In this poignant book, a renowned historian tells of his youth as an assimilated, anti-religious Jew in Nazi Germany from 1933 to 1939-"the story," says Peter Gay, "of a poisoning and how I dealt with it." With his customary eloquence and analytic acumen, Gay describes his family, the life they led, and the reasons they did not emigrate sooner, and he explores his own ambivalent feelings-then and now-toward Germany and the Germans.
Gay relates that the early years of the Nazi regime were relatively benign for his family: as a schoolboy at the Goethe Gymnasium he experienced no ridicule or attacks, his father's business prospered, and most of the family's non-Jewish friends remained supportive. He devised survival strategies-stamp collecting, watching soccer, and the like-that served as screens to block out the increasingly oppressive world around him. Even before the events of 1938-39, culminating in Kristallnacht, the family was convinced that they must leave the country. Gay describes the bravery and ingenuity of his father in working out this difficult emigration process, the courage of the non-Jewish friends who helped his family during their last bitter months in Germany, and the family's mounting panic as they witnessed the indifference of other countries to their plight and that of others like themselves. Gay's account-marked by candor, modesty, and insight-adds an important and curiously neglected perspective to the history of German Jewry.
Peter Gay is Sterling Professor of History Emeritus at Yale University and director of the Center for Scholars and Writers, New York Public Library. He is the author of many books, including the five-volume The Bourgeois Experience: Victoria to Freud; Freud: A Life for Our Time; A Godless Jew: Freud, Atheism, and the Making of Psychoanalysis; Voltaire's Politics; and Reading Freud, the last three published by Yale University Press.