Perhaps as a result of Claude Rains’ portrayal of the corrupt, but benign Vichy French police chief in the 1942 film “Casablanca,” a myth emerged that Jews were somehow physically protected under the Vichy regime. Not so. Francoise Frenkel’s tightly written, highly personal A Bookshop in Berlin: The Rediscovered Memoir of One Woman's Harrowing Escape from the Nazis debunks this myth.
Born near Lodz, Poland in 1889, Frenkel as a young Jewish woman studied music in Germany and art in Paris. But French literature was her first love, and in 1921, only three years after the end of World War I, Frenkel and her Russian Jewish husband, Simon Reichenstein, opened a Francophile bookshop in the capital of Germany, France’s longtime, bitter adversary.
It was a gamble that paid off when the shop attracted a “curiously mixed” group of customers that included “eccentrics, artists, celebrities and well heeled women.” French literary giants Andre Gide and Andre Maurois lectured in her store during the Weimar Republic years that tragically ended in 1933, when Hitler gained power in Germany.