Booktopia would not be what it is today if it wasn’t for Peter Nash, the author of Escape from Berlin. Peter is the father of Tony, Simon and Elana. He is also the father-in-law of Steve. The founders of Booktopia.
In Escape From Berlin, Peter, a Holocaust survivor, tells his compelling family story of escape to Shanghai prior to WWII, survival during the Pacific War, and then settling in Australia. Peter now answers some questions about his book.
1. Peter, you’ve just published your fascinating memoir, Escape from Berlin. What were the initial challenges you faced writing this book?
Deciding what the overall theme of my story would be. For me, it was my family’s history. Less than 50% of people know who is on their family trees. This is because it can take a lot of time to research. Once this hurdle is overcome and the person’s origins and dates are known, the narrative will flow.
2. How did you get started?
I’ve spent many years, three decades in fact, building my family trees. I’ve done this by researching the names that belong on my trees. Finding which people belong on your tree can be a challenge, but when you find these names, it invariably comes with surprises and often joy too.
3. Did you have to do much research?
Yes, because one’s origins focuses on the date and location of birth, descendants, and the regional history that transpired at this time. If there were world-changing events such as wars and migration (forced or unforced), they may have impacted on living conditions, occupations, and more.
4. How did memory affect you?
I had no memories of how I lived earlier than the age of 8 or 9. I only became aware of my earlier life in letters that had been retained from my parents and other family members.
5. Where should one look for family documents?
In national archives, such as the National Archives of Australia in Canberra, and similarly in other countries. The archives at the Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter-day Saints (Mormons) in Salt Lake City, USA, have the highest number of records in the world. These can provide unknown facts with respect to arrivals, origins, ages or sponsor’s names of family members or friends.
6. It must get very complicated…
It can. Travelling to towns in countries of family origins can reveal other vital records not previously obtained. It can also connect you with known living family, or uncover previously unknown living family members. Either can provide further significant unknown family history.
7. And how did you go about framing the narrative?
I framed where my parents and other close family lived such as, Germany (pre-WWII), Germany’s WWII occupied territories, Shanghai (pre- and post-Pacific War), and Australia. I also framed the impact of the Holocaust on family lost and family found. The names on my four family trees are marked by the Star of David to highlight a Holocaust victim.
8. So you took a psychological approach, too?
Obstacles in life may not be apparent until years later. For example, I felt isolated, perhaps as an only child with no cousins, and I had difficulty in making friends in my growing-up years. This then affected my social behaviour.
I also struggled with my inner identity and this impacted my self-esteem.
9. So you needed to examine internal motivations, what about external forces?
Success in sport was my ego-boost. Life-changing events such as marriage followed by the birth of children immediately redirects previous goals. Decisions on day-to-day life are constant and produce a variety of implications which further define life’s directions and obligations. The education of one’s children not only benefits them, but also imposes actions or behaviour by one or both parents. These events are part of the parent’s and the child’s story.
10. Any advice for those taking on the challenge of a memoir later in life?
Writing one’s story can impose technological challenges for which help may be required – as I found it to be.
11. Any things you learnt going through the publishing process?
Photos and documents, if available, add confirmation, reality, and a visual impact on the narrative, especially if sources are known and quoted. Historical sources, if used, should be quoted in a bibliography.
12. Last tip?
A dictionary is essential!
Thank you, Peter!
Escape from Berlin
A Refugee Flees Anti-Semitism and the Holocaust of WWII to Shanghai and then Australia
A Holocaust survivor tells his compelling family story of escape and survival in China and Australia during WWII.
Living in Berlin in 1939, three-year-old Peter Nachemstein and his parents were forced to escape Nazi Germany by fleeing to Shanghai – one of the only havens left for them and 18,000 other European Jews. Although safe, they became displaced and isolated from the rest of their family, who were scattered across Europe...