A Bookshop in Berlin: The Rediscovered Memoir of One Woman's Harrowing Escape from the Nazis

Françoise Frenkel's decision to open a bookshop in Berlin soon after World War I will eventually save her life. Frenkel, who was a Polish Jew, has loved books since she was a child, and her years spent living in Paris have given her a passion for French literature. When she learns that Berlin has no stores that sell books written in French, she decides to launch one, which lends this rediscovered memoir its title, A Bookshop in Berlin (originally published in 1945 as No Place to Lay One's Head). Frenkel carries out her plan despite the French Consulate General's warning to her that memories of the war will probably cause Berliners to "burn it to the ground."

Not only does Frenkel open La Maison du Livre, she manages to create a French cultural center that attracts German customers as well as foreign residents. The contacts she makes through her store give her an advantage when she--with many other refugees--flees to France in the late 1930s. Armed with a French residency permit and a letter that says she has, through her bookstore, "rendered significant service to France," Frenkel is taken in by a French family who shelter and guide her through varying forms of safety for almost a year, until at last she's able to cross the border into Switzerland.

Throughout her memoir, Frenkel maintains a voice of cool detachment as she tells about the horror of Kristallnacht, the fear she feels when she receives no news from her mother after Hitler invades Poland, and the rapidity with which daily living turned into a death threat for European Jews. A Bookshop in Berlin echoes through time as a warning that resonates today. --Janet Brown, author and former bookseller

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