Publisher and Publication Date: She Writes Press. September 15, 2020.
Genre: Nonfiction. Memoir. World War II. Nazi Germany.
Source: I received a complimentary paperback (advanced reader copy) from She Writes Press. I was not required to write a positive review.
Audience: Readers of World War II stories, Nazi Germany, and memoirs.
Rating: Very good.
A Books Forward campaign.
GABRIELLE ROBINSON tells stories about people that reveal their personal situation within its historical context. One reason for her fascination with the intersection of the personal and historical stems from her own experience. Born in Berlin in 1942, her father’s fighter plane was shot down over England in 1943; after her family was bombed out twice, they fled Berlin in 1945, the beginning of a string of migrations that ended in the US. Gabrielle holds an MA from Columbia University and a PhD from the University of London. She has taught at the University of Illinois, at Indiana University South Bend, and abroad, and has won a number of awards for her writing and community engagement. Gabrielle is now settled in South Bend, Indiana, with her husband Mike Keen, a sociologist turned sustainable neighborhood developer, and their cat Max. Her favorite leisure time reading is about animals and trees. Learn more about Gabrielle and Api’s Berlin Diaries at https://www.gabriellerobinson.com/.
Imagine if you found out that someone you loved had a dark past. That happened to author Gabrielle Robinson, as she tried to reconcile the grandfather she knew with his complex past in her memoir Api’s Berlin Diaries (She Writes Press, September 15, 2020).
After her mother’s death, Robinson found two diaries her grandfather had kept while serving as doctor during the fall of Berlin 1945. He recorded his daily struggle to survive in the ruined city and attempted to do what little he could for the wounded and dying without water, light, and medications. But then the diaries revealed something that had never been mentioned in her family, and it hit Robinson like a punch to the gut: Api, her beloved grandfather, had been a Nazi.
In this clear-eyed memoir, Robinson juxtaposes her grandfather’s harrowing account of his experiences during the war with her memories of his loving protection years afterward, and raises thoughtful questions about the political responsibility we all carry as individuals. Moving and provocative, Api’s Berlin Diaries offers a firsthand and personal perspective on the far-reaching aftershocks of the Third Reich — and the author’s own inconvenient past.
I’ve read a long list of World War II books. These books are about the Holocaust, German children’s experiences, Army nurses, American soldiers, Adolf Hitler, the Nuremberg trials, the Pacific War, nurses and civilians in Japanese prison camps, Japan’s invasion of China, the rape and slaughter of Nanking, the war in Europe, civilians, the bombing of Pearl Harbor, D-Day Omaha Beach, Jewish women who married Nazi Germans, Christians who rescued Jews, Christians who wrote pamphlets against Nazi Germany, Christian pastors and priests who preached against Nazi Germany, the rebuilding of Germany post war, the Resistance, spying and espionage during the war, and how the next generation of Germans have come to terms with the war.
In an account like Api’s Berlin Diaries, the author is sharing their personal and private family history in print. And, during the course of the memoir, the reader is given the author’s thoughts, feelings, realizations, insights, and wrestling with making peace with each new discovery.
Gabrielle Robinson wants to discover her parents and grandparent’s history during World War II. What was their experiences? What was their role in the war? To what extent did they know about the Holocaust?
Robinson was a small child during the war. Her memories are brief. One memory is she and her mother are at a Berlin train station that is crowded with people.
Robinson’s family didn’t talk about the war except in whispers.
The title of the book and the synopsis gave me the understanding it was about Robinson’s search for who her grandfather was during the war. But, I knew in my heart this was a book about self-discovery. It is a book about understanding where Robinson had come from (family lineage)? Who her family was outside of their family roles? And lastly, how does Robinson deal with the heavy weight of guilt and shame?
Api’s Berlin Diaries covers about 6 months at the end of the war and the summer after its end. Api was in Berlin at the end of the war. He was a physician in the military.
Excerpts from the diary are included in the book.
Black and white photographs are included in the book.
Several reasons I love this story:
~The author and her family traveled to the places mentioned by her grandfather in his diary. I saw through her eyes these places plus her thoughts about what she viewed. I felt as if I traveled along side her.
~The book is more than just about her grandfather. It is a book about the other members in her family.
~The book is a way for Robinson to unpack memories and come to terms in someway. She is trying to make peace with her past which is something many of us do when we get older.
~A personal and harrowing account of Berlin at the end of the war.
~I love how Robinson paired her grandfather’s memories to the documented history of those events.
~I love Robinson’s reading and research of World War II and Nazi Germany.
~Robinson gave other examples of people who will not talk about their feelings or role during the war.
Robinson included some of her grandfather’s prayers. I felt this was especially heart-wrenching and touching.
Robinson’s grandfather was in the German military and was a member of the Nazi Party. He was an eye surgeon. He was not in combat. He did not take an active part in the murder of Jews. But, he was a member of the people group who did these atrocities.
To an extent Robinson answered many of the questions that began her journey of discovery. What I have learned as I’ve grown older is some questions can not be answered. This life is messy and complicated. And, sometimes we will not have an answer to the why.
It’s been 21 years ago that my family and I traveled to Europe. It was a trip of a life time. We visited many of the places my dad had been because he was in the American Army during World War II. Dad was a D-Day Veteran. He was a Veteran of the Battle of the Bulge. He was even captured by Germans and was a POW. My brother-in-law had met friends when he was in the Army and stationed in Germany, 1960-1964. These friends were a family that treated him like family. It was arranged for us to meet together at a restaurant for dinner. They didn’t speak English. My brother-in-law was the only one of us who spoke German. I understood a few words because I took German in high school. If you can imagine the mixed assortment of our group. An older woman who was a German citizen during the war. Her adult children. My dad an American Veteran. And, the rest of our group. We wanted desperately to communicate with one another, but the language gap and the uncertainty of what to say hung about our heads like bulging cartoon captions. Yet, we all eventually settled down to a delicious meal and an interpreted conversation. My dad told me later he didn’t have hard feelings against those people. He told me not to judge. He said, “Annette, you don’t know their personal stories or what they endured. You don’t know the memories they live with.”