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Exit Berlin:How One Woman Saved Her Family from Nazi Germany [Kindle Edition]

Charlotte R. Bonelli , Natascha Bodemann

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Book Description

Just a week after the Kristallnacht terror in 1938, young Luzie Hatch, a German Jew, fled Berlin to resettle in New York. Her rescuer was an American-born cousin and industrialist, Arnold Hatch. Arnold spoke no German, so Luzie quickly became translator, intermediary, and advocate for family left behind. Soon an unending stream of desperate requests from German relatives made their way to Arnold’s desk.
Luzie Hatch had faithfully preserved her letters both to and from far-flung relatives during the World War II era as well as copies of letters written on their behalf. This extraordinary collection, now housed at the American Jewish Committee Archives, serves as the framework for Exit Berlin. Charlotte R. Bonelli offers a vantage point rich with historical context, from biographical information about the correspondents to background on U.S. immigration laws, conditions at the Vichy internment camps, refuge in Shanghai, and many other topics, thus transforming the letters into a riveting narrative.
Arnold’s letters reveal an unfamiliar side of Holocaust history. His are the responses of an “average” American Jew, struggling to keep his own business afloat while also assisting dozens of relatives trapped abroad—most of whom he had never met and whose deathly situation he could not fully comprehend. This book contributes importantly to historical understanding while also uncovering the dramatic story of one besieged family confronting unimaginable evil.

Product Description


"Millions perished in the Holocaust, and for those few who managed to find refuge in a world of closed doors, it took relentless effort and persistence in the face of great peril and untold frustrations. Charlotte Bonelli's collection of correspondence, Exit Berlin, tells a moving story and is an important historical record of one family's struggles to escape. I recommend it highly as a unique account of dedication and steadfastness against big odds in a trying time."-W. Michael Blumenthal, Former U.S. Secretary of the Treasury and Director of the Jewish Museum Berlin -- W. Michael Blumenthal "Exit Berlin is a powerful and important work that sheds significant light on what one person with determination and imagination could-and could not do-to save those she loved during the critical period of 1933-42."-Michael Berenbaum, Professor of Jewish Studies, American Jewish University -- Michael Berenbaum "For a generation steeped in email, this heartrending collection of letters takes us to a more intimately communicative era-in which Jews, trapped in the nightmare of Hitler's persecution, pleaded for help to escape to their cousins in America; and in which the latter tried desperately, generously, to respond. These letters, personalizing one family's ordeal, eloquently relay a tale of both horrendous abuse and life-threatening bureaucratic barriers."-Michael R. Marrus, Chancellor Rose and Ray Wolfe Professor Emeritus of Holocaust Studies, University of Toronto and the author of The Holocaust in History. -- Michael R. Marrus "Always illuminating, full of moral tension and high drama, the letters that Luzie Hatch exchanged with her relations amount to an eyewitness account that allows us to penetrate the myths and statistics that sometimes obscure the hard facts of the Holocaust. Charlotte Bonelli, who assembled, selected and annotated the correspondence, has made an important contribution to both history and literature."-Jonathan Kirsch, author of The Short, Strange Life of Herschel Grynszpan -- Jonathan Kirsch

About the Author

Charlotte R. Bonelli is Director of the Archives of the American Jewish Committee, where the Luzie Hatch letter collection is preserved. She lives in New York City.

Product details

  • Format: Kindle Edition
  • File Size: 5102 KB
  • Print Length: 321 pages
  • Publisher: Yale University Press (28 April 2014)
  • Sold by: Amazon Media EU S.à r.l.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B00JDA9C4I
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
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  • Word Wise: Enabled
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #828,874 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 4.9 out of 5 stars  14 reviews
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Wonderful and important book! 11 May 2014
By Karen G-K - Published on
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Aside from being beautifully written and intensely engaging, Exit Berlin is one of the most important books written about this horrible period of time in our history. This is for several reasons. There are few, if any, books written from the perspective of Jews in America during the Shoah (Holocaust). Through the hundreds of letters and replies to which she had access, author Charlotte Bonelli has shared an eyewitness account of one family's desperate attempts to escape the Nazi terror and one woman's desperate attempt, with the help of her cousins, to help these relatives, many of whom she did not even know.

The author's extensive research into US and world events to provide a context for those letters, and the additional information she gained from traveling to Europe to interview descendants of the letter-writers, provides the reader with facts about contemporary US history, the depression, immigration law, the US economy, conditions in some other countries to which Jews fled, and more. At the same time, the book is a study in the lost art of letter writing. In today's society we rely on instant communication, such as email and text messaging, and a delay in a response of more than 5 minutes causes the sender to wonder if the message is being ignored. The author beautifully shares with us a time in which sending a letter to a loved one sometimes meant an 8 week delay until you knew it was received; a time when postage was so expensive relative to income, the sender, desperate to be sure a response was not delayed because of the cost, might enclose the return postage. Set in the context of trying to flee for their very lives, such a wait must have been harrowing.

