January 2021

The Berlin Shadow

Review by
In 1939, Hans Lichtenstein’s mother put him on a train from Berlin to England. In 2015, he and his son Jonathan returned to Berlin in search of peace.
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In the spring of 2015, at the still-vigorous age of 87, Hans Lichtenstein agreed to a road trip. Accompanied by his son Jonathan, he would travel by car, ferry and train from Wales to Berlin, Germany, where, in 1939, Hans’ mother put him on a train to England to escape the Nazis. At 12 years old, Hans was one of 10,000 mostly Jewish children who escaped through what came to be known as the Kindertransport, fleeing the tragic ending that many of their families could not avoid. In Hans’ son’s eloquent and poignant memoir, The Berlin Shadow, ghosts from that time in history continue to haunt them both.

This reverse journey loomed ominously for the author. Often at odds with his “difficult” father, Jonathan, by then a father himself, as well as a professor and acclaimed playwright, feared that “such a trip could break the small amount of fondness that had only recently arisen between us.” The people and places that haunted Hans were as yet unknown to his son. He knew Hans hated Volkswagens and would not tolerate hearing Hitler’s name. Visits with relatives were rare and mysterious. Yet as Hans’ health grew more problematic, they understood he was running out of time to find some peace—or at least relief from his nightmares.

Jonathan’s own memories of his father’s erratic, dangerous behaviors—such as speeding them all in the family car toward the edge of a seaside cliff—left little room for bonding. When Hans, a physician beloved by his community, discounted his own children’s illnesses, he came close to causing their deaths. Jonathan paints vivid pictures of it all, interspersing their troubled past in Wales with their present in history-haunted Berlin. He writes in such vibrant detail that his words become like a map of the city, containing everything from streets to shops to family gravesites. Revelations ignite the landscape as father and son draw closer.

“It’s not just what you remember, it’s how you remember,” the author commented on an episode of the “History Extra” podcast. The Berlin Shadow casts a truly memorable light on both.

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The Berlin Shadow

The Berlin Shadow

Little, Brown Spark
ISBN 9780316541015

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