Nonfiction Book Award Status: BRONZE
After her mother’s death, Gabrielle Robinson found two diaries her grandfather had kept while serving as a doctor during the fall of Berlin 1945. He recorded his daily struggle to survive in the ruined city—“I creep out at 10 o’clock at night to the clinic under whistling grenades and bombs, a wilderness of fire and dust, behind it, although already high in sky, the blood-red moon”—and attempts to do what little he could for the wounded and dying without water, light, bedding, and medications. But then the diaries revealed something that had never been mentioned in her family, and it hit Robinson like a punch to the gut: Api, her beloved grandfather, had been a Nazi.
In this clear-eyed memoir, Robinson juxtaposes her grandfather’s harrowing account of his experiences during the war with her memories of his loving protection years afterward and raises disturbing questions about the political responsibility we all carry as individuals. Moving and provocative, Api’s Berlin Diaries offers a firsthand and personal perspective on the far-reaching aftershocks of the Third Reich—and the author’s own inconvenient past.
Gabrielle Robinson tells stories about people that reveal their personal situation within its historical context. One reason for her fascination with the intersection of the personal and historical stems from her own experience. Born in Berlin in 1942, her father’s fighter plane was shot down over England in 1943; after her family was bombed out twice, they fled Berlin in 1945, the beginning of a string of migrations that ended in the US. Gabrielle holds an MA from Columbia University and a Ph.D. from the University of London. She has taught at the University of Illinois, at Indiana University South Bend, and abroad, and has won a number of awards for her writing and community engagement. Gabrielle is now settled in South Bend, Indiana, with her husband Mike Keen, a sociologist turned sustainable neighborhood developer, and their cat Max. Her favorite leisure time reading is about animals and trees.