Born April 4, 1922, in Berlin, Germany; died 1998, in Berlin Germany; married Heinrich Simon, 1948; children: Hermann Simon. Education: Attended college.
Educator and writer. Humbolt University, Berlin, German, former professor of literary cultural history.
- Untergetaucht: eine junge Frau überlebt in Berlin 1940-1945, edited by Irene Stratenwerth and Hermann Simon, epilog by Hermann Simon, S. Fischer (Frankfurt am Main, Germany), 2014, translation by Atheal Bell published as Underground in Berlin: A Young Woman's Extraordinary Tale of Survival in the Heart of Nazi Germany, foreword and afterword by Hermann Simon, Little, Brown (New York, NY), 2015.
Marie Jalowicz Simon was a literary cultural historian who, as a young Jewish woman in Nazi Germany, survived by changing her identity and relying on the help of strangers. Simon's story might never have been told if it was not for her son, Hermann Simon, a historian who one day approached his mother with a tape recorder. In an interview with NPR: National Public Radio website contributor Rachel Martin, Simon's son noted that he said to his mother: "You always wanted to tell me the story of your life. Well, go ahead."
The result of the interviews with Simon is Underground in Berlin: A Young Woman's Extraordinary Tale of Survival in the Heart of Nazi Germany. Writing for the Washington Post Online, Gerard DeGroot called the book "the most extraordinary memoir of World War II I've ever encountered," adding: "Simon's story reads not like the reminiscences of an old woman but rather like a young girl's matter-of-fact account of what she did yesterday."
Based on seventy-seven taped conversations Simon had with her son, including a final interview just days before her death in 1998, Underground in Berlin recounts Simon's struggle to survive as a Jew living in Nazi Germany throughout World War II. If discovered, Simon knew she would be sent to a concentration camp and likely face death. In the book's prologue, Simon, who was twenty years old at the time and whose parents were already dead, reveals how she woke up one morning in June of 1942 to see a Gestapo officer standing there. He quickly informed Simon that they were going to interrogate her. "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," wrote Guardian Online contributor Philip Oltermann.
Simon's book begins with a chapter about her youth and growing up in Germany. Then, in 1933, the German government passed a law that limited what professions Jews could work in and completely barred all Jews from the political arena. Simon ended up working in the Siemens arms factory in Berlin as one of many Jewish slave laborers. Forced to wear the Jewish yellow star identifying her heritage, Simon persevered until in 1941 a chance meeting with a postman led her to discard the star. The postman came with a letter addressed to Simon, who quickly told him that the Simon he was seeking had been deported. The result was that Simon essentially disappeared from the German record books.
Following her subsequent encounter with the Gestapo officer who wanted to interrogate her, Simon became one of an estimated 1,700 Jews living in Germany at the time who evaded capture. As expected, Simon faced many challenges during her time evading the Nazis. Simon ended up living in various places and with a wide range of people. These included non-Jews sympathetic to her as well as others who abused her, including sexually. She even lived with a Nazi who, unaware that she was Jewish, told her he could detect a Jew anywhere by the smell.
"Simon's recollections provide fascinating insight into the psychology of those willing to help," wrote Washington Post Online contributor DeGroot. For example, some hid Simon's true identity merely because they were addicted to the thrill of the situation. Others derived gratification from having a Jew dependent on them. Eventually, Germany began to lose the war and the Russians entered the German homeland. Although she had done many things during her time in hiding that she would never do in her normal life, Simon justified her actions by noting the absurdity of the Jewish situation in Nazi Germany. After the Russians arrived, Simon made a list of things that she would never do again.
"At times impossibly tense, Underground in Berlin is a haunting testament to the power of the human spirit, with the considerable advantage of reading like a well-crafted thriller," wrote Alex Kershaw in a review for World War II magazine. Allan Levine, writing for Maclean's, noted: Simon tells her story "with penetrating insight and frankness."
FURTHER READINGS ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
- Simon, Marie Jalowicz, Underground in Berlin: A Young Woman's Extraordinary Tale of Survival in the Heart of Nazi Germany, translated by Atheal Bell, Little, Brown (New York, NY), 2015.
- Maclean's, June 22, 2015, Allan Levine, review of Underground in Berlin, p. 56.
- World War II, November-December, 2015, Alex Kershaw, "Hiding in Plain Sight," review of Underground in Berlin, p. 69.
- Guardian Online, http://www.theguardian.com/ (March 16, 2014), Philip Oltermann, "Submerged: The Jewish Woman Who Hid from Nazis in Berlin."
- Jewish Book Council Website, http://www.jewishbookcouncil.org/ (March 19, 2016), Jack Fischel, review of Underground in Berlin.
- NPR: National Public Radio Web site, http://www.npr.org/ (August 30, 2015), Rachel Martin, "A Young Woman Goes 'Underground in Berlin' to Escape the Holocaust," interview with author's son.
- Washington Post Online, https://www.washingtonpost.com/ (September 11, 2015), Gerard DeGroot, "She Used Absurd Means to Save Herself in the Absurd Times of Nazi Germany," review of Underground in Berlin.*