Ernest Wertheim’s Memoir Is An Action-Packed Account Of His Life In WWII Germany And Beyond [Book Review]

Ernst Wortheim July 2015 Chasing Spring by Ernest WertheimErnest Wertheim has never retired, and at 95, it doesn’t look like he has any desire to do so. You will see him at just about every major garden retail industry event, sitting near the front in his suit and tie, paying exacting attention to what is being said and stirring the pot by challenging others around him to rethink their approach to retailing, merchandising, and store design.

He has a strong character, which hasn’t softened much with age. On retail tours, many want to find out which bus he’s on (it’s usually the first), either so they can be on it and learn from the critiques he’ll give, or to avoid him so they don’t end up on the other side of a debate.

Those who are closest to him know of his compassion and dedication. He’s tough when he sees practices he thinks are inept, and frank in his opinions, even if they’re unflattering. But he also has a deep sense of loyalty and he refuses to use his experiences in Germany as an excuse for bitterness and turning the prejudice he experienced on others.

Because of all this, many people feel like they know him. His new book, Chasing Spring, will prove most wrong.

Wertheim in 1941, taken by his future wife, Margit.
Ernest Wertheim in 1941, taken by his future wife, Margit.

The memoir mainly focuses on his life during his teens and twenties, during which he lived in Nazi Germany, immigrated to the U.S., fell in love with his wife, Margit (they recently celebrated their 73rd anniversary) and joined the U.S. Army, and then became an intelligence officer. Chasing Spring illustrates all the personality traits we all know well, but in a softer form. His innate honesty shows in his nuanced descriptions of those closest to him. His sharp mind is on display more subtly, shown by how others placed great responsibility on his young shoulders.

These characteristics offer readers an anchor that will help them experience a vivid recount of a remarkable life. His writing style, with the help of Oakland, Calif. writer Linda Hamilton, pulls you into the story and keeps you fully engaged. I found myself reading passages to whoever was around me, something I do with only my favorite books.

Until a few years ago, Wertheim never spoke of his past.

“Most people that served in combat did not wish to talk about things,” Wertheim said during an interview in April. “This was true in my work, because some things were classified and confidential, so we just did not talk about it.”

But with this memoir, the silence is broken. Here are just a few highlights from his life that stood out for me:

  • His accounts of his wife Margit. Her strong personality, her confidence, and how much he admired her for those characteristics.
  • The horror of what he experienced in Germany — Kristallnacht; his father’s kidnapping; his father’s arrest; the corrupt guards near the border.
  • Amazing tales of his witnessing Adolf Hitler’s headquarters (and bunker) being built; being recruited by the famous Pastor Neimöller to help Jews escape into Czechoslovakia (which is when he learned to ski); rescuing his father from a concentration camp by using Heinrich Himmler’s car; becoming an intelligence agent for Douglas MacArthur; hiring Ansel Adams to photograph his landscape design flier after the war.
  • The unique perspective of World War II. Most stories we read of the war are either from an omniscient point of view (a historian who reports on many aspects of the war) or a narrow, first-person view. Wertheim’s account brings those two perspectives together. As an intelligence agent, he executed a variety of missions. So his recounting of the war swings from bombing missions to sneaking onto Luzon, an island in the Philippines, to rendezvous with guerrilla groups via submarine, to being part of the invasion force retaking Luzon, to wandering through jungles to recruit native tribes, some that were headhunters and cannibals.

In short, Chasing Spring is a page-turner and unexpectedly exciting, considering it’s a memoir of someone we know.

You can buy Chasing Spring in either black and white or in full color.
• Black/white: Lulu.com.
• Color: Contact Jacquie Courtwright
(who owns Alden Lane Nursery) at
925-447-0280 or [email protected].

Read all our coverage of Ernest Wertheim’s memoir:

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