When Norman Eisen moved into the US ambassador's residence in Prague, returning to the land his mother had fled after the Holocaust, he was startled to discover swastikas hidden beneath the furniture.
From that discovery unspooled the captivating, twisting tale of the remarkable people who lived in the house before Eisen. Their story is Europe's, telling the dramatic and surprisingly cyclical tale of the endurance of liberal democracy: the optimistic Jewish financial baron who built the palace; the conflicted Nazi general who put his life at risk for the house during World War II; the first postwar US ambassador struggling to save both the palace and Prague from communist hands; the child star- turned-diplomat who fought to end totalitarianism; and Eisen's own mother, whose life demonstrates how those without power and privilege moved through history.
The Last Palace chronicles the upheavals that have transformed the continent over the past century and reveals how we never live far from the past.
In this engrossing tale by Eisen, former U.S. ambassador to the Czech Republic, the changes of 20th-century Europe are illuminated by the stories of one historic Prague building, some of its notable residents, and the author's mother, a feisty Holocaust survivor. When Eisen, appointed to his post by President Obama, moved in 2011 into the palace of the title, now the U.S. ambassador's residence, he was intrigued by a Nazi label on an antique table. What, he wondered, was the true story of the mansion, constructed between the world wars by Jewish coal magnate and banker Otto Petschek as an homage to European culture? Eisen's nonagenarian mother, Frieda Grunfeld Eisen, wasn't surprised by his finding; she survived Auschwitz, only to flee her Czech homeland as the Communists consolidated power after the war. Eisen interweaves Frieda's story with those of Petschek and his family; Rudolf Toussaint, the conflicted German colonel who lived in the palace during the Nazi occupation; Lawrence Steinhardt, the U.S. ambassador who kept it out of Communist hands; and Shirley Temple Black, who, as ambassador beginning in the late 1980s, witnessed the end of communism. Together their stories illuminate the ebb and flow of totalitarianism, painting a picture both hopeful and disheartening. This action-packed yet lyrically written page-turner confers a fascinating human understanding of Europe's past and present.