book title

Renata Zerner's Dance on the Volcano is a memoir written for readers who are interested in what it was like living in Germany during the Third Reich and World War II. She writes about her life when she was a young woman in an anti- Nazi German family living in Berlin. Her story focuses on the last two years of World War II when events began to escalate that brought the downfall of Hitler's Germany. Interspersed are flashbacks to prewar times.

Zerner grew up in cosmopolitan Berlin, where a constant stream of underground rumors and inside stories about the horrors of the Nazis circulated through the city and reached her family. She gained a broad awareness of the oppressive Hitler regime and witnessed disturbing Nazi violence against Jews.

After a devastating air raid on Berlin, Zerner leaves her home with her mother for a small spa in Western Germany to escape the increasing carpet bombings. Separated from her childhood home she feels uprooted, and she worries about the safety of her father who remains in Berlin.

She describes in detail the attitudes of young people and adults, including ethnic Germans influenced by the Nazi “religion,” and how they dealt emotionally with the destruction around them, and the tension between the Nazi propaganda and the reality they had to face at the end of the war. Though she was not subjected to Nazi persecutions, she was old enough to grasp the horrific events during the Hitler regime that had a deep emotional impact on all Germans.

She conveys a sense of her fears and dark forebodings during this disastrous war, her horror over the loss of lives at the fronts and in the concentration camps, and her despair over her father’s death in an air raid.

Zerner's memoir characterizes life in a society without freedom. She was a witness who knew, saw, and experienced those times. Her account has a place as part of our recorded history.

Book Excerpt

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Renata Zerner's
Dance on the Volcano

Renata Zerner's Dance on the Volcano is a candid description of the life of a German/Gentile ... living in Germany during Adolf Hitler's rule.   She takes the reader through hardships endured by the German people during that repressive regime in World War II.   I appreciate her openness and the acknowledgment of the wrongs committed by the Nazi government.   It is a fascinating story and I very much enjoyed it.
— John H. Adler,
Author of Quest for Survival, Khalil, Laugh a Little, Cry a Little

Renata Zerner's Dance on the Volcano deals with the survival of anti-Nazi ethnic-Germans during the last war years.   This subject has rarely been adequately covered.   In 1938 I was sent with one of the first transports of 2000 Jews to the Buchenwald Concentration Camp and few of us knew that about 5000 ethnic-Germans had already been incarcerated there for several years.

Survival in the ethnic-German climate was often very difficult especially if one had no party affiliation.   Zerner describes how as a young girl she felt obliged to accept a date with an SS officer in order not to compromise her relative's safety.   With care Zerner tells how she tries to lessen the pains of some of her Jewish friends and how by retreating into nature she alleviates her own suffering from the death of her relative and friends for which there seemed no end.
— Frank Wesley, PhD
Professor Emeritus of Psychology

The first thing that comes to mind when I think of Renata Zerner's writing is her humanity. It is remarkable that she lived through these terrible times and still maintains this quality. It is the story of an intelligent and vulnerable young girl who is trying to make sense of a world that has suddenly collapsed around her and at the same time stay true to herself. It is a touching and beautiful story.
— Harriet Glicklich, PhD

Renata Zerner's Dance on the Volcano strikes a reader with the clear simplicity of the writing and the wonderful detail of the story.   She writes about the challenges of being a girl and young woman in Hitler's Germany with straightforwardness and honesty, qualities that make readers understand her situation and identify with her emotional response to it.   At the same time that Zerner depicts the futility and depression of war, she also captures the refreshing vigor of a teenager.   Anyone interested in the ways individuality resists and survives totalitarianism will be inspired by this book.
— Dana Cairns Watson, PhD Lit.
Author of Gertrude Stein and the Essence of What Happens

About the Author
Renata Zerner is a painter and print-maker. She was born in Berlin, Germany, and immigrated to the United States in 1951. She lives in California.

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