Surviving Berlin is a rare first-hand account of the tumultuous Nazi and post-war years in Germany and one man's poignant journey to finding the unvarnished truth.
In the most improbable place-the archives of a southern American university twenty-one-year-old Karl von der Heyden discovered the answer to a question that had plagued him as he came of age in his native Germany: What had his parents known-how much could they have known-about the atrocities that the Nazis had committed?
As a student at Duke University in 1957 von der Heyden found issues of the Nazi party's newspaper Völkischer Beobachter (The People's Observer) dating from 1932 to the end of the Second World War with its editorials blatantly justifying the organized anti-Semitism slowly he was able to fill in the gaps that had developed in the silence of his father and mother's generation.
In the aftermath of the war very few Germans spoke about what had happened and when they allowed themselves to do so they seemed to lump the horrors of Nazism in with those of wartime survival. Or they placed the blame on Hitler alone. Once Hitler committed suicide the adults ostensibly moved on psychologically leaving it to the next generation the Kriegskinder children of war to bear the shame for the heinous crimes of their country's past and for their parents' possible participation-whether it was no more than a tacit show of acceptance for the regime. For von der Heyden his own regret was particularly acute with the knowledge that his father had been a member of the Nazi Party.
Equipped with new insights von der Heyden was equally stunned to see a "parallel injustice" between the experiences of the Jews in Nazi Germany and of the blacks in the segregated South-the North Carolina university itself did not admit African-Americans until 1963.
At once affecting and thought-provoking Surviving Berlin is a remarkable story whose themes are as profound today as they were seventy years ago.
Karl M. von der Heyden was born in Berlin, Germany, in 1936 and made his way to America in 1957 upon receiving a full scholarship to study at Duke University. After graduating from Duke and obtaining an MBA degree from the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania von der Heyden went on to become an accomplished corporate leader serving as Chief Financial Officer, Chief Executive Officer, and Vice Chair of the Board at a variety of companies including H.J. Heinz Company, PepsiCo, and RJR Nabisco. He also served as an independent director on a dozen large publicly held companies including the New York Stock Exchange, DreamWorks Animations, AstraZeneca, and Macy's. Recipient of The International Center in New York's Award of Excellence and the Ellis Island Medal of Honor he is a former trustee of Duke University the YMCA of Greater New York and other nonprofit organizations. He is Chair Emeritus of the American Academy in Berlin where he was a founding trustee of the cultural institution in 1998. He lives in New York City with his wife Mary Ellen.
"Karl von der Heyden has written two fascinating autobiographies wrapped in one. The first is of his childhood years in Nazi Germany as seen through the eyes of a youngster trying to live a normal life. The second is of a young immigrant's discovery of America and his growing love for his adopted new home even as he discovers the racial injustices of the South that remind him of the anti-Semitic racism of his native land under Nazism. He belongs to that generation of young Germans who years later first confronted their Nazi parents with the hard questions of &lsquowhat did you know what did you do and why did you go along?'. Insightful and well-written Surviving Berlin eloquently raises questions that continue to have relevance today. It's a book you will not want to put down." -Michael Blumenthal former United States Secretary of the Treasury
"Karl von der Heyden has done a signal service to those of us who wonder what it was like to grow up in Germany under Nazi rule. His intimate account of life as a Berliner coming of age during World War II and its aftermath is a reminder in these troubled times that averting our eyes from racist intolerance has devastating personal consequences." - Martin Indyk Executive Vice President of the Brookings Institution and former U.S. Ambassador to Israel
"In this lively and fascinating book von der Heyden tells us how as a student he tried to come to grips with German anti-Semitism (including that of his parents). Surviving Berlin is a poignant and -- I may say as a member of the same generation with a similar trajectory -- authentic account of how Nazism affected a young German as he grew up and during his subsequent life in the United States." - Gerhard Casper former President of Stanford University
"In this compelling story of his youth in Berlin Karl von der Heyden treats America as a gift that changed his life. What comes clear however is that the roles are actually the reverse. Karl was a gift to America. The can-do optimism of immigrants especially gifted ones like von der Heyden powers our country." - Amity Shlaes Presidential Scholar the King's College and author of The Forgotten Man and Coolidge