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Friedrich Strindberg, Under jorden i Berlin (Underground in Berlin)

Bonniers,  2002. ISBN: 9100578657

Reviewed by Eivor Martinus in SBR 2003:1

Translated from the German by Britta Höglund

Rather surprisingly, I found that my half-written review of this book had disappeared without a trace into cyberspace. After a fruitless search I decided to have another go. In a similar way Strindberg’s book, which was first published in a Swedish translation in 1945, was completely forgotten until Jan Myrdal rediscovered it two years ago and managed to persuade Bonniers to reprint it. It is a remarkable novel, based on real events and dealing with the Jews who lived underground in Berlin at the height of the Nazi era. Friedrich Strindberg, who was the son of Frida Uhl and Frank Wedekind but conceived and born during Frida’s marriage to August Strindberg, was a journalist and a staunch Socialist. He lived dangerously during the early forties when he was writing for a German paper while saving a great number of Jews from a certain death in concentration camps. He has been awarded the honour of “The Righteous among the Nations” in Jerusalem and is one of only ten Swedes to have been honoured thus. Under jorden i Berlin can be read as a love story but it is also a true account of a messy piece of German history where the lines between black and white were not always so clearly defined as after the fall of the Third Reich. Strindberg has adopted an objective tone and has the audacity to suggest that there were decent Germans who tried to help wherever possible, even at the risk of losing their own lives. Self-interest was not confined to the villains of History; good and evil knew no boundaries. The storyline follows a young couple, Herbert and Lotte, he half-Jewish and she Jewish, who eke out an existence thanks to the generosity of a few idealists up and down the social scale. Strindberg describes in an almost emotionless way how,when Berlin suffers its heaviest bombing attack by the Western Allies in 1942-43, the surviving Jews simply live for one day at a time, looking for scraps of food and a place where they can lay down their heads at night. The characters are depicted without sentimentality and Strindberg catches the gradual anaesthetized attitude which protects them against the worst excesses. When the net is tightening towards the end of the war the leading characters finally escape to Switzerland, like the real life Herbert and Lotte. The book is rich in dialogue which makes it lively and fast moving. It is also eerily prophetic about the capitalist societies in the West. Jan Myrdal’s afterword adds an interesting coda to an exciting and important discovery. Friedrich Strindberg may not be the biological son of August Strindberg but he writes in the same spirit and with the same passion. Too bad that his Swedish relatives wanted to denounce him and tried to stop him coming into Sweden on a Swedish passport. As Jan Myrdal points out: if they had succeeded Friedrich Strindberg would have met the same fate as most of the Jewish victims in Berlin.

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