2019 Book Prize Finalist - Richard N. Lutjens, Jr.

Richard N. Lutjens, Jr. Submerged on the Surface: The Not-So-Hidden Jews of Nazi Berlin, 1941–1945. (Berghahn Books)
Richard N. Lutjens, Jr. Submerged on the Surface

Between 1941 and 1945, thousands of German Jews, in fear for their lives, made the choice to flee their impending deportations and live submerged in the shadows of the Nazi capital. Drawing on a wealth of archival evidence and interviews with survivors, this book reconstructs the daily lives of Jews who stayed in Berlin during the war years. Contrary to the received wisdom that “hidden” Jews stayed in attics and cellars and had minimal contact with the outside world, the author reveals a cohort of remarkable individuals who were constantly on the move and actively fought to ensure their own survival.

What's the one key idea or message you want readers to take from your book?
I would like readers to rethink what it means to hide during the Holocaust, because in Berlin, Jews did not remain immobile for years in cellars or attics, like the word “hiding” suggests.  While it is true that in many parts of Europe, Jews felt compelled to physically conceal themselves, the “hiding” experience in Berlin was completely different. The 6,500 Jews who made the decision to flee their deportation summonses moved around, interacted on a daily basis with non-Jews, formed meaningful and lasting relationships, engaged in a wide variety of activities (both work and, most surprisingly, play), and actively endeavored to ensure not only their own survival but also their sense of individuality.
What got you interested in the topic of your book?
It was the individuals and their stories. The more stories I read, the more immersed I became in the topic. It was especially exciting when I encountered individuals who went through the same events but did not know that others were also there. I slowly started to realize that so many of these intense and often mind-boggling stories were actually in conversation with one another and yet did not even know it. In fact, it became increasingly difficult to tear myself away from the archives and remind myself that I needed to write. I kept telling myself: “Just one more story, and then you should start writing. Just one more…”

Books answer questions, but they also raise new questions. What questions does your book raise?
Histories of Jews hiding and evading deportation during the Holocaust are beginning to proliferate, but I would love to see these histories in greater conversation with one another. Hiding was an incredibly location-specific event, and so I would like to know how the daily hiding experience varied from region to region and country to country. In particular, how did Nazi occupation policy affect the ways that people hid and experienced their time in hiding? Once we know that, how can we bring these diverse yet related experiences into conversation with one another and with the overall history of the Holocaust, more generally? 
What are you currently reading, in your field or just generally, and what do you like about it?
I’m currently reading Olympia, by Volker Kutscher. It is a detective novel, historical fiction, set in Berlin during the 1936 Olympic Games. The eighth novel in the series, Kutscher sets his stories against the backdrop of Berlin during the final years of the Weimar Republic and the early years of Nazi Germany.  His command of the history is superb, and his knowledge of Berlin during the period (its people, its neighborhoods and streets, its dialect, the ways it changed under Nazism) brings the city to life in ways that stimulate my own historical imagination and force me as a historian to ask new questions.

WCGS Book Prize 2019 Finalist