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Gert Berliner, Whose Story Sparked An Emotional Response From Many, Dies At 94

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

We'd like to take a moment now to remember a man whose story sparked an emotional response from many of our listeners. The man was Gert Berliner, and the story was about Berliner's cherished childhood toy - a stuffed monkey smaller than the palm of your hand.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)

GERT BERLINER: I liked him (laughter). He was my - like, a good luck piece - I don't know (laughter).

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

This story aired last November. It was told by our NPR colleague Uri Berliner, the son of Gert Berliner. Gert died this morning.

CORNISH: Gert Berliner had the toy monkey as a child in Berlin back in the 1930s. In 1939, Gert's mother sent him to Sweden to escape the Nazis. He could only bring one small bag, so the only keepsake he took with him was that stuffed monkey.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)

URI BERLINER, BYLINE: Can you remember the days before leaving what was going on, what you did?

G. BERLINER: I was the only child just like you were. The marriage of my parents was not the best. So I really - I was my mother's all. And for her to give up her child is heroic. You know, the - the pain that she felt must have been so terrible. But she let me go.

CHANG: While Gert was living safely in Sweden, his parents back in Germany were sent to Auschwitz. They were murdered there. After the war, Gert Berliner moved to the U.S., where he became a widely published documentary photographer and cinematographer.

CORNISH: All the while, he held on to that stuffed monkey. In 2003, he donated it to the Jewish Museum Berlin.

CHANG: It was there the monkey was discovered by another Berliner, the descendant of one of Gert's cousins. The cousins had lost contact in their separate escapes from Nazi Germany, and it was the monkey that connected Gert with his family. Here they are talking last year.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)

G. BERLINER: Hello?

U. BERLINER: Yeah, hi, Dad. It's Uri and Erika and Agneta...

G. BERLINER: Yes, I know. How are you?

U. BERLINER: We're fine. We're very happy to talk to you.

CORNISH: And as Gert told his son later, he was only too happy to talk to them.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)

G. BERLINER: It was a gift. It really was a gift to discover that I have a family. At my old age, I discovered I had a family.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

CHANG: Gert Berliner died peacefully this morning. He was 94 years old. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.


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