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IRDA Winning Author Stefanie Naumann: “[My grandfather] immigrated to the U.S. because he fiercely believed in independence + the voice of the people being heard…”


How Languages Saved Me: A Polish Story of Survival was the winner in the History category of the 2020 IndieReader Discovery Awards, where undiscovered talent meets people with the power to make a difference.

Following find an interview with author Stefanie Naumann, who wrote the book with her late grandfather, Tadeusz Haska.

What is the name of the book and when was it published?

How Languages Saved Me: A Polish Story of Survival is a book that I co-authored with my late grandfather. It was published by Köehler Books in September 2019.

What’s the book’s first line?

Nobody believes me, but I can remember being about six months old when there was a family gathering of some kind at our home, and I was set on a buffet.

What’s the book about? Give us the “pitch”.

Orphaned in Poland at the age of thirteen, Tadeusz “Tad” Haska survived World War II on the run, escaped jail by the Soviet Secret Police, and launched an elaborate plan to smuggle his wife in a coffin on an all-male ship. Discover how Tad’s knowledge of nine languages helped him survive in the face of unspeakable adversity.

What inspired you to write the book? A particular person? An event?

I grew up hearing countless people tell my grandfather that his life story must be recorded. As a kid, I remember noticing him tell his story at social gatherings, and whoever was listening would keep asking questions for hours on end. Many of these conversations ended with his documenting his evidence that there were two centers of the universe—the United States and Poland! In the 1990s my grandpa started writing his memoir but hadn’t quite finished it at the time of his passing in 2012. A few years later, while cleaning out the garage, I found boxes of journals, letters, and audio and video recordings of my grandpa being interviewed about his life. I realized then that I had enough information there to fulfill my grandpa’s dream of finishing his book.

What’s the most distinctive thing about the main character? Who-real or fictional-would you say the character reminds you of?

My grandfather always reminded me of Mr. Rogers (a.k.a. Fred Rogers of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood). He never gave up on people, and was the kindest, most patient man I ever knew. He would not tolerate any kind of prejudice or hatred. He was so dignified that he would put on a jacket just to answer the front door, and would greet an older lady by kissing her hand. But reading his journals, letters, and interviews about his younger years made me see a completely different side of him.  I discovered that, as a young man, he was extremely resourceful, resilient, and deeply committed to protecting his family. He and my grandmother immigrated to the U.S. because he fiercely believed in independence and the voice of the people being heard in government.

What’s the main reason someone should really read this book?

Eyewitness accounts are critical to learning from history. I hope this book inspires people to record their own family’s story.