Das Haus in East Berlin by J. Arthur Heise & Melanie Kuhr
Undoubtedly a must-read for any German or American, Das Haus: In East Berlin chronicles the long and arduous journey of two individuals forever connected to the Holocaust. In a joint writing effort, J. Arthur Heise and Melanie Kuhr recall their memories of growing up in German-American families, and the events that led to a legal battle for control of a deteriorating, East German home. While the immigrant Heise became a successful reporter and founding dean of Florida International’s school of journalism, the dark memories of his childhood home cast a spell over his conscious, especially when rumors of his father’s past threatened the family legacy. On the other hand, American-born Melanie Kuhr knew little about her family’s German past but ultimately rediscovered her Jewish heritage while learning about her relatives who may or may not have sold their home to the father of J. Arthur Heise.
The legalities of this harrowing story may initially appear cumbersome to some readers, however the text is presented in a highly accessible vignette style. Each writer establishes the historical context for their eventual meeting, and the heart-breaking details remind of a time when daily survival trumped future plans. The investigation by Heise into both his father and brother’s past will challenge any reader’s tear ducts, while Kuhr’s descriptions of her misgivings set the tone for a heart-warming conclusion. The occasional use of bold text and italics seems unnecessary, but it’s only a minor critique for two strong-willed individuals who overcame differences to find a mutual truth. Das Haus not only provides a valuable history lesson for old and young readers alike, but also reinforces the fact that mutual respect always makes life easier. Despite their initial clash, Heise and Kuhr collaborated once again for a poignant story of familial bonds.
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