My Wounded Heart: The Life of Lilli Jahn, 1900-1944

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9780747570462: My Wounded Heart: The Life of Lilli Jahn, 1900-1944

A series of letters offer an incredible and tragic insight into the life of an ordinary Jewish woman under persecution in the Nazi regime. This is the heart-breaking story of a gifted Jewish doctor, the mother of five children, who, after being divorced by her Aryan husband, is arrested on an absurd charge and sent to a corrective labor camp in 1942. Lilli was a prolific letter writer and miraculously almost all her letters to her children and friends, together with a huge number of their letters to her (smuggled out of the camp at Breitenau before she was sent to Auschwitz), survived World War II and only came to light on the death of her son in 1998. In the letters and in Martin Doerry’s superb commentary, we see the deterioration of a whole country through the eyes of an ordinary family driven asunder by pressure from the Nazi regime. We see Lilli’s initial optimism and love of her husband begin to crack. We see her trying to support and run the family home from Breitenau camp, but relying totally on her 12-year-old daughter, Ilse. And we see the difficulties for the children of living with their father's mistress, now his wife, after a bombing raid destroys the family home. And perhaps most moving of all, we see Ilse’s heroic attempts to meet her mother, even though it means going into the labor camp itself, and Lilli’s courage in the face of her inevitable end.

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About the Author:

Martin Doerry is deputy editor in chief of Der Spiegel.

From Publishers Weekly:

By the time the Gestapo arrested Dr. Lilli Jahn in 1943, she had been forced to stop practicing medicine, ostracized by her German neighbors in Immenhausen and divorced by her non-Jewish husband, Ernst, after he'd had a child with a fellow doctor whom he subsequently married. Confined to her home, Lilli found joy in her five children until her deportation. One of the most unusual stories to come out of the Holocaust, Lilli's tale is told largely through letters she wrote, dating from her courtship with Ernst in 1923 through her final 1944 letter from Auschwitz ("I'm well, I'm working at my profession," she writes in the censored message), and from more than 250 letters from her children between 1943 and 1944, when Lilli was incarcerated at a forced labor camp in Breitenau. Its graphic depiction of the fate of Jews in so-called "privileged" mixed marriages and the way national politics affected domestic life make this a valuable addition to the Holocaust canon. The children's letters detail their daily activities. For her part, Lilli had only one goal: "I'm being careful and my one thought is to come back to you fit and well and, I hope, soon." Doerry, Lilli's grandson and editor of the German magazine Der Spiegel, could easily have turned this into a maudlin and melodramatic story. Instead, he has wisely chosen to let the letters speak for themselves, confining himself to inserting details and filling in historical information where necessary. The result is a heartbreaking story that powerfully illustrates love's power to wound—and to heal. 16 pages of b&w photos not seen by PW.
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Doerry, Martin
Published by Bloomsbury UK (2004)
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