Novel PASTimes: Thanks for joining us, Hanna. Your work as an archaeologist is very intriguing . . .
Hanna: I’ve always enjoyed learning about the past and preserving artifacts for the future. Sadly, my career as an archaeologist was put on hold in 1940 due to the changes in my organization. Under Heinrich Himmler and the Third Reich, women are no longer allowed to work for the Ahnenerbe.
Novel PASTimes: I’ve never heard of the Ahnenerbe.
Hanna: It’s difficult for me to talk about, as you can imagine, but it’s a research and teaching society of about fifty institutes that study the German heritage, including the Aryan people. Our group was moved under the umbrella of the powerful Schutzstaffel, otherwise known as the SS. Only men are allowed to study the German ancestry now.
Novel PASTimes: What have you been doing since you were released from the Ahnenerbe?
Hanna: You probably read about my recent marriage to an SS officer. That was one of the lowest seasons of my life. Then I’ve been sorting through the valuable collections of those who seem to have disappeared from Nuremberg. I’ve been curating their things and preserving the stories.
Novel PASTimes: What kind of stories?
Hanna: I’m afraid I can’t tell you about the stories. I shouldn’t have even mentioned them. It’s much too dangerous in Germany to talk of such things. Speaking the truth can get you shot or transported on the next train headed east, no matter who you’ve married.
Novel PASTimes: So your job has been taken away and you have been forced to marry an SS officer. Are you able to find any kind of happiness in your life?
Hanna: Well, it’s the strangest thing. I’ve never wanted to be a parent, but a little girl named Lilly has worked her way into my life. I’d do just about anything to protect her, especially from a monster like my husband.
Novel PASTimes: Why can’t you leave your husband?
Hanna: Kolman travels most of the time with the SS, but I can’t leave him without severe consequences for Lilly and me. He would be shocked to find out what Lilly and I are doing, what we are hiding, while he is gone.
Novel PASTimes: I’m very concerned about you, Hanna.
Hanna: Don’t worry about me, but please—I beg of you, of anyone who will listen—take care of Lilly when I’m gone.
Melanie Dobson is the award-winning author of more than twenty historical romance, suspense, and time-slip novels, including The Curator’s Daughter, which releases from Tyndale House Publishers in March 2021. Melanie is the former corporate publicity manager at Focus on the Family and owner of the publicity firm Dobson Media Group. When she isn’t writing, Melanie enjoys teaching both writing and public relations classes. Melanie and her husband, Jon, have two daughters and live near Portland, Oregon.
Welcome to Novel PASTimes! The job of a foreign correspondent is to report the news, not create it, but girl reporter Evelyn Brand is known for not following the rules. Today, Miss Brand is here to tell us about her shocking adventures in Hitler’s Germany, to be revealed in her much-anticipated book, coming in early 1939. Miss Brand, please tell the curious readers of Novel PASTimes how you came to be a correspondent in Germany.
Thank you for this interview. After I graduated from college, I did my stint at a copy desk at a major newspaper in New York City. Since I’ve always loved travel and adventure, I leapt at an opportunity to report in Paris with the American News Service. After two years, I was transferred to Germany.
There’s a story floating around among the correspondents about an incident in Paris. Would you care to elaborate?
That story will follow me forever. One of the French government ministers had banned female reporters from his press conferences. To say this inhibited my work is an understatement. How was I to write my assigned stories if I was banned from the main source of information? Never afraid to break the rules, I dressed up as a man, wearing a man’s suit with my hair pinned under a fedora. However, I failed to use enough pomade and pins. Early in the press conference, my curls began to spring out from under the fedora. I was expelled from the room, and I’ve been teased about the incident ever since. But would I do it again? In a heartbeat!
That leads us to your assignment to Munich. From what we’ve heard, you were less than pleased. Why is that?
Berlin is where everything happens in Germany. It’s where Hitler governs, where Goebbels gives his press conferences, where the generals and officials and everyone of importance works. Although Munich is beautiful and rich in culture, it seemed like a dead-end assignment for a correspondent.
Of course, that’s why my bureau chief wanted me there—to keep me out of trouble. He hoped to keep this “girl reporter” quiet covering “feminine” topics like concerts, Mother’s Day festivities, and interviewing American students at the University of Munich. Little did he know—
Before we proceed, that article on the American exchange students was my introduction to your writing. I was surprised to hear our “junior year abroad” students were having such an enjoyable experience in Nazi Germany.
That’s a common experience among American and British tourists and students in Germany. As much as it pains me to admit, Hitler’s harsh policies have brought security at home and low unemployment, even in the middle of the Great Depression. Clean streets, new roads, and new museums cause many to overlook the brutal oppression of the Nazi regime.
From what I understand, that particular assignment at the university led to an interesting personal development for you.
