BOOK REVIEW: How one Jewish believer escaped ‘Hitler’s Hell’

Book Review by Lee Holman
Former Editor at Messianic Times

With all of the thousands of books out there about the Holocaust, you might be tempted to ask, why read another?

Indeed, there are countless works that document the cruelty, the hate, the deprivation and death inflicted by the Third Reich. Those such as Eli Weisel’s “Night” provide a first-hand account that is masterfully written but leave the reader depressed, wondering why God abandoned His people during this period of history.

But there is a book, “Trapped in Hitler’s Hell” by Anita Dittman with Jan Markell, that will sweep you into 1930s Germany and back with your faith firmly intact.

This is the true story of Ms. Dittman, whose first encounter with Hitler’s “new Germany” took place in the first grade, when she was threatened and mocked by her classmates. She is the daughter of an anti-Nazi newspaper editor and an Orthodox Jewish mother. Her father, a Gentile and an atheist, succumbs to Nazi pressure to divorce his Jewish wife and abandon his two daughters, Anita and Hella.

All Jews were required to register with the government and their names were promptly given to public schools so they could be monitored.

The hateful threats of “We’ll get you after school, you little Jew brat,” escalated into beatings and lack of support from teachers.

Anita finds solace in, of all places, her German textbooks, which at that time still included references to Jesus. She reads all she can find about Him and later finds answers to her questions from a Lutheran pastor who helps get her placed in a Lutheran school and later puts his life on the line to try to save her family from the death camps. Pastor Hornig is able to get Hella out of the country to London but the Gestapo clamps down completely before he can get Anita and her mother out.

The Dittmans are then transferred from their comfortable row house in Breslau to a Jewish ghetto. They live in daily fear of hearing the Gestapo agents’ boots walking down the main hall of their apartment building, wondering at which door they will stop.

Then came the knock on the door, the shout of “open up, open up” and the predictable announcement, “You have five minutes to gather your things in one small bag and come with us.”

After all of their friends were taken, the Nazis came for Anita’s mother, and then for her. She miraculously makes it through several death-defying situations, including a stint in a hospital with a Nazi nurse who slips her a poison pill that she promises will “make you feel better.” But for every evil Nazi, there is a well-placed “angel” who helps get Anita out of a jam, and she makes it through the ordeal, barely a shell of her former self physically, but stronger than ever spiritually.

The book carries a stark message for today’s Western Christian. Germany was a Christian country and a democracy that was transformed into a dictatorship because the vast majority of Christians placed their trust in one man to lead them back to the promised land of economic prosperity and respect on the world stage. There were two types of German Christians, those represented by Pastor Hornig, who sacrificed his finances and his own safety to help the Jews, and those represented by Mrs. Michaelis, a self-absorbed, compromising Christian who agreed to take in Anita for a time, only to treat her cruelly. Mrs. Michaelis claims Anita’s food rations for herself and watches the 12-year-old waste away. In contrast, some German farmers secretly slipped food to starving Jews being worked to death in the camps.

The book, originally written in 1979 under the title “Angels in the Camp,” has been repackaged with a new epilogue [and many photos] by Lighthouse Trails Publishing.

If you buy one book this summer, make it “Trapped in Hitler’s Hell.” It will refocus your priorities and recharge your spiritual life.  (from April/May 2006, Messianic Times)

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