The Horn Book Review of Ashes

Gaby Schramm (b. 1919) is a child of privilege: her father, a professor at the University of Berlin, is Einstein’s good friend; the Schramms’ social circle includes celebrated Jewish newspaper columnist Baba Blumenthal and her highly placed connections. In 1932, political turmoil is leading inexorably to Nazi rule. While intellectuals anxiously debate their best course, Gaby observes other reactions: their pro-Hitler maid is smugly triumphant; an opportunistic teacher seizes her chance for power; brown-shirted thugs terrorize the streets. After a gang of boys forces Gaby and her best friend to return its “Heil Hitler,” Gaby begins keeping a list of her private moments of shame, refuses to join the Hitler Youth, and finally leaves school in protest. Chapters are headed with telling quotes, notably from books by Hemingway, London, and Twain. In a horrifying culmination, in 1933 the Nazis burn all these books, along with Einstein’s “Jewish science” and thousands of scholarly texts, in a mammoth pyre in the Opernplatz. Lasky interweaves the personal and political with skill, effectively explicating the complex history by reporting such significant events as the Reichstag fire and sampling the rising tide of wrongs, while also depicting—in well-researched detail—the comforts, loyalties, and Nazi-induced tribulations of a thoughtful and humane “Aryan” family. Lasky ends with Germany heading toward world war; of the Schramms’ future, we see only their despairing flight from their homeland. A historical note introduces the book.

Joanna Rudge Long

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