In this illuminating and deeply moving memoir, a former American military intelligence officer goes beyond traditional Cold War espionage tales to tell the true story of her family--of five women separated by the Iron Curtain for more than forty years, and their miraculous reunion after the fall of the Berlin Wall. Forty Autumns makes visceral the pain and longing of one family forced to live apart in a world divided by two. At twenty, Hanna escaped from East to West Germany. But the price of freedom--leaving behind her parents, eight siblings, and family home--was heartbreaking. Uprooted, Hanna eventually moved to America, where she settled down with her husband and had children of her own. Growing up near Washington, D.C., Hanna's daughter, Nina Willner became the first female Army Intelligence Officer to lead sensitive intelligence operations in East Berlin at the height of the Cold War. Though only a few miles separated American Nina and her German relatives--grandmother Oma, Aunt Heidi, and cousin, Cordula, a member of the East German Olympic training team--a bitter political war kept them apart. In Forty Autumns , Nina recounts her family's story--five ordinary lives buffeted by circumstances beyond their control. She takes us deep into the tumultuous and terrifying world of East Germany under Communist rule, revealing both the cruel reality her relatives endured and her own experiences as an intelligence officer, running secret operations behind the Berlin Wall that put her life at risk. A personal look at a tenuous era that divided a city and a nation, and continues to haunt us, Forty Autumns is an intimate and beautifully written story of courage, resilience, and love--of five women whose spirits could not be broken, and who fought to preserve what matters most: family. Forty Autumns is illustrated with dozens of black-and-white and color photographs.
From the Back Cover
Growing up in a provincial village outside of Berlin, Hanna was encouraged by her schoolteacher father to follow her dreams. But at the end of World War II, the Soviets took control of the eastern part of Germany and established a repressive communist state--East Germany--which used brutal force and a massive wall to cut off East from West. Determined to live free, Hanna made a dangerous escape to West Germany. But the price of freedom--leaving behind her parents, her eight siblings, and her home--was heartbreaking. Uprooted, Hanna eventually moved to America, where she settled down with her husband, a U.S. Army officer, and had children of her own, but she never forgot her parents and siblings trapped on the other side of the Berlin Wall. Growing up near Washington, D.C., Hanna's daughter, Nina Willner, became the first female U.S. Army intelligence officer to lead sensitive intelligence collection operations in East Berlin at the height of the Cold War. Though separated by only a few miles, American Nina and her German relatives were kept apart, leaving a family divided for more than four decades by a bitter political war. Nina takes us deep into the tumultuous and terrifying world of East Germany under communist rule, revealing both the harsh reality her relatives endured and her experiences as an intelligence officer running secret operations behind the Berlin Wall that put her life at risk.