top of page

The Joys of Research for "The Midwife of Berlin" by Anna Stuart

Book Blurb:

Auschwitz, 1943: I stroke my beautiful baby’s hair. It’s a miracle it’s blonde because it will keep her alive, it will keep her safe. Soon they will come and take Pippa out of Auschwitz-Birkenau – and out of my arms. But while there’s life, there’s hope I might find my daughter again…

1945, Berlin: Ester Pasternak walked out of the gates of Auschwitz barely alive. She survived against devastating odds, but her heartbreaking journey is only just beginning. In the camp, Ester gave birth to a tiny fair-haired infant, only for her precious baby to be snatched from her and taken to a German family. Now the war is over, Ester is desperate to find her little girl.

But Europe is in chaos, Jewish families have been torn apart and everyone is urgently looking for their loved ones. In every orphanage and hospital she visits, Ester searches the faces of tear-stained toddlers; each mop of blonde hair and pair of blue eyes she sees sets her heart racing.

Will Ester ever be able to find the child whose tattoo matches her own? Or is she already too late…

A completely gripping WW2 story of one woman’s courage and determination to hold onto hope in a world ripped apart by war and reunite her family in the aftermath of surviving Auschwitz. Perfect for fans of The Tattooist of Auschwitz, The Alice Network and The Nightingale.

Book Buy Link:

Author Bio:

I wanted to be an author from the moment I could pick up a pen and was writing boarding-school novels by the age of nine. I made the early mistake of thinking I ought to get a ‘proper job’ and went into Factory Planning – a career that gave me some wonderful experiences, amazing friends and even a fantastic husband, but didn’t offer much creative scope. So when I stopped to have children I took the chance to start the ‘improper job’ of writing. It's not been easy but I love it and can't see myself ever stopping.

I write WW2 fiction, focusing in on some of the lesser known nooks and crannies of this astonishing period and writing from a female perspective. The Midwife of Auschwitz has been my bestselling novel to date but I am always looks to explore emotional tales of courage, strength and overcoming terrible odds.

I also write medieval fiction as Joanna Courtney.

I'd love to hear from you via my website -, on twitter - @annastuartbooks,or on facebook - @annastuartauthor


Berlin: a divided and utterly fascinating city.

The joys of research for The Midwife of Berlin by Anna Stuart

When I wrote ‘The End’ on the Midwife of Auschwitz, I genuinely thought the story was over, but within weeks of publication, lovely messages arrived from readers asking me what had happened to Pippa – the baby taken from Ester in Auschwitz. It was an excellent question and one that sewed the seeds of a second book…

Pippa (an invented character but sadly based on many real babies) was taken away for adoption by a ‘good German family’ as part of the cruel Lebensborn programme that saw the Reich kidnap hundreds of thousands of children from conquered territories to be shipped to Germany for ‘Aryanization’. After the war, a huge attempt was made by the United Nations’ Child Search Team to recover those children but it was very hard to trace them. Those they did find, after five years with their new families (many of whom had lovingly welcomed them as their own), found being ‘recovered’ just as distressing as losing them had been for the parents years before. It was a very difficult and morally challenging situation – perfect for a novelist!

So, I asked myself, what might have happened to Pippa? I worked out when she would turn 18 and got to 1961 – a year that leaps out of German history for the raising of the Berlin Wall. I was 17 when that vastly significant historical monument came down in 1989 and remember the scenes on TV well, but I knew little about what had led to its erection. I began researching the divisions between East and West Germany (a direct product of World War Two) and how they led to the tragic events of summer 1961 that tore an eclectic, vibrant city in two.

I confess, I came to the research with bias. Brought up in the 80s, I pretty much believed that the West was ‘good’ and the East was ‘bad’. Much of that, as I found out, was true, but there were surprising elements to my exploration of the DDR (Deutsche Demokratische Republik) that helped me, I hope, to create a nuanced story.

Life in East Germany was hard. I’m sure many normal people got on as best they could, especially in smaller towns and villages, but there were Stasi representatives everywhere and the terror of this violent secret police and their vast network of informers was pervasive. That said, however, those young people indoctrinated into communist ideals would have strongly believed in the value of the state over the individual, the principle of working to a common good, and equality of both class and gender. If only such honourable principles had been fairly and honestly applied, it might have worked. And some things actually did.

One of the best books I read was the catchily titled, Why Women Have Better Sex Under Socialism, by Kristen Ghodsee – quite the eye-opener! The core tenet of this academic study is that in the West, women offer men sex in exchange for their keep. This barter creates an automatic power inequality which pressurises women to provide pleasure rather than take it. In the DDR, in contrast, children were brought up as ‘comrades’, both genders educated in the same way and expected to work and share the household chores and upbringing of children. As a result, sex was something they both came to as individuals with no bartered pressure. Add to this the fact that religion was discouraged under communism, taking away moral impositions, and you had more open conditions for sexual encounters. This, the book argues, led to far more satisfactory sex for women and Ghodsee offers substantive research on female orgasm rates in the DDR to back it up. So – there’s a good start for the East!

There was also an excellent attempt to create new towns, housing professionals alongside factory workers, all equally valued. I was lucky enough to visit Eisenhüttenstadt just outside Berlin, where I chose to locate Ester and her family in The Midwife of Berlin. Going to this fascinating place is like stepping back in time, complete with 1970s-style clothes shops, but although it is now run-down you can still see the principles with which it was built – square apartment blocks around grassed communal areas, lively social art, and strong shared facilities – offering all the right ingredients for healthy family life. In the 1950s people flocked there and it should have been amazing.

The problem, of course, is that power corrupts and the DDR leaders, like their Moscow controllers, were utterly corrupted. The repression was enormous, the inequality worse than before. Intelligent people, especially aspirational youngsters, wanted to leave. And that’s when the trouble began in Berlin – the hole in Stalin’s iron curtain.

At the end of the war, the Allies had blithely handed half of Germany (alongside whole countries like Poland, Britain’s original ally) to Russia, as a reward for fighting with them and Russia moved fast to impose communism. Up went the Iron Curtain - a Churchillian phrase but also an actual, barbed-wire-and-armed-guards border across Europe. The problem was that it broke in Berlin. Despite being deep into East Germany, the capital city had also been divided, and with no hard border. When young talent began to leave, seeking the freedom of the West, the authorities didn’t like it. A plan was hatched to close off the gap: the Berlin wall went up literally overnight in one of the most ruthless and invasive restrictions on civil liberty ever seen. I loved researching it and I loved writing about it.

My research was cemented in a fascinating trip to Berlin where I found out more about the differences between the darkly cool ‘Ossis’ and the brashly liberated ‘Wessis’. What I found is that, in the psyche of the city, divisions still linger. Locals still call anything stark or with poor customer service, ‘Ossi’. Recently there have been a number of writers pointing out that when East Germany was ‘freed’ by the fall of the Wall, it was assumed that everything of their previous life had been terrible and no one wanted to be Ossi any more. Their life was wiped out and their identity with it. There is a current move to reaffirm the more positive aspects of DDR-life and I hope Pippa and Olivia’s story in The Midwife of Berlin, although not shying from the horrors of the Wall and the divisions that led to it, helps to show that.


bottom of page