When Hilda Stein stood in front of her mother’s childhood home in Berlin, she felt a tug of nostalgia and longing. The building was graceful and elegant, dominating the neighborhood of ordinary post-war structures. “If buildings could speak,” she mused, “what stories this one could tell.”

Abandoned in Berlin by John R. Cammidge (Gatekeeper Press) is the true story of Hilda’s journey to learn the history of that noble building. Although she was born in the U.S., Hilda’s mother was born and raised here. Growing up, Hilda heard tales of the harsh years under Nazi rule. She wanted to know more about life under German National Socialism, more about the courage and resilience of the Jews who suffered – those who escaped, those who didn’t. 

Mostly, she wanted to know the details of the sale of this magnificent building. Surely her family would not have given it up willingly.  The property was a profitable combination of retail shops and luxury apartments. Hilda’s mother’s family lived there, too, in a sprawling flat of several bedrooms and bathrooms, kitchen, parlors, and a game room – until the pressure of anti-Semitism and fear for their lives forced them to flee.

A Jewish-owned building, with Jewish-owned shops and Jewish living quarters, was definitely in danger from the Nazis. But surely, after the war, the efforts of the Jewish Restitution Successor Organization and the lawyers that the family paid handsomely would have convinced the West German legal system that the family “sold” the property under duress. 

Hilda’s determination to learn about the building’s history and loss was not driven by a desire to regain ownership, but a relentless curiosity and need to connect with her own history. Her research stretched out over two years, and the number of people who helped her grew every time she visited a German courthouse, wrote a letter, or knocked on a shopkeeper’s door.

“Since I can remember, my mother always spoke about her wonderful childhood in Berlin and the beautiful home she grew up in,” says Hilda. “She told me about the staircase banister she would always slide down, which got her in trouble with her mother.  When I was finally able to see that banister, I could imagine my mother as a child laughing as she went down that railing.”

“The more information I found, the angrier I became about what had happened to my family.”

Her partner in this adventure, John R. Cammidge, is the author of Abandoned in Berlin. He encouraged her, accompanied her and consoled her – and he wrote her story with compassion and meticulous detail.  The result is a thorough narrative of one woman’s search for the truth about post-war justice and anti-Semitism.

No matter how much we read or learn about the unconscionable and egregious treatment of the Jews during the war years, we are newly appalled and sickened every time we’re confronted with the facts. Abandoned in Berlin is a clear accounting of an injustice never made right, and one woman’s quest to learn about it.

Learn more about John Cammidge on his BookTrib author page.

John R. Cammidge survived a demanding childhood in Yorkshire, England, and went on to become a very successful Human Resources executive. At the age of 35, he was relocated to the United States by his employer (Bank of America) and subsequently became a U.S. citizen. He worked for Stanford University and the University of California before retiring. His third novel, She Wore a Yellow Dress, will be published mid-year in 2020.