Refuge in Hell by Daniel B. Silver

179763807Nonfiction — print. Mariner, 2004. Originally published 2003. 311 pgs. Purchased.

Subtitled “How Berlin’s Jewish Hospital Outlasted the Nazis”, Silver’s book was originally assigned for a class I took nearly two years ago. The professor changed her mind halfway through the semester so the book languished on my shelves until now.

In this book, Silver explores the many quirks of fortune and history that made the hospital’s survival to 1945 when the Red Army liberated Berlin possible. Silver’s expose centers on the director of the hospital, Dr. Lustig, a German-born Jew who managed to keep the Gestapo at bay through his finely honed relationship with the infamous Adolf Eichmann.

The existence of this hospital has been used as “evidence” by deniers that the atrocities of the Holocaust never happened. It’s a disgusting proposition, but the existence of a Jewish hospital in the middle of Berlin does seem counter intuitive, no? Silver explains how the survivors of this hospital were often Jewish under the Nazi’s racial ideology rather than religious qualifications or were in “protected” relationships (i.e. half-Jewish children of Aryan mothers, Jewish men and women married to Aryan women and men). The later actually constitutes a confusing caste system that Silver tries to explain as a tiered system but was rather a complicated calculation that even Hitler couldn’t completely explain.

That’s not to downgrade how incredible this story is. There are so many things I did not know about the Holocaust and Jewish life in Berlin before reading this book. One moment in particular really stood out to me — non-Jewish German women protested the Nazi’s deportation of their children and husbands so loudly that the Nazis ended up releasing them.

No one knows for sure what happened to Dr. Lustig after the Soviet Union liberated Berlin, and we can only guess at the motivation of his actions. The last chapter serves as a “trial” of Lustig and examines if the hospital director was really a rescuer or rather an antisemitic man exploiting his power. How I wish my professor keep this book on the syllabus. I would have loved to discuss it with my classmates.


  1. This book sounds really interesting. I have only recently become aware of the Jewish hospitals/camps in Germany that the germans showed the outside world in an effort to hide the Holocaust. I’ll keep an eye out for this one as it is a subject I’m following at the moment.


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