I have noticed recently that it is easier for me to engage in the cultural and political conversation of the day when I can use a book I have read as an ice breaker. As a professing 9 on the Enneagram, conflict and being outspoken about my opinions have never come easy for me and are things I continue to try and grow in. Before you make fun of me for not being able to just outright say what I think, I know there have been seasons in history when books, poetry, art, music, etc have been very influential in changing how society thinks and even what it believes. I am not saying that this little blog is going to accomplish that, but I like sharing what I learn from reading books and connecting those lessons to what is happening in my life and the world around me. Especially extremely important books like A Bookshop in Berlin by Francoise Frenkel.
I saw a video post the other day of Prager University interviewing random people on the street and asking them questions about the Holocaust. I was appalled by how many people had no idea what it was. It is no wonder that the day of the Capital protest was called by some “the darkest day in history” when there are grown men and women out there that know nothing of the genocide that happened in Europe in the 1940s.
A Bookshop in Berlin is just one Jewish woman’s story of surviving a true dark time in history and as heart wrenching as her story is, she was one of the lucky ones. Although she spent years on the run and in hiding (and a few weeks in a French prison for attempting to cross the border to Switzerland illegally), she miraculously managed to avoid being sent to any of the camps. (This is not a spoiler, by the way, because you will find out she evades capture just by reading the back cover or the Preface.)
Even though she was forced to move from city to city throughout France to stay out of danger, she found beauty in every new place and made friends along the way. Some of these friends risked their own lives to help her and it was because of their heroism that she survived Nazi occupied Europe.
Two things really stuck out to me from her story:
As a bookseller in Berlin in the 1920s and 1930s, she witnessed first hand how Nazi ideology started to seep into the city’s culture. Police were constantly showing up to the French bookshop and confiscating books and newspapers that had been “blacklisted”. Presumably because they contained content that would lead people to question the Nazi agenda.
Many French officials, while claiming to not agree with what Nazi Germany was doing, went along with their instructions because they had been convinced that the Jewish people had “ruined” Germany. The Nazis MUST have a good reason for doing what they were doing…
As If these two facts were not disturbing enough, I can’t help but see parallels in our 21st century culture. The things the media/government have been preaching to us that just don’t add up and how big tech companies have started to censor content that does not promote their political agendas. Sound familiar? There have been talks of “re-education camps” for people who support certain candidates and while one side of the political spectrum is celebrated, the other is punished.
Sorry if that got dark, but those are the types of things I found myself contemplating as I read Francoise’s memoir. To quote my husband, books are powerful and they force you to think in ways that TV shows and movies cannot. I’d like to believe that Francoise felt that same way about books and that it was one of the reasons she loved them so much.