This book was beautifully written and easy to read. It was more than a collection of letters. It was a book that everyone should read in order to learn more about what these few people in the US knew was going on in Europe as the Holocaust was brewing and in full swing, and what these few people tried to do in their own small, but large, way. As I read, I could almost hear the words being spoken. Schindler's List told the story of one man trying to rescue as many people as he could from the inside. Here is a story of one woman, with the help of her cousins, trying to rescue them from the US. Steven Spielberg, take note!
7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The best history lesson I've had. 20 May 2014
By Judi Manning - Published on
Format:Kindle Edition
I had the pleasure of being acquainted with Luzie Hatch since she was a long time client of Stephen Solomon, the Managing Partner of our firm. Luzie was a charming, humble woman and quite a character. She frequently would visit our office with her omnipresent shopping cart in tow. Her constant response to anyone who asked how she was, was "I'm old and decrepit".

When Luzie passed away in 2001, my coworker, Lisa Brennan and I assisted Roger Blane with the formidable task of of settling her Estate. In my opinion, the most daunting task was cleaning out the studio apartment in Forest Hills where she lived for more than fifty years. The closets and cabinets were full of very old and interesting items. Among the typical contents one would expect to find, were the unexpected, such as newspaper ads from the 1950's and 60's, issues of "Look" magazine, and Pan Am travel bags, blankets and pillows, an homage to the days when air travel was glamorous. There were also vestiges of the frugality of her generation, so unlike my own, such as bakery string, used paper bags and condiments from take-out food.

Her apartment was hot and uncomfortable, cluttered with the personal effects of a woman, whom, I learned while reading "Exit Berlin", was more extraordinary than I imagined. Our goal was to clean out her apartment as quickly as possible so that we could surrender it to the landlord. Unbeknownst to any of us, amid the clutter, therein contained a goldmine of great historical significance and value. Priceless artifacts, that could've easily been lost forever, if not for the brilliance and benevolence of Roger Blane.

Roger was excited as he contacted the AJC about the letters he found. A few years later, he told me a book was being written based upon Luzie's letters. We joked about who would be cast in the role of Luzie in the movie version. Fast forward, years later, "Exit Berlin" is published. Roger offered the book to me on many occasions, which I consistently declined. I was busy working, teaching and taking classes. I didn't think I would find it interesting. I was wrong. This book is extraordinary. It is well-written and informative. Charlotte Bonelli has resurrected Luzie through her writing, effectively demonstrating Luzie's strong will and resourcefulness to secure safe passage out of Nazi Germany for her family; a formidable feat for anyone, but especially for a young woman, alone in a foreign land.

I recommend this book for the many facts of Nazism and the war which I have learned from reading it. However, the lesson of greater importance is that evil and insurmountable obstacles can be overcome with sheer determination, hard work and perserverance.

My gratitude to Charlotte Bonelli for writing this book and to Roger Blane for his foresight to donate Luzie's letters to enrich and educate the minds of our generation and the minds of future generations.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A deeply moving story, both personal and poignant as well as broad and dramatic. 27 Sept. 2014
By Roger D. Launius - Published on
Format:Kindle Edition
This is both a fine historical study and a strikingly intimate portrait of one individual’s efforts to help members of her family leave Germany before and during World War II. Luzie Hatch, a German Jew, prevailed upon her cousin, businessman Arnold Hatch, in the United States to help her leave her native Berlin. She escaped to New York City in 1938 just a week after the horrific Kristallnacht, gained employment at the American Jewish Committee where she worked as a translator, and relentlessly worked on her own to help her relatives depart Germany. She and Arnold Hatch worked together to help those they could, providing funding, lobbying immigration officials, and corresponding with desperate relatives. They had considerable, but not complete success. The result is an intimate, often positive and sometimes tragic story of a single family’s efforts to escape the Nazis.

Luzie Hatch remained with the American Jewish Committee from 1938, when she was only 27 years old, until her retirement. She never married, had no children, and lived throughout her life in the same small apartment in a New York neighborhood. She died only a few days after the 9/11 attacks in 2001, at the age of 89. After her death Charlotte R. Bonelli, archivist of the American Jewish Committee, was contacted by the executor of Luzie’s estate to ask if they wanted her papers. Among them was a remarkable set of correspondence between Luzie, Arnold, and other Hatch family members concerning efforts to “exit Berlin.”

