I’m excited to introduce Dr. Margaret Baacke as our visiting author today. Dr. Baacke’s debut book, a memoir, took her ten years to complete. Tainted Blood?: Memoirs of a Part-Jewish Girl in the Third Reich 1933-1945 tells not only her experiences, but brings to life a crucial time period in world history.
SFH: Dr. Baacke, Tell us about your book.
Baacke: My twin brother and I were born in Berlin at the height of the German inflation, l923. To have twins when the Reichsmark was devalued about every two hours was exceedingly difficult, but I think my father, a lawyer, had a client who could pay with some foreign currency which helped greatly.
In Tainted Blood? I briefly describe the inflation, our school years and our 2 years in the Hitler Youth which we entered in l936, unaware of the fact that we had a Jewish grandmother, which made us Mischlinge of the 2nd degree and led to our expulsion.
Hans was conscripted to the Wehrmacht, fought 3 years in Russia, was wounded twice and in January l945 was marched by the Russians from the Berlin hospital to a P.O.W. camp in Russia.
I left high school with an intermediary degree, took a one year course in a business school and then worked in a music publishing house in Berlin. When the work became too boring, I took courses at night school for the Abitur (high school graduation) amidst frequent air raids and air bombardments. Instead of pursuing my goal of becoming a student of psychology at Berlin university I was drafted into one year of mandatory Labor Service and War Auxiliary Service, followed by mandatory work in Berlin, first in the SS office where a few years earlier the Jewish Question, i.e. "The Final Solution" was debated and settled, and where I was unacceptable. Then I had to work as a street car conductor.
The doctor for whom I had taken tests with brain-injured patients in Berlin's War Auxiliary Service called me to East Prussia to continue this work in a Luftwaffe hospital. That was in July l945, half a year before we had to flee the approaching Red Army. It was the boat's last rescue trip before it was torpedoed by a Russian submarine. We, the patients and staff of the hospital, got safely to Wittingen, a small town near Hanover, where we experienced the peaceful take-over by the US Army on Friday, April l3, l945.
SFH: What made you decide to write about your life?
Baacke: While teaching German in several American Colleges and Universities, I often talked about life in Nazi Germany. A Sociology
colleague asked me for an oral history/biography, and after many sessions and many tapes I decided to write this memoir after my retirement.
SFH: What made you decide to go with AuthorHouse to publish Tainted Blood?
Baacke: After some research I was convinced that AuthorHouse in Bloomington, Indiana with thousands of published books, the promise of guiding the author in the publishing process, and offering a discount was the best choice.
Unfortunately, there were a lot of disappointments: I ended up doing my own book cover with the help of a graphic artist friend and there were long delays in correspondence, mistakes in publication materials and little substantial help in publicity.
The bright spot of my experience was my author representative, Vid Beldavs. He is a refugee from Lithuania who was on the same boat fleeing from the approaching Soviet Army. He was then a 1 year old boy who, with his mother and an older brother spent the 3-4 days on the open deck in the ice cold and stormy January weather.
SFH: What kind of research did you do?
Baacke: The research was connected to my work. I taught a course in German History and German Civilization and researched a fairly large number of books and the internet (then and later). But much of the memoir's content I got from my own life and my (and my family's) experiences in Germany.
SFH: Was the work daunting?
Baacke: Yes and no. Yes, because all my own materials were in German and because German is my first language. I don't have the same doubts in German that I sometimes have in English, about certain prepositions, idiomatic expressions etc. Writing this book in German would probably have taken half the time. Vocabulary questions were particularly troubling concerning typical Nazi expressions. I was very grateful for the English translation of the Encyclopedia of the Third Reich by Christian Zentner and Friedemann Bedürftig.
I also was plagued by doubts if I could write about Hitler Germany in a somewhat positive manner, the way I had experienced the Hitler Youth and some aspects of the war, all tainted by the love for my country. So many negative and deeply troubling true things are said about Germany that I sometimes doubted my own experiences which might look like whitewashing Germany's gilt. That's why I repeatedly inserted the comment that we were learning this and that later, so that people wouldn't think I'm still a Nazi (as some of the members of my writer's group assumed when I used the voice of my youth without inserting this comment).
On the other hand, working on Tainted Blood? was not daunting, because I loved to go over some of the materials: the letters (my own and those of my family), read up more about Germany's recent past and stay connected with some of the good times of my youth. Even the hard times have lost their sting now that they are passed. And writing in general was fun, I loved to pound away on the computer and see things taking shape that I was not sure I could express at all.
SFH: Did you work with an editor?
Baacke: My first editor was a good friend of mine who has become a writer herself now. She helped me greatly with style and composition, though she now doesn't consider herself perfect. When she had to have an operation, I asked another friend in my community who is highly intelligent and has done a lot of writing and editing herself to finish the job. The problem was that she and I got tired of it and wanted the book out of the way, so we got a bit careless and did not go over the ms. one last time after the corrections. I had to scrutinize 3 or 4 galleys with diminishing amounts of mistakes, but still mistakes. I also discovered that some sentences even paragraphs had disappeared, had--incredibly--been swallowed up by my computer.
SFH: Considering the setbacks and the disappointment with your publisher, are you contemplating another writing project?
Baacke: Yes, I am planning to write a follow-up about "Life in a Defeated, (Devastated), Divided, Dismantled Germany after 1945." (The 4 D's seem a bit too much) That'll be the title of my book and it will include some of my impressions of America after my emigration in l953.
Thank you very much, Dr. Baacke. Your next book sounds like it will be as interesting as Tainted Blood?. It’s fascinating to read not only an historical account, but to have the first-hand memories and perspective to go along with the facts.
You can find out more about Margaret Baacke (known to her friends as Gretel), at her AuthorHouse page, where you can also read a brief preview, watch a video of Gretel talking about Tainted Blood?, and buy the book. If you have questions or comments for Gretel, post them here in the comments section.
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