“Berlin 1936: Sixteen Days in August,” by Oliver Hilmes; Jefferson Chase, trans.

Other Press. 296 pages. Hardcover $24.95.  

Oliver Hilmes provides magnificent storytelling in his vivid rendering of the Nazi-hosted Olympics. Through a shrewdly handled present tense narration, he puts readers into the scene of a phenomenal display that was meant to dazzle the world and blind it to Germany’s march toward the Holocaust. His narrative tone conveys intimacy and distance at the same time.

The sixteen days fill sixteen short chapters, each one replete with the predicted weather, tidbits of the day’s news, Nazi leaders and their devotees, high-living celebrity Berliners, restauranteurs, and musicians being showcased at posh venues. Then of course there are the visitors: spellbound American and European tourists thrilled to be part of the immense crowds at a once in a lifetime opportunity.

It’s a portrait of a glorious city at the pinnacle of its glory, However, the glory comes at an enormous expense. Who knew in 1936 how the monstrous machine that Hitler was building would invite destruction upon the German people and this splendid city?

Portrait Dr. Oliver Hilmes in Berlin
© Max Lautenschlaeger, Berlin

Hilmes implants plenty of clues about how the nation that was already a nightmare for many Jews would meet an unexpected destiny. He profiles many Jewish individuals whose livelihood is threatened, and we receive news about many others who live under already under Nazi subjugation.

Key personalities move in and out of the chapters as the days go by. Among them is the sensational young American author, Thomas Wolfe, a frequent visitor to Berlin, who is not expecting to discover the hidden corruption beneath the glitter and glamour of the city he has adored. When he pens his impressions about the Nazi betrayal of Germany’s better self, he finds his books no longer available in the Reich’s bookstores. . . .

To read the entire review, as it appears on the Jewish Book Council website, click here:  Berlin 1936

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