Sunday, December 5, 2021

Interview With WWII Survivor Author Giselle Roeder


1. What motivated you to write your book, to force you from taking an idea or experience and turning it into this book?

I was one of the speakers at a Remembrance Day celebration of my Probus Club, talking about my experiences during WW II. I learned early NEVER to talk about anything said at home – or "they would come and take your Daddy away." He let me listen with him to the late-night speeches of Churchill. With a great memory, I recalled the bombing nights of Berlin. We would lie in a ditch and watch the loaded planes head over our mill hill, turning the night sky red. We tried to count the 'Christmas Trees' – the phosphor bombs dancing above us. After unloading their deadly cargo only about 50 kilometres from us, the planes came back. I told about the invasion of the Russian Army, the rapes, the murders, the atrocities, homelessness, lice and starvation. After my talk, the group of over one hundred people exploded, screaming, "Do you have a book?" -
 "No, I don't have a book."
"Then write one." After heavy coaxing for several weeks, I finally did. And so "We Don't Talk about That" was born. 

2. What is it about, and who is it for?

Everybody wants to know more about what happens to ordinary people in wartime, especially WW II, how life from relative peace in a tranquil setting turns into a nightmare. Political oppression and the bombing of Germany got worse during 1943/1944. With my dad, I listened to the late-night speeches of Churchill on the BBC radio. It was verboten – if the fanatic Hitler Youth had found out, we would be dead. There were nightly alarms. The bombers would fly low. Once, a stray bomb fell into a duck pond, many dead ducks and rats the next day, an unexploded bomb but no water. A plane crashed a few hundred metres from us. Hitler still talked about 'Wunderwaffen,' but everybody knew the war was lost.

Talking about it would have been a death sentence. East Prussians came in covered wagons or by foot when their horses had died, starved or confiscated by the Nazi army. People who died were left where it happened. They told horror stories about the Russian Army. Many people slept in barns, thankful for a roof over their heads. Women worked their farms since only very young boys or disabled WWI veterans were left. The mighty Russian Army fought the last remaining Germans a few kilometres from us. Deserters were shot. Three days after my 11th birthday at the end of January 1945, the Red Cross turned our school into a hospital. It filled up with many wounded. Then the endless rows of Russian tanks and trucks with red flying flags entered our village. What happened during that and the next few days was gruesome. They took my dad and all healthy people from 16 – 60 to Siberia.

The next ten years of my life were similar to what we see on television right now regarding the thousands of people fleeing with just the cloth on their back. We lived through the same as millions of Germans were expelled from the eastern part of Germany. Ten minutes to get out of our house and three weeks on the road with no food, no water, a baby slowly fading from life. Then, walking along next to the Russian war machinery on their way to Berlin and victory.

We settled in a village where newcomers were not wanted. The aftermath of WW II is hardly known in detail: The establishment of West Germany and the German Democratic Republic with new money. Life in the two Germanys couldn't have been more different. Sweden tried to help with a typhoid fever epidemy, many people died. We lived one day at a time. Hard to get an education. 

The third part of my book, my next ten years, deals with my escape from East to West Germany. Life in the west looked so great, seeing it from the east! Unfortunately, my education was 'nil' – I had to start all over and not easy to deal with being a second-class citizen. An unwanted affair with a person in power almost drove me to suicide.  

3. What takeaways might the reader be left with after reading it? 
 They learn about survival. They learn about history. One of my many reviewers stated, "This book is more of a history than a memoir. People who did not experience WW II or any war should read it, learn how war affects innocent, ordinary people. The generations who grew up after WW II have no idea what their elders went through. And most of the elders "don't want to talk about it." So the reader will attain knowledge and learn of history never taught in school and the thought of how lucky they were, thankful for not having been exposed to the trauma of that war. 

4. How did you decide on your book's title and cover design? 
Attending a memoir writing class offered by the university, I met a 78-year-old lady of German origin. I asked her what she knew of WWII. She shook her head and stated, "My parents told me we never talk about that." After her comment, I knew THIS WAS THE PERFECT TITLE. I heard the same answer from my aunts when I asked if they were raped. Nobody of a certain age in Germany would tell me anything. I had to rely on my own experience and memories. They are embedded in my brain; I can't forget – no matter how hard I try. The cover design? I remembered a photograph in an album. Someone had asked about those memories at a New Years' party in Bavaria, and I, unconscious of it, held my hand over my face and said, "I don't want to talk about that." The picture was perfect for my cover. 

5. What advice or words of wisdom do you have for fellow writers? 
Write what you know. Even in fiction – base it on something you experienced. Don't worry about grammatical mistakes, don't constantly rewrite paragraphs, finish the first draft, and only then start editing. 

6. What trends in the book world do you see – and where do you think the book publishing industry is heading? 
More writers will self-publish since agents are hard to find. Getting a traditional publisher might take years. As a result, thousands of self-published books flood the market – especially now since the Covid virus keeps people at home. In addition, people seem to read more digital books. Audio-book sales are also on the rise. However, printed books will still be in demand, especially by universities, students and libraries. Also, people who like 'the real thing.' 

7. What challenges did you overcome to write this book? 

It was hard to get "into the meat of the matter" – to tell of the horror I saw as a child, to be honest, and not avoid the truth. I had nightmares, was screaming, and my husband had to wake me up. It was almost the reason to quit. Another challenge was to overcome embarrassment when writing about my stalker and sexual abuse. I felt naked when the book was out and people, who read it, were looking at me when asking questions.  

8. How would you describe your writing style? 
I'm a good storyteller. People get hooked during my many talks to clubs, groups, or interviews on radio or television. However, one reviewer has complained I write like a journalist, without personal feeling. I would argue it - that is not entirely true. But, certain parts I could not have written about distancing myself somewhat. 

9. If people can buy or read one book this week or month, why should it be yours? 
With the present situation in the world and many people on the move with just what they can carry and no idea where to go to find refuge, my book will give the reader an idea of what these present emigrants go through. Besides, despite everything, my book is entertaining and, without effort, helps to understand the unwritten history of WW II and its aftermath. It is enlightening - it makes you laugh and makes you cry, and when you finish it, you feel enriched and fortunate.

The book is available in print or digital on Amazon and all known online outlets.

About the Author: Born in 1934, I grew up in a small farmers' village – far away from the problems in big cities and the rise of Adolf Hitler. I practically lived in three Germanys experiencing three different political systems: As a child, my first ten years under Nazi rule – the next ten years growing up to be a teenager in communist East Germany.  Not long after graduating to be a Physical Education teacher, I had to escape. I lived another ten years in the 'golden west, starting from scratch as my education was not realized. Life as a second-class citizen in the 'golden west' wasn't so golden after all. The day came when I had only one wish: To get out of Germany, to go far away. It led to my emigration to Canada in 1963, where I have lived ever since.   For more information, please see:

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