The following article in the Guardian is here.
Marie Jalowicz Simon was one of 1,700 ‘U-boats’, German Jews who survived the war submerged below the surface of daily life. Now she has told all in a book.
On 22 June 1942, Marie Jalowicz Simon woke to find a Gestapo officer standing by her bedside. “Get dressed. We need to interrogate you.” In a moment of inspired improvisation, the 20-year-old Berliner managed to distract first the Nazi official in her bedroom, then his colleague waiting at the bottom of the stairs, and escaped back into “submerged” illegality as a Jew in Nazi Germany.
Now, 16 years after Jalowicz Simon’s death, a new book tells the extraordinary story of her fate as one of around 1,700 “U-boats” – Jews who managed to survive the Nazi period submerged beneath the surface of everyday life.
Untergetaucht (Submerged) is based on 77 tapes of conversations between Jalowicz Simon and her son, Hermann, a historian. The last interviews were conducted in hospital, only a few days before her death on 16 September 1998. Until then Jalowicz Simon, who went on to become a professor in ancient literature and art history at Berlin’s Humboldt University, had never relayed her story in public.
With a good dose of black humour and little pathos, the book describes how the daughter of a wealthy lawyer learned to look after herself following the deaths of her parents before she was 20.
After the Berufsverbot, the 1933 law that prohibited Jews and political opponents from seeking employment in certain professions, she worked as a slave labourer in the Siemens arms factory in the capital.
But in 1941 she slipped out of the official city records almost by accident: when the postman came to deliver a letter from the job centre, she simply said that her “neighbour” Marie Jalowicz Simon had been deported. “Moved to unknown destination in the east,” the postman wrote down, using the common euphemism at the time, and the young woman vanished from the records. That same summer she started to walk the streets of Berlin without the Jewish star on her jacket.
In the coming years maintaining her anonymity required ingenuity and luck almost on a daily basis. Relying on the help of Germans willing to defy the Nazi regime or other “submerged” Jews, Jalowicz Simon moved between 13 homes in Berlin alone.
Many of the “submerged” Jewish women could not cope with life in illegality, she writes. “These women were pushed into the deep water. But some of them couldn’t swim, and certainly not beneath the surface.”
But Jalowicz Simon had a great talent for improvisation. In one flat she managed to share a home with a syphilitic Nazi who claimed that he could “smell Jews a mile off”.
Feigned relationships helped her to pass unnoticed. In one instance a young Dutchman, with whom she lived in the Kreuzberg area of Berlin, hit her with his boot in a fit of rage. At first Jalowicz Simon was embarrassed, but then “I realised that only now I fitted perfectly into the social milieu I found myself in: my black eye didn’t mark me out, it made me inconspicuous.”
Small acts of rebellion helped to keep up her spirits. At the Siemens factory the workers learned to sabotage production without getting caught.
Later on, she walked the streets of Berlin at night and defecated in front of the doors with names “that sounded like Nazis. “What would the people think when they discovered my business on their doorstep the next morning?”
Towards the end of the war she tried to escape to Bulgaria, first to Sofia, then to Veliko Tarnovo, where she was moved by the sight of young schoolchildren and old men protesting against the deportations of their Jewish friends. But eventually she realised she could be nowhere more invisible than in her home town of Berlin. Increasingly, the product of an educated, middle-class household fell in love with the city’s working-class dialect. This, she writes in the book, was the language of the people who were prepared to help: “It was above all the educated German bourgeoisie who had failed.”
In an afterword to the book, Hermann Simon writes that, after the war, his mother struggled to return to normal life.
She told him how difficult it was to ever “resurface properly”. Asking himself why it took her so long to finally tell her full story, he points to a remark she made in a lecture later in her career: “When I give testimony, then I do it truthfully, and there are many things that can only be told half a century later.”