Four Girls from Berlin


When the author was small, a rabbi who had survived the Holocaust told her, “In you has your whole family been redeemed.” Meyerhoff’s parents were German Jews, the sole survivors of their extended families. In this memoir, the author bears witness, aided by numerous photographs and family keepsakes preserved at great risk throughout World War II by her mother’s three closest girlhood friends, all German Christians. Their human decency contrasts with the story of Meyerhoff’s mother’s voyage on the St. Louis, a refugee ship fleeing Nazi Germany and denied harbor by many countries, including the United States. Despite the circumstances that separated them, the “four girls from Berlin” struggled to keep faith with each other throughout their lives.

The pictures from family albums, reproduced in the book, are profoundly moving, as is Meyerhoff’s story. Born in America after fortuitous circumstances brought her parents here, she has made many trips to Germany in search of people and places from her parents’ past. This is a well-written memoir devoid of the genre’s frequent self-absorption, reflecting her grappling with one central question. Is it true, as her mother believed despite her suffering, that most people are essentially good?

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