The first time I heard about this book, I was struck by how much it sounded like my own family. Neumann grew up in Venezuela, but her father was born in Czechoslovakia. He survived the Holocaust but never talked about it, and she grew up not knowing any of his family, except for her father’s brother.
My own father’s story is a bit different, mainly because he was a young boy when he escaped Czechoslovakia. He went to Israel, not Venezuela, and unlike Ariana Neumann, I always knew I was Jewish. I was raised knowing that the Holocaust is something that needs to be understood and remembered. But I also grew up, like Neumann, feeling like there were things I shouldn’t ask my father about – or maybe things I just wasn’t ready to know about.
This book was fascinating, and disturbing as well, because I related to it so much. I’ve spent years studying my family’s history, but I’ve always held back a bit, maybe not wanting to know more. I see my ancestors as names and dates on a page, but Neumann goes so much farther and learns so much more about her family and where she comes from. I can’t tell you how much I respect that. Of course, Neumann’s research was helped quite a bit by the fact that her father left her a box of documents upon his death, and a written description of his experiences. This book clearly would not have been possible without the evidence he provided.
A lot of family research can be very dry, focused on facts and dates. Neumann’s book isn’t at all dry. While everything in the story is grounded in evidence, Neumann concentrates on what is known about the personalities of her father, her uncle and grandparents, which makes this book not only informative but also moving.
“Reading his words, I was sad for the person who my father had been, the shambolic poet, the prankster, the unfortunate boy whose heart had been shattered. I cried on reading the gentle voice of that grieving young man, little more than a child. I now recognized that twenty-four-year-old in my father, still just discernible among the resolute pronouncements of the hardened man I had thought I knew.”When Time Stopped by Ariana Neumann
I also appreciated that this book taught me quite a bit about what happened in Czechoslovakia between 1941 and 1945. I’ve read a lot about the Holocaust but not about Prague specifically. While my father’s family was in a different area (now Slovakia), the events described in this book would have affected them as well. For example, most Czechoslovakian Jews were transported to Terezin, a labor camp, before they were put on trains to concentration camps. And I believe most of my fathers aunts and uncles shared that fate.
This book inspired me to deepen my family research, and to do more to research my Slovakian roots. I’ve already put in some requests at the U.S. Holocaust Museum, and I hope to hire a researcher at some point as Neumann did, to learn more about what happened to my father’s relatives. I highly recommend this book to anyone interested in family research and particularly the Holocaust.