Sunday, March 23, 2014

The Holding of Hearts

(Photo courtesy Christine Matthäi)

Hi Everyone,

I just spent a beautiful day in the sun, watching kids play on the beach. The magnificent colors of the Bahamian waters enlivened my eyes, and as I watched the sunset, enthralled by the wild array of colors I settled into a deep sense of peace. Nature here is like an ever-changing painting, yet its gift is constant.

At times like these I feel I never want to leave but The Last Daughter of Prussia is taking me out on the road again. My next speaking engagement is at the Rogers Memorial Library in South Hampton, NY.   I have been invited as a special guest speaker because National Holocaust Remembrance Day falls in April and my book discusses another side of WW2 along with a tragic piece of German history that has remained largely untold. If any of you can attend, Id love to meet you. My talk will be on Wed. April 9 from 12:00 to 1:00 pm. (Phone # 631 283 0774 Ext 523.)

The topic of the holocaust is a painful one for Jews but also for non-Jews—especially those of German heritage, like me. Somewhere deep inside I feel that a hidden, shameful mark has been stamped on my soul for being German, for knowing that my country of origin is where such heinous crimes against humanity were conjured up and committed. Although these atrocities happened before I was born, I carry the fear, guilt and shame of them in my heart, my bones, my very DNA. Even if people say, “That was another time, you weren’t involved, you aren’t responsible,” I sit in my personal dungeon and say, “It was evil. The Germans knew it was evil but they did it anyway.”

It is from this raw and vulnerable place that I will be talking talk about my book, The Last Daughter of Prussia. It is from this painful place that I want to tell my audience about another shocking side of the war—a side that is also my inheritance. In telling it I cannot make right anything the Germans did. What was broken, ravaged, and dead remains broken ravaged and dead. However, this story, which concerns a group of East Prussian Germans, is also a part of the greater grief and suffering of humanity.
In telling it I want to hold all people who suffer in the heart of compassion. I want to bring awareness to all tribes who have been abandoned to cruelty and death. I don’t know exactly what repair would look like in this shattering legacy of WW2 Germany, this time in which humans did the unimaginable to each other, but I have a deep hope that in confronting the pain, in naming it, we may, as human beings, have a chance to come together in a circle and hear each other, and from that place move toward reconciliation. 

My prayer is that in giving our broken hearts space for the expression of sorrow, we bring light to the darkness and love to fear and hatred. In the simple compassionate act of staying present with each other and our stories, healing can move into past, present and future generations.

(Photo Courtesy Christine Matthäi)
Until next time

—Marina Gottlieb Sarles


  1. Thank you for sharing this heartfelt post and amazing photos--and thank you for continuing to talk about your family's story, reconciliation, and inter-generational healing. <3

  2. I just finished reading Last Daughter of Prussia. Beautiful. It's close my own family story. My mom got captured by the Soviets while on the trek and ended up in the coal mines of Ural. It took me years to piece together her story. Living in Canada, East Prussia was incomprehensible to me for a long time. I'm about to have Broken Stone released. It's a young adult story, written for the kid I used to be, when I couldn't understand why my mom was so different than the other moms in Canadian suburbia. I'm collecting all the stories I can to keep those years and places alive. Your book will definitely remain on my shelf and will be passed on as recommended reading about that horrendous time. Yes, we as Germans will never swallow the shame, nor should we. But that shouldn't stop us from acknowledging the suffering that yes, even Germans, endured.