5* for How Languages Saved Me
I’m adding How Languages Saved Me: A Polish Story of Survival to my top books about WWII and the Holocaust – gave it 5*. You can find other top-rated memoirs and novels in this history genre in my post: Top 8 books of WWII and the Holocaust: 2020.
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2020: The year of remembrance and never forget – 75th anniversary of the liberation of concentration camps
This year, 2020, marks the 75th anniversary of the liberation of many concentration camps. This milestone anniversary is especially meaningful for our family as my husband’s grandfather was a concentration camp survivor (Mauthausen and Ebensee concentration camps). You can read more about Jean-Pierre Kolbach and the discoveries we’ve learned while honoring his legacy as well as those who died, others who survived and those who rescued him.
How Languages Saved Me – a WWII story that needed to be told in a survivor’s words
In this memoir, How Languages Saved Me: A Polish Story of Survival, Tadeusz (Tad) Haska, a non-Jewish Pole, says his education and ability to speak nine different languages are what rescued him from the horrors of the Holocaust, World War II, the Nazis and the Soviet occupation.
Haska started writing his memoir in the 1990s, but had not finished it when he passed away in 2012. His granddaughter, Stefanie Naumann, completed his story in his own words by referencing recordings, journals and letters he had written.
How languages saved me: A Polish Story of Survival is a story that needed to be told. “…I believe that preserving eyewitness accounts is critical to learning about World War II and its effects on civilians,” Naumann writes in the introduction. She also says it was an opportunity to honor her Polish heritage.
Non-Jewish Poles targeted during the Holocaust
Although Haska was a non-Jewish Pole, he was targeted by the Nazis because he was educated. He recounts where he was arrested at school by the Germans, but then released. And later learned that the Nazis had gathered 25 other university students and sent them to a firing squad simply because they were educated. He only escaped death because the German colonel said Haska reminded him of his own son. Later Haska writes, “I had to remove my glasses to disguise my education. Otherwise I would immediately have been shot.”
In this remarkable tale of survival, Haska shares how knowing nine different languages allowed him to translate German newspapers to farmers, job instructions to French prisoners of war, and even allowed him to impersonate a German sometimes. His ability to speak other languages also helped him escape a Soviet Secret Police jail.
After World War II – a Polish immigrant’s story
Haska and his wife eventually immigrated to the United States where he earned his Ph.D. at the University of California, Berkeley – a doctorate’s degree in Linguistics in his ninth language, English. He then taught and served as chair in the Polish department at the Defense Language Institute in Monterey, Calif. For 35 years.
It was not an easy path, but Haska’s optimism and resilience led him to eventually live a life of gratitude. Even when he took a job as a hog catcher after the end of the war, Haska saw it as a gift and opportunity. He wrote in a letter to his wife, “Don’t be embarrassed that your husband is currently doing this job. It will be different soon. Man needs to experience many things in his life. Good things and bad things…Sometimes life brings you these things. It is all really nothing; it will pass.”
You’ll find more of these inspiring messages of positivity throughout Haska’s memoir, How Languages Saved My Life: A Polish Story of Survival.”
A special thank you to Haska’s granddaughter, Stefanie Naumann, and Smith Publicity for providing a complimentary copy of this memoir in exchange for an honest review.