tower
Five Years Behind
Hitler's Barbed Wire

barbed wire
edited by Jacqueline Collins

Frequently Asked Questions

How did you know about the diary?

My father was a POW in Oflag XVIIA and a publisher in civilian life. After his return in 1945 he published the diary and a few other books about the camp. When I emigrated to the U.S., he insisted that I take them with me.

What prompted you to translate the diary?

When I began planning for my retirement, I remembered that I had the diary. I am not sure whether I had read it as a child, but sixty years later I thought I would enjoy translating it. It seemed that it would be an interesting project for retirement.

Why did you decide to expand it with some research?

I found the diary fascinating and there seemed to be so many secrets behind the entries. To begin with, whoever was recognized was named only by their initials. There was a great deal of inside lingo and references to their own community of POWs, which were known only to them. Above all, I was amazed by what they accomplished considering their circumstances. How did they do it? What help did they get? It did not happen haphazardly, but obviously was organized behind the scene. It piqued my interest and my research became a passionate endeavor.

What are the resources for POW camps?

A number of documents, stories, and books have come out in the last few years, but they were scarce when I began ten years ago, particularly for POW camps in Germany, very different from the concentration camps which have been well documented. Because of the cultural aspect of the diary, I drew on my French growing-up experience and recognized a few tidbits, names, people and places, mentioned by my father when I read about them. But most of all, it became the joy and gratification of going from one clue to another, sometimes remembering innocuous details for which an explanation surfaced later. Another unexpected element were the diary’s entries of the battles from 1941 to 1944, which prompted me to look for the historical background of the war in the Middle East and North Africa, stories which are just beginning to be told.

Did your father talk about his captivity?

As mentioned above, he just mentioned a few people and places in passing. Generally, it was a painful (demeaning) experience, which everyone pushed away and wanted to forget. The men, however, often kept the few things they had brought back, and not completely forgotten put them in the attic with the hope that, in some ways, future generations would find them.

Where did you live during the war?

My mother and I live mostly in Paris, except when we left for Normandy in March 1940 and a few months later when the Germans entered France from the north we went south of the Loire Valley. We left Paris again in 1944 when the Normandy landing seemed imminent and went south of Paris.

What do you remember most of that time?

When we returned to Paris, a few months after the Germans occupied it in 1940, my mother was very much afraid that the Germans had taken over our apartment. I remember quite vividly walking with her toward our street, a broad boulevard, and standing directly across from apartment building we looked for the seventh floor’s windows of the apartment, trying to see whether it was occupied. To this day, I remember my anxiety of the possibility of losing my home. We did not see any signs of life, so we carefully went up the stairs and opened the door. Fortunately, the apartment was empty.

When did you know where your father was?

We learned about it in the late fall 1940.

How long have you been writing?

For over thirty years, but until this book, it was mostly academic papers and weekly sermons. In the last ten years, I have worked consistently to change my writing to a more descriptive and narrative style.

Why do you write?

It is an act of creation which has for me a spiritual dimension, a sense of limitless possibilities, expressed in words that strive to convey what is meaningful in human life. Writing, for me, is a source of energy.