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Twilight in Danzig
Dr. Siegfried Kra’s childhood memoir recalls the last days of a vanished world, that of the Free State of Danzig between the world wars, when aristocrats and merchants, Jews, Poles and Germans mingled in a climate of prosperity charged with uncertainty and change. It is 1932, the eve of Hitler’s rise to the Chancellory, and the eve of Siegfried Kra’s sixth birthday. But Berlin seems a world away and everything is right in the Kra household. His parents are scions of Danzig society. His father is a wealthy businessman equally at home with Jews, Germans, and Polish nobility. His mother is a lovely socialite who throws lavish parties in their stately home. Siegfried has a devoted governess and a new German shepherd puppy. But the clouds hanging over Germany inexorably reach Danzig, subtle at first like a harmless spring rain, then swift as a winter storm. Siegfried’s trusted governess, a young woman of noble but impoverished birth, embarks on a project to make him a proper German by enlisting him in the Nazi Youth. Siegfried eagerly obliges, finding the militant organization more exciting than the Jewish Maccabee club. His father too at first cooperates with the Nazi regime, striking a profitable deal to ship coal for the Germans. And when Siegfried suffers a life-threatening fever his family takes him to a specialist in Berlin, where he is cursed by a nurse for being Jewish and cared for by a Nobel laureate doctor. One night Hitler and his entourage enter the hotel where the Kras are staying. Mistaking Siegfried for an Aryan, Hitler pats him on the head and says, “Good German boys should not be awake at such an hour.” The photo of Siegfried with the Fuhrer appears in the papers, leading to the Kras being ostracized by the Jewish community back home. Finally, in 1938, after years of trying to accommodate himself to the new regime, Siegfried’s father buys tickets on the Queen Mary. But the anti-Jewish laws have now reached Danzig and the German invasion is only a year away. The Kras are put under house arrest, their governess a spy whom they dare not fire. Only due to Mr. Kra’s shrewdness and instinct for action and the aid of their neighbor, Prince Brandenburg, a libertine and friend of Rudolph Hess, are they able to commandeer a boat through the harbor, past the German patrol, to safe waters in the North Sea. Twilight in Danzig is an important addition to pre-Holocaust literature and a unique chronicle of a tragic end of an era, both of high European Jewish culture and the League of Nations experiment that was the Free State of Danzig.