Eve Jaretzki was 16 years old when she learned she was the great-great-granddaughter of Prince August of Prussia, the fabulously wealthy Warrior Prince who had defeated Napoleon. It was 1940. Six years earlier, her parents had fled from Nazi Germany and relocated the family to Hampstead, near London. They were Jewish. So, how could Eve and her father be direct descendants of Prussian royalty, a family notorious for its anti-Semitism?
In The Secrets of the Notebook, Eve Haas tells the astonishing story of her two-decade quest to learn the answer to that question. She knew only the barest facts from the notebook her father showed her at age 16: her great-great grandmother was named Emilie, and Emilie had given birth to Prince August’s daughter, Charlotte. But somehow all three had disappeared from the pages of history. There were no records available anywhere to learn about their lives together—except possibly behind the Iron Curtain in East Germany.
The Secrets of the Notebook: A Woman’s Quest to Uncover Her Royal Family Secret by Eve Haas (2009) 273 pages @@@@@ (5 out of 5)
A descendant of Prussian royalty in the Holocaust
Eve’s concern about the fate of her grandmother, Anna, added urgency to her quest. When her family fled Germany for England, they had been forced to leave Anna behind in Vienna. There was no trace of her after 1942, so the family assumed she had died in the Holocaust, probably at Auschwitz. But what really happened to Anna? And why had Hitler killed a direct descendant of the Hohenzollerns whom he so greatly admired?
Eve’s pursuit of the answers to all these questions became her obsession from 1973 to the 1990s, when she finally learned exactly what had happened to her grandmother. Her quest had taken her on two perilous trips into East Germany at the peak of the Cold War. The Secrets of the Notebook tells the tale of that obsession, and it’s a brilliant portrayal of the challenges historians face when they embark upon research into original source materials. Remarkably, her dogged efforts forced century-old secrets about Prussian royalty to see the light of day.
About the author
Eve Haas died earlier this year at the age of 94. The Secrets of the Notebook appeared in 2009, when at 85 she was already old enough to be classified as “old old” by demographers. Yet the book reads like the work of a writer at the top her game. It’s suspenseful to a fault—a page-turner as surely as any mystery story. And the book climaxes with as great a surprise as any novel of suspense.
For further reading
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- 12 good books about the Holocaust;
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- 16 excellent memoirs reviewed here; and
- 20 top nonfiction books about history.
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