Yes, it introduced me to Peter Lang, an American graduate student teaching at the University of Munich, a man who became entwined in the adventure and danger of the past year. And—although I dread sounding coy—the rest of that story will be told in my book.
At least something interesting came out of your assignment to Munich.
Many interesting things. Little did my bureau chief know that being in Munich would give me a front-row seat for the most important events of 1938.
It has been a momentous year. Germany’s annexation of Austria, the Munich Conference, and Kristallnacht—and you were able to report on all of these. Which event was most important for your career?
That’s a hard question to answer. The annexation of Austria was the first solid news story I was able to write in Germany, the Munich Conference was definitely my break-out story, and Kristallnacht—well, I wasn’t able to report on it, but—
But you dread sounding coy, and it’ll be in your book. Yes, we understand. Are there any particular challenges you face as a girl reporter?
As a woman, I do face greater challenges in my job. My mentor, Mitch O’Hara, told me, “Your dues are twice as high as a man’s, and the penalties are twice as high as a man’s. It isn’t right, but that’s how it is.” If a man hunts down a lead, he’s called bold. I’m called pushy. If a man finds an unconventional way to get a story, he’s called clever. I’m scolded for breaking the rules.
However, I’ve found some advantages too. I’m forced to be more creative in seeking angles and sources, which has led to some interesting opportunities. Also, women are more likely to open up to me, and I’ve found some juicy story leads that way, like my scoop for the Munich Conference.
What other challenges did you find reporting in Nazi Germany?
When you’re raised in a nation with freedom of speech and freedom of the press, it can be difficult to learn how to report in a police state. Although the German government doesn’t directly censor our articles, they effectively do so. They read our outgoing mail and telegrams, and they confiscate any they don’t like. Most of us phone our articles in, but the Germans listen in on our calls. In addition, their embassy staff in the US reads our newspapers and reports back on unflattering articles. The German government has the right to expel foreign correspondents from the country, which can damage a reporter’s career.
Also, on occasion the Gestapo has tried to frame correspondents for espionage. Plus, we have to consider the safety of our informants, who risk their lives to bring us information. We walk a thin line between reporting the truth and endangering our own lives and the lives of brave men and women.
Thank you, Miss Brand. We’re all looking forward to your new book. After the tumult of 1938, here’s hoping your book is the most—and only—memorable event in 1939!
Sarah Sundin’s novels have received starred reviews from Booklist, Library Journal, and Publishers Weekly. The Sky Above Us received the Carol Award, her bestselling The Sea Before Us received the FHL Reader’s Choice Award, and both Through Waters Deep and When Tides Turn were named on Booklist’s “101 Best Romance Novels of the Last 10 Years.” Sarah lives in Northern California. Visit www.sarahsundin.com for more information.
The story begins in 2010 as Elise, a woman who is aware that Alzheimer’s is stealing her away, flies alone to find her childhood friend whom she just located thanks to a new iPad with internet. Elise and Mariko became friends during WWII at an internment camp, but this story is unlike any WWII novel I’ve read. As I was taken back to 1943, I learned a lot about these camps I never knew, including the fact that they housed German Americans along with Japanese (and even some Italians.) While the camps accommodated families and allowed the residents to continue observing their cultural heritage through foods, activities, and language classes, they were still terribly unfair, especially to the children like Elise and Mariko who were born Americans and knew very little about Japan and Germany.
The way Susan Meissner presented the older Elise and her determination despite the terrible disease she struggled with was expertly done. The mystery of why Mariko and Elise were separated and unable to connect before kept me turning pages. Elise is a character you root for as she had to endure so many relocations to unfamiliar places—and unsafe places her family returns to Germany in the last year of the war—and the questions she inevitably had about who she was and where she belonged. And you will still root for the older Elise as well who married in order to find that sense of belonging and ultimately discovered she had to establish it for herself.
I love historical novels that teach you history, and this one certainly does that. But in my opinion, this is one of the best Meissner novels yet. Highly recommended.
I received an advanced reader copy from the author and publisher for the purpose of review. I have given my honest opinions.
Susan Meissner is a USA Today bestselling author of historical fiction with more than half a million books in print in fifteen languages. She is an author, speaker and writing workshop leader with a background in community journalism. Her novels include As Bright as Heaven, starred review in Library Journal; Secrets of Charmed Life, a Goodreads finalist for Best Historical Fiction 2015; and A Fall of Marigolds, named to Booklist’s Top Ten Women’s Fiction titles for 2014. A California native, she attended Point Loma Nazarene University and is also a writing workshop volunteer for Words Alive, a San Diego non-profit dedicated to helping at-risk youth foster a love for reading and writing.
Thank you for doing this. It seems you have experienced a roller coaster ride of guilt, anger, fear, and redemption while having to deal with a treacherous Nazi regime. Because you and your family are Jewish you were deprived of careers/businesses, then property, basic rights, and ultimately, for many of them, their lives. I am sure many times you got a reprise from your music skills.
