A Young Woman Goes 'Underground In Berlin' To Escape The Holocaust

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

A lot of books come across our desks here at WEEKEND EDITION. One caught our eye recently because of the unusual way it came to be published. The title sums up the story. It's called "Underground In Berlin: A Young Woman's Extraordinary Tale Of Survival In The Heart Of Nazi Germany." That extraordinary tale came to light thanks to a request by her son, historian Hermann Simon.

HERMANN SIMON: I once put a tape recorder and said to her, you always wanted to tell me the story of your life. Well, go ahead.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MARIE JALOWICZ: (Speaking German).

MARTIN: And that is the voice of Marie Jalowicz Simon, one of the recordings her son made near the end of her life. Here, she's describing a near miss she had with the Gestapo. It was June 22, 1942. Her father had just died after a long illness, leaving her, a 20-year-old Jewish woman, all alone in Berlin.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

JALOWICZ: (Speaking German).

MARTIN: Marie Jalowicz watched as friends and family were hauled away to unknown destinations. When the Gestapo came for her, she was staying with a family friend. The officers ordered Marie to get ready to go. They said they had questions for her, that it wouldn't take long and that she'd be back in a couple of hours.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

JALOWICZ: (Speaking German).

MARTIN: That was the kind of thing they always said to prevent people from falling into a fit of hysterics, she remembers, or swallowing a poison capsule or doing anything else that would've been inconvenient for the Gestapo. With the help of her friend, Marie fled.

SIMON: She thought it is only possible for her to survive not in her former neighborhood. It must be a place which is completely, for her, unknown.

MARTIN: So she wouldn't be recognized?

SIMON: Mhm.

MARTIN: Marie Jalowicz went underground, moving around the city to survive, staying with sympathetic Germans, whom Hermann Simon describes as on the fringe of society.

SIMON: Prostitutes, poor people, really outsiders, not the so-called normal people.

MARTIN: Some of them treated her decently. They chose to ignore the fact that Marie was a Jew and in exchange, she helped them - standing in lines for rations or cooking and cleaning. Others exploited her. She recounts, in matter-of-fact tone, how time and again she had to endure sexual assaults. Her son describes it as part of the price Marie paid for survival. And then, after Marie Jalowicz had spent three years living under an assumed name, surviving hunger and abuse and countless allied air raids, the war ended and the Russians rolled into Berlin.

SIMON: She once said to me, it was difficult to go underground, but it was also difficult to come out from the underground. Everything changed and she was alone. At the end, she was alone.

MARTIN: The house she'd grown up in had been razed to the ground. Friends and family members had been killed by the Nazis. But Marie Jalowicz stayed in Germany after the war. She found and married her childhood friend, Heinrich Simon. She continued her studies and became a professor of literary cultural history at Humbolt University in Berlin, where she lived until her death in 1998.

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