Bonelli’s work here is one part historian, one part editor, and one part annotator of this correspondence. This book tells a compelling story of desperation, assistance, and not a little success in helping family members to various parts of the world. Some ended up in Americas, in other parts of Europe, in places like Shanghai, and in South America. Some did not make it out of Germany and some made it to France where they were interned in Vichy France.

The most interesting character in this account, from my perspective, was Arnold Hatch. He had been born and raised in the U.S., spoke no German, and had a less than close relationship to his relatives in Germany. He was concerned about their welfare, and helped where he could, but he had to balance that with his concern for his immediate family and his business interests. He responded to never-ending pleas for help—political, legal, monetary—as best he could. Neither he, nor anyone else fully understood at this time that the systematic extermination of the Jewish people would be the aim of Hitler’s Germany.

"Exit Berlin" presents a deeply moving story, both personal and poignant as well as broad and dramatic.
6 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Helping to get relatives "out"... 29 April 2014
By Jill Meyer - Published on
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
The year 1933 was a rough one for the Germany's Jewish population. A census from that year put the Jewish population of greater Germany at 505,000 out of a total German population of 67 million. That is less than 1% of the population, but the Jews were a visible target for hatred and blame by the newly elected Nazi party. As the 1930's continued, many German Jews were able to flee to other parts of the world. The United States, though, was one of the most desired destination for these refugees. But getting a coveted visa to enter was increasingly difficult to get as war approached in 1939. And there was no hope after December, 1941, and the United States went to war against the Axis powers.

But how did Jews get the visas and the entree to leave Germany and enter the United States? For one thing, they all had to have financial backing from people already here, who would pledge to support the immigrants. Since Jews were unable to take much money with them when they emigrated, this guarantee of support was very important. Many German Jews turned to relatives and friends who had already emigrated and set up lives here to pledge that guarantee. And then, of course, there were US governmental restrictions on the number of immigrants allowed to enter.

However, life was tough here in the 1930's. We were in the depths of the Depression and jobs were scarce for those already here, let alone for immigrants. In her book, "Exit Berlin: How One Woman Saved Her Family From Nazi Germany", author Charlotte Bonelli tells how one young woman, Luzie Hatch, had been lucky to have been sponsored by an American cousin she'd never met and was able to arrive here in November, 1938. She and another cousin left one week after Kristalnacht. Luzie spent the next three years helping to get more relatives to safety all over the world, with the help of her cousin, Arnold Hatch.

Arnold Hatch was the son of a successful German immigrant, who had built up a large business in upstate New York. As a child, he and his brother were taken by his father to Germany to see the father's homeland. They met some cousins, but not Luzie Hatch (then Hecht) and her family, who lived in Berlin. But many years later, Luzie wrote a desperate letter asking for Arnold's help in getting out of Nazi Germany. He was able to provide the necessary documents and money needed. Once here, Luzie went to work for the American Jewish Committee in New York City, where she worked, by letter, with her cousin to try to facilitate other family members escape from Germany. Luzie was the correspondent - Arnold didn't speak German - with these members who were increasingly panicked about the ever-worsening political situation. By working together, Luzie and Arnold were able to get several family members and friends "out". "Out" to safety far from Germany.

Why was Arnold Hatch ready and willing (at least most of the time) to help people he'd never met? How many other American Jews chose to do the same thing? A more important question might be to ask how many European Jews were NOT able to flee because they couldn't receive the financial backing to emigrate to the US or other places of safety. Several of the Hatch family were able to find safety in South American countries, when they were unable to enter the US. Luzie's own father, stepmother, and half brother, entered the US by way of Shanghai. So there were many pathways but not all were available to the European Jews.

The author does an excellent job in showing how these refugees traveled to such places as Bolivia, Cuba, Canada, and Shanghai on their way to eventual refuge in the United States. Others, not so fortunate, ended their lives in the German concentration camps. She tells of one member of the family - an old woman whose children had fled to Palestine - ended dying in the wretched French camp at Gurs.

Charlotte Bonelli's book is a lively look at the people and history of the time. It's well worth buying and reading. You needn't be a scholar to enjoy the book. It's a story that needed to be told and Bonelli has done a good job telling it.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A fascinating, exciting, and touching true story 11 Jun. 2014
By J. A. Stearns - Published on
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Exit Berlin is expertly crafted as Charlotte Bonelli weaves her historical commentary very gently between the myriad of letters sent among the Hecht Family, all of whom were desparate in their attempt to get to America to escape Hitler's growing monstrous methods. This revelation of what was actually happening in pre-WWII to the Jewish people in Germany was clear and heartbreaking and opened my eyes to the suffering mostly unknown to the rest of the world,
This book should be mandatory reading when learning about the War and its beginnings.
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