage in her survival was to get herself fired from the factory – forced labourers were not allowed to resign – and then by evading another forced labour assignment. The next important event was when the Gestapo came to arrest her to deport her to a death camp early in the morning of June 22, 1942. Requesting that she be given permission to go downstairs to get some food, she simply walked out of the building. She was wearing her night attire.
Sinking out of sight
Jalowicz then became what was nicknamed a “U-boat”: that is, a person who survived by going “underground”. For almost a year, her existence was extremely precarious. Jalowicz was able to obtain false ID papers under the name of Johanna Koch, which improved her chances of survival. The Kochs had been friends of her deceased parents.
Ironically, Johanna gave Jalowicz her identity papers after stealing identity papers belonging to an Aryan lady who had distinctly Jewish names!
This Jalowicz did in 1942 in an attempt to leave Germany for Bulgaria, hoping from there to travel to neutral Turkey. However, this plan was thwarted when Bulgarian officials noticed anomalies in her travel paperwork, and she had to return to Germany, this time via Vienna, as this created less suspicion.
Help with full knowledge
Many of those who offered her shelter did so knowing her background, and were fully aware of the risks involved in aiding Jews. Others soon became suspicious, thus causing Jalowicz to seek alternative accommodation very quickly.
Having grown up in Berlin, Jalowicz had to be extremely careful of being recognised. Although at various points she interacted with other Jews who were evading the Nazis, she lived in fear of being betrayed by people such as Stella Kubler, a Jew who betrayed other Jews to the Nazis in an attempt to save herself and her family.
Some stability was offered her when she shared with a young Dutch foreign worker a room in an apartment rented from an elderly German widow. Living in this place for over a year offered her some normality; however, she had to be careful, particularly as members of the widow’s family were supporters of the Nazis.
As living conditions in Berlin deteriorated, with allied bombings and shortages due to Germany’s situation, the widow, herself a Nazi supporter, overlooked Jalowicz’s Jewishness because of the rent money she paid and the food she procured.
The damage to the flat caused by allied bombings and the turmoil as the Russians approached Berlin created further challenges for Jalowicz, forcing her to seek alternative accommodation. Although she had been a victim of the Nazis, this would have made no difference to Russian soldiers when they went on the rampage, ravishing women.
Having survived the war, Jalowicz decided to remain in Germany, and undertook tertiary studies. Determined to marry only a Jew, she married high-school classmate Heinrich Simon in 1948. Simon had left Germany for Palestine in 1939, returning in 1947.
Gone to Ground is a fascinating story of survival against the odds in Nazi Germany. While some of the content is at times confronting and disturbing, it is a book that the reviewer found hard to put down.