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Letters From Berlin: A Story of War, Survival, and the Redeeming Power of Love and Friendship

4.19  ·  Rating details ·  525 ratings  ·  72 reviews
A New York Times Bestseller

When Margarete Dos moved with her family to Berlin on the eve of World War II, she and her younger brother were blindly ushered into a generation of Hitler Youth. Like countless citizens under Hitler’s regime, Margarete struggled to understand what was happening to her country. Later, as a nurse for the German Red Cross, she treated countless you
Hardcover, 384 pages
Published October 2nd 2012 by Lyons Press (first published January 1st 2012)
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4.19  · 
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 ·  525 ratings  ·  72 reviews

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Nov 22, 2015 rated it really liked it
I’ve read a freakishly large number of personal stories of people who survived both hot and cold wars in Berlin, and Letters From Berlin is one of the best. This memoir by Kerstin Lieff, written about and with her mother Margarete Dos, is the most comprehensive, this-is-what-I-saw, this-is-what-I experienced account that I have read.

The story follows Margarete from her days as a young girl at the beginning of the war through young womanhood in a Russian work camp after the war. In it she describ
Sabrina Devonshire
Oct 29, 2012 rated it it was amazing
I thought this was an amazing book. Lieff tells her mother Margarete's story of surviving World War II in Germany and also enduring months in a Russian prison camp. The writing is beautiful and the Margarete's story so compelling - I soon cared for her like a family member and felt very close to the suffering she endured. It really pulls you out of your modern-day existence and takes you back to another era where so many people endured un-ending hardship. I will never forget this book.
Ann Single
May 12, 2013 rated it liked it
Really interested in these memoirs - hard to put down and realised how ignorant I was about Germany post WWII. Found the letters at the end a bit repetitive and thought the book could have been stronger without them. What stories do our families hold? Worth trying to capture them even if there isn't a novel in it. History has many truths.
Maureen E
Feb 25, 2013 rated it really liked it
[caption id="attachment_3474" align="alignleft" width="193"] Image from Goodreads Image from Goodreads[/caption]
When Margarete Dos moved with her family to Berlin on the eve of World War II, she and her younger brother were blindly ushered into a generation of Hitler Youth. Like countless citizens under Hitler’s regime, Margarete struggled to understand what was happening to her country. Later, as a nurse for the German Red Cross, she treated countless young soldiers—recruited in the eleventh hour to fight a losing
Apr 11, 2014 rated it really liked it
Reading the synopsis of this book gave me a jolt of recognition - it sounded in some ways as though it could have been my Aunt Elisabeth's story: a girl growing up in Germany as Hitler comes to power, a father in the military, having medical school studies interrupted by the war, struggling to survive after the war with her mother as everything they owned was taken from them. I wished I had known my aunt better; the few times she and my uncle visited us I was too young and ignorant to appreciate ...more
May 19, 2014 rated it it was ok
This is a pretty good compilation of memories into a readable story. The characters are really believable.

My biggest problem with this book was my inability to accept that the main character did not know of the brutality of her own country and that country's responsibility for the death and destruction of the occupied countries and England. I had little compassion for the anger about the bombings of their beautiful cities. Not once was there an expression of understanding that their country had
Apr 04, 2015 rated it really liked it
Margarete Dos came of age in Hitler's Germany and survived World War II only to be sent with her mother to a Soviet gulag.
Late in life, she told her story to her daughter, Kerstin Lieff, who retells it in this memoir. After her mother's death, Lieff came across letters Dos had written -- but never managed to send -- to a soldier who apparently was a close friend. This book also contains those letters, written during the final days of the war and the first days after the war ended. Lieff was unab
Kelly MacIver
Oct 20, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Really compelling viewpoint of the years just prior to and following World War II. I learned some things I did not know about the general feeling of Germans regarding the war, the Nazi party, and their own lives. The author is always careful to point out where recollection may not be all that accurate, yet stay true to her mother's narrative.
Extremely interesting memoir about life in Berlin during the Second World War and thereafter, as well as two years spent working in a Soviet Gulag. Highly recommend this very readable interesting book.
Dec 20, 2012 rated it really liked it
A perspective we don't see so much of - the experience of German civilians during WW2. It amazes me how the human spirit can survive so much horror.
Donlon McGovern
May 03, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2018
This should be one of those books that need to be on required to read lists. I love books that show history from the viewpoint of the people not the politics. Very well written, much kudos Kerstin Lieff. Write more and I'll read it.
Jul 20, 2017 rated it really liked it
Really fascinating story of a German girl during WWII and its aftermath. I was riveted. However, I agree with some of the other posters that the letters at the end were repetitive and not that interesting.
Dec 10, 2013 rated it really liked it
Growing up in the West learning 20th century WWII history, we took it on board that the British, the Americans and for a while the Russians were the good guys. The Germans and the Japanese were the bad guys - simple as that. History, of course, is always perceived and told from the viewpoint of the person telling it, and often the viewpoint of the other party/ies is minimised, ignored, glossed over or dressed up in a way to enhance the teller's version. We never, ever learnt about the history of ...more
Donna Langan
May 23, 2016 rated it really liked it
First of all, kudos to the author for sharing her mother's fascinating story in such a realistic fashion...I felt as if Margarete was telling us the story herself. I was somewhat amazed to hear of the many hardships that the German people endured, during and especially after the war...her experience in the Gulag, etc. It was a horrific account but honestly, what do you expect during wartime?

What I didn't like was that there wasn't much mention of the millions of Jews that died in the concentrat
Deborah Allen
Nov 17, 2012 rated it liked it
Such an interesting read and the first of its type I have ever read. We all know the suffering of the jewish people in the hands of the germans but the german people themselves didn't have exactly easy. The times told through the eyes of a young teenage girl growing up in this time in history is incredible. How scared they were to speak their own minds and many didn't like what Hitler was doing to the country. At first they did but eventually they saw how damaging & how mad he was.

A scene d
Leanne Davis
Nov 08, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Thank you for presenting your mother's story. It was truly a beautifully presented story that read like a suspenseful, tragic, emotional, and even exciting novel. That is is someone's memoirs makes it even more haunting. I read it in days and hated to put it down. It is engaging and lovely. It draws in the reader to her story giving the facts and figures of history that are shocking, a real voice and emotional attachment to highlight the gruesome nature of this period in history. This story of M ...more
Richard Ure
May 29, 2016 rated it it was amazing
As one who has visited Germany four times and Berlin twice, it has become my favourite city in Europe. I have admiration for the way in which the German people have faced up to their past and recovered from the terrible carnage their tyrannical leader visited upon them. I hope we all learn from it as we have had a few examples since.

It is superficial for people to mark the book down because it does not revisit facts which have been re-told many times. This was not the book’s intention cover more
Carol Wakefield
Jul 15, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Amazing survival story. First of a young woman's teen age years spent in Berlin during WW11. Secondly surviving a couple years in a gulag in Russia working in a coal mine and on farms. This when a train taking Germans with a Swedish connection to Sweden is diverted to a slave labor camp in Russia. And finally a return to Berlin after the gulag years to find the city in deep distress overrun by refugees and with little food or housing available. Eventually marguerite and her mother do find a way ...more
Oct 20, 2014 rated it really liked it
A very moving account of a young girl growing up in Germany before and during WWII, Letters from Berlin is based on the author's memories of that time, as recounted to her own daughter 50 years later. The memoir rarely expands into events outside the main character's immediate experiences and this is mostly a strength. The personal voice is strong and we feel for the young Margarete as she struggles to live through terrible times. However, this also becomes a weakness as we hope for some reflect ...more
Carol Brill
Dec 15, 2012 rated it it was amazing
A must read. There is so much to admire in Letters from Berlin. Kerstin Lieff shows the story of Hitler's atrocities from the perspective of a young German women, a perspective I've regrettably rarely considered in my own reading about the second world war.
As a writer, what I found most amazing about this book, is that Ms. Lieff is telling her own mother's heart wrenching survival of abuse, imprisonment, and unspeakable loss. Yet, it never gets sentimental. We hear the story in her mother's stea
Jun 07, 2014 rated it really liked it
Marguerite Dos and her family moved to Berlin on the eve of WWII. She and her brother were caught up in the Hitler youth. She was not happy with what was happening, but she became a nurse hoping she could help the soldiers. She was horrified as the bombs reduced her home to rubble. Her humanity and love kept her going until the end, and she and her mother were on a train to Sweden but suddenly were rerouted to Russia. How she suffered for months as a prisoner there before her release makes one r ...more
Jan Polep
Dec 22, 2012 rated it really liked it
WWII...The Great War...wasn't so great for either the winners or the losers. By pestering her mother about her life during the 1930-40s, the author can provide an upclose look at Germany before, during and after the war, as well as life in a Russian work camp. Family history, world history...good, bad, ugly begs the question...does this particular historical slice of the 20th century teach how to be a friend yet strong/smart/sneaky enough to survive. And, for me, the other big question is...what ...more
Becky Loader
Nov 30, 2012 rated it really liked it
I love writers who utilize letters and diaries to tell a story. Lieff was able to record many hours of stories told by her mother, Margarete, who had been a young teen in Berlin at the beginning of World War II, and she combined all these amazing sources to produce a mesmerizing tale of survival during horrible circumstances. I was especially intrigued by the section on the time Margarete and her mother were prisoners in a Russian Gulag. Lieff does an excellent job of preserving her mother's vie ...more
Kathleen Johnson
Apr 04, 2014 rated it really liked it
Truly a fascinating book! It was very interesting to hear about WWII from the perspective of a German civilian.
I really was not aware of the "imprisoning" of German non-party citizens in the post war period.
Not only did the Jews pay the price for Hitler's inhumane ideas, the German citizens paid for his cowardice when he avoided his responsibility by taking his own life.
All in all, a very interesting and captivating book.
Bravo Kerstin Lieff! Your mother would be proud!
Michelle Barker
Sep 13, 2016 rated it it was amazing
An extremely well written and moving account of a young German woman's experiences of the war, and her post-war imprisonment for two years in the Gulag. I couldn't put it down. The bombing of Berlin, the dreams that were cut short, the loss of the narrator's brother, and the postwar atrocities—all handled with an amazing eye for detail. I am very thankful that the narrator's daughter begged her mother to tell her story.
Apr 07, 2014 rated it liked it
"Letters from Berlin" is written as a first person account of a German girl and her family caught up in the turmoil of WW II. Covering a period of about 15 years from the mid 1930's to 1950 the book attempts to illustrate the brutality and suffering that average Germans endured at the hand of Hitler and the Nazis. A tough read in terms of the suffering endured by the family but still engrossing from the standpoint of being another look at the ravages of WW II.
Jul 22, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is a well researched book and I really enjoyed hearing about the war from the German side. Margarete Dos came of age in Hitler's Germany and she was later imprisoned along with her mother in a Russian Gulag. More than 60 years later, her daughter brings to light her long-buried story, drawing on hundreds of hours of taped interviews, family archives and posthumously discovered loved letters to a mysterious soldier on the German front lines. A very good and informative read. A 4.5 star.
Diane Wachter
Mar 01, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: nonfiction, wwii, ebook
Letters From Berlin: A Story of War, Survival and the Redeeming Power of Love and Friendship. Margarete Dos and Kerstin Kieff. NB-M @ 2013, 6/14. Personal narratives of a young woman in Berlin Germany before, during and after WWII. Answered some of my questions about what the German People knew about what was happening...with the Jews and Concentration camps; with the propaganda; and finally what it was like in Berlin after the war. An excellent book!
Megan Belford
Apr 21, 2014 rated it it was amazing
As I read this book, I couldn't help but compare it to Laura Hillenbrand's Unbroken. Although the experiences of each person depicted are extremely different, both texts do an amazing job of drawing you into the narrative and the horrors of this war. I think it's an important book because it's easy to demonize the entire German people during this time. The truth, as it tends to be, is far more complex. An absolute must read.
Jun 14, 2014 rated it it was amazing
E-book True story of survival - two times over. After their story of survival in Berlin, the author has an equally hard survival ahead of her. And these were the "good" Germans and their hardships! The power of the human spirit and spirit of survival in such circumstances NEVER ceases to amaze me.
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Kerstin Lieff came to the United States with her parents as an immigrant from Germany in 1952. She grew up in Minnesota and now calls Boulder her home. She is a recent graduate from Fairleigh Dickinson University where she received her Master's Degree in creative writing. Her first book, LETTERS FROM BERLIN, is a memoir of a young woman caught in the devastation of Hitler's Germany and Stalin's Ru ...more