Improbable Memoirs, a new imprint of the North Carolina-based small press, Improbable Books, is pleased to announce publication of its first book, the English translation of:
JOHANNA HAMMEL: The Journey of a Jewish Woman from Konstanz via Gurs to Auschwitz-Birkenau, 1898-1942. (112 pp., paperback, color illustrations, $15.95), by Hans-Hermann Seiffert
On Oct. 1940, 42-year-old Johanna Hammel and her parents, Gustav and Lina, were forcibly rounded up by Nazi soldiers, along with all other Jews then living in Konstanz, Germany, and deported to the Gurs internment camp in southwestern France. There, they were delivered into the armed custody of the French Vichy regime, which assisted Hitler in carrying out his Jewish “cleansing” of Germany.
Dispossessed by the Third Reich of their jobs, their home and most of their wealth and possessions before their deportation, the Hammels had only hope, faith and love for family to sustain them during the inhumane journey that lay ahead. While Johanna’s sister, Erna Veit, sought to secure their release to the safe haven of Switzerland, where she lived with her husband and daughter, Johanna devoted her days of incarceration to caring for her beloved mother. Her journey would end violently in the Auschwitz-Birkenau extermination camp in 1942.
Originally written and published in German, Hans-Hermann Seiffert’s Johanna Hammel: The Journey of a Jewish Woman from