Elise Cooper: Why did you want to become a violinist?
Ada Baumgarten:I think it was always a given. My father was first chair for the Berlin Philharmonic. On my fifth birthday, he gave me a bench made violin, crafted by a one of Germany’s finest violin makers. My father taught me well and from then on, my dream was to play next to him in the orchestra.
EC: Do you harbor any hard feelings toward Wilhelm Furtwangler?
AB: None. Maestro Furtwangler was badly misunderstood and received unjust criticism after the war because he chose to stay in Germany with his orchestra, which had the collateral effect of lending cultural prestige to Hitler and Nazi Germany. But he was never a Nazi and he abhorred their policies. He stood up to Hitler and did his best to protect his Jewish players, including my father. In defiance of Goebbels and Hitler, he continued to conduct music from Jewish composers and he featured Jewish soloists. When my father was arrested during Kristallnacht, it was Furtwangler that contacted me and attempted to make arrangements for his rescue.
EC: What do you think of Rafael Schachter?
AB: He was a remarkable man. With an old piano, he found in a damp basement, he brought music to prisoners in the Theresienstadt concentration camp. He gave them pride and a purpose – a way to temporarily escape the dread of their confinement. He assembled and taught 160 inmates to perform the technically difficult Verdi Requiem by rote memory.
EC: Can you tell us about Hitler’s plot?
AB: In June 1944, Hitler devised a fraudulent plot to fool the International Red Cross. He boasted that Theresienstadt was a Jewish spa and invited them to inspect. The Nazis quickly beautified the camp and when the Red Cross came to inspect, Rafael’s chorus performed the Verdi Requiem. The prisoners proudly and loudly sang to the Red Cross and the Nazis. Their secret joy was that the Nazis didn’t understand the words that were sung in Latin. The inmates were singing words that condemned the Nazis on Judgment Day: “Day of wrath, day of wrath, when the wicked shall be judged!” Today we call that performance “The Defiant Requiem.”
EC: Did you ever fathom that the German people as a whole would turn their backs on the Jews who were their neighbors, friends, and business partners?
You were overheard saying “Perhaps the most hurtful and inimical result of the campaign as the pervasive acceptance of Nazi policies by German society…while the law did not require our non-Jewish friends to shun us, it became apparent they would no longer stand up for us.”
AB:In the years preceding the war, there was a much smaller Jewish presence in Italy. Forty thousand lived in Italy and five hundred thousand in Germany. Jews were prominent in prewar Germany in several disciplines: the arts, science, finance, medicine. Many middle-class Germans who had suffered during the severe depression years were resentful. Most importantly, Germany had Joseph Goebbels, Minister of Propaganda, a master at controlling the media and public opinion. As a result, the German people were manipulated into accepting, or ignoring their government’s policy of Jewish persecution. The Italian people did not harbor such prejudice and hatred.
EC: Do you wish your family had the foresight to get out sooner?
AB:Of course, but it’s a mistake to think that the failure of Jews to leave Europe was a lack of foresight. In many cases, they were trapped. Where could they go? Immigration visas were tight or non-existent. Borders were closed. And if we could leave, where do we resettle? How do you pick up and leave everything you know? No one anticipated extermination camps. In my family’s case, we could have resettled in another city with a new orchestra, but my father was loyal to his conductor.
EC: What was it like for you to have Hitler and Heydrich approach after your playing?
AB:I was young and conflicted. They were the two most powerful men in Germany and well-known music lovers. Heydrich was an accomplished violinist. To receive praise for my artistry was flattering for a teenageer, but I also realized that the compliments were coming from detestable human beings.
EC: What are your feelings for Kurt, your childhood friend who stayed a friend?
AB:I always loved Kurt. He was a good person. He never bought into the Nazi ideology. Like many boys growing up in Germany, he was forced to join the Hitler youth and ultimately the army. When the chips were on the table, he proved his goodness.
EC: Are you haunted, bitter, and angry for a life stolen from you as well as loved ones?
AB: As I wrote in my memoir, I have no regrets. I have led a rich and fortunate life. I played music on the finest stages beside the most gifted musicians. My family life was warm and satisfying. I am sad for what happened to my loved ones, but my life was not stolen.
Ronald H. Balson has also written Once We Were Brothers, Saving Sophie, Karolina’s Twins. As an attorney, the demands of his trial practice have taken him into courts across the United States and into international venues. During the early 2000s Ron spent time in Warsaw and southern Poland in connection with a complex telecommunications lawsuit. While in Poland Ron was profoundly moved by the scars and memorials of World War II, which inspired him to write Once We Were Brothers, his first novel. Inspiration for his other novels were provided by his extensive travels to Israel and the Middle East. He also has been inspired by talking with, and meeting Holocaust survivors.