[Review] Berlin: Life and Death in the City at the Center of the World by Sinclair McKay

Publisher and Publication Date: St. Martin’s Press. August 23, 2022.
Genre: Nonfiction. History.
Pages: 464.
Format: E-book.
Source: I received a complimentary e-book from NetGalley. I am not required to write a positive review.
Audience: World War II history readers with a setting of Berlin, Germany.
Rating: Very good.

Link @ Amazon.

Sinclair Lewis’s author page at Goodreads.

Summary:

Beginning in 1919, just after World War II, the city of Berlin is explored in its history, culture, society, and its changing politics.

The book holds more information about pre-World War II, World War II, and post-World War II Berlin. There is a brief analysis of the period during the fall of the Berlin wall. However, my interests are where the book’s emphasis is held-the war years.

My Thoughts:

I’ve read more books on World War II than after the war. This is what drew me to read this book. It is the main reason that held my interest.

Several reasons on what I learned or why I enjoyed this book:

  1. The bombing raids over Berlin were filled with women and children. I have empathy for them. McKay is descriptive about the shelters, bombings; and later when the Russians are in Berlin at the close of the war, the raping of the women-women of all ages.
  2. Brief memoirs are given of people who lived in Berlin. These are not lengthy but serve a strong purpose to personalize the book rather than let it be academic in nature.
  3. Some of the memoirs are of Jews who hid during the entirety of the war.
  4. The Nazis used the poverty and sadness of the people after World War I for their agenda. Their agenda included the young people in Hitler youth groups. It is eye-opening and disturbing how people can be taken advantage of and misled to the extent of indoctrination to mass murders and war. I have empathy for the beginnings of how they must have felt after World War I. I cannot agree to decisions that were made.
  5. Several things I’d not heard of before about Berlin society and culture. For example, there was a craze to be a nudist. This happened right after World War I. I did not know that there were revolutionary demonstrations after World War I. I knew the Nazis began to rise and have demonstrations. I did not know about other political groups.
  6. There is a chapter with a focus on the history of film. There were 300 cinemas in Berlin at the time of World War II. Hitler loved film, and he chronicled his ideology and work.
  7. Berlin had been a place that was tolerant of the gay culture. There were doctors who had helped people transition. This changed during the Nazi years.
  8. I had mentioned this in number 1 above. There is a disturbing story of a young woman who worked in a grocery store during the time the Russians came into Berlin. She was raped on the counter during the time the store was open. This rape was public. It was done with the intention to dishonor and shame her in view of other people.
  9. By 1960 there were over 200,000 people who in East Berlin left to live in freedom on the other side. This is such an important chapter, to share memoirs about those who tried to escape.

I want to clarify. I do not have empathy for the Nazi machine. They were mass murderers and instigated a war that led to defeat. I have great empathy for those like the woman who was raped in a grocery store. I have empathy for any child who was abused and suffered. I am also not going to state something as equally hateful as “you got what you deserved.” I am not that kind of person. However, the Nazis were despicable people. I believe many of them, civilians, were unaware of the consequences in believing Hitler was their savior.

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