After years of asking her mother, Margarete, to talk about her war experiences, and being refused, Kerstin Leiff, at last receives a phone call from her mother who says she will talk about it once and only once and then never speak of it again. With blank notebooks, pens, and a tape recorder, Kerstin listens to her mother’s story over the next three years, in awe of her mother’s strength of will and survival during this dark time in history. After her father’s death and her mother’s remarriage, Margarete’s family moves to a well-to-do suburb of Berlin. Margarete immediately falls in love with what would become “her” city, but Hitler is already in power and their lives become slowly restricted under Nazi rule.
Margarete is candid in her description of her experiences as war breaks out. She relives the bombing of Berlin, her life as a university student, and a Red Cross nurse. She explains to her daughter about being duped by the Russians and sent to a Siberian Gulag for almost five years before being allowed to return to Berlin. Back in Berlin, she learns of the death of her younger brother, Dieter, at the Eastern Front during the last days of the war, and she relates her struggles to begin a new life for herself in a city that was all but dead.
Kerstin Lieff writes a powerful memoir of her mother relying on hundreds of hours of tapes, journals, letters, and family archives as well as historical research. Margarete died at the age of eighty-one before she was able to see her life story published. For Kerstin, telling her mother’s story as candidly and honestly as possible was a labor of love.