My German Question: Growing Up in Nazi Berlin
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This is an account of the author's experiences as a young, assimilated, anti-religious Jew in Nazi Germany between 1933 and 1939. Gay describes his family, the life they led, and the reasons they did not emigrate sooner.
Schweidnitzerstrasse, the one-block-long street in Wilmersdorf, in the western part of Berlin, where I spent my first thirteen years, from 1923 to 1936. (Kunstamt Wilmersdorf) I am with my parents, a mere twenty-three days in the war—still the Weimar Republic. Being admired by my grandparents in Breslau, the Kohnkes. It is mid-November, 1923; I am about five months old. The super-good boy, posing a little self-consciously for the camera at the age of three. In the hamlet of Kümmritz, some
mine. But their tireless work had not been enough; there were simply too many wrecks to salvage. After seeing photographs of Berlin in the spring of 1945, a once splendid capital now looking like a gap-toothed derelict, I had expected little else. It was not the physical Berlin of 1961 that further dampened my already exasperated spirits, it was my experience of walking through the city. Mindful of Marcel, the protagonist of Proust’s great river of a novel, I had anticipated a flood of memories,
student. My father was back selling men’s clothes and doing somewhat better, and it was understood that I would keep on working evenings and weekends to make up for the loss of my income. I sold neckties at Cottrell’s, the Man’s Store; ice cream at the Purity Creamery; and shoes in a shoe store. It was in the last of these that once again I was fired: I manned the cash register, but my boss was disappointed in my lack of initiative in selling his merchandise. Plainly, my mother’s son, who, she
chancellor of a country he was undertaking to ally with the democratic West, really need the services of Hans Globke, whose commentaries on the racist Nürnberg Laws had given him considerable notoriety, and who had served in the Ministry of the Interior to the end of the Nazi regime? Could the Berlin Philharmonic not find a conductor other than Herbert von Karajan, no doubt a mesmerizing musician but one who had joined the Nazi Party not once but twice? Closer to home was my angry question, Did
Enlightenment which I published in 1966 and 1969, Kant, Lessing, and Wieland had their moments on the stage; and in my five-volume study on the Victorian bourgeoisie, published between 1984 and 1998, I paid as much attention to German psychologists, politicians, painters, novelists, and literary critics as I did to their British, French, or American counterparts. I am listing these publications not to parade my writings but to indicate that I had, after a long struggle, managed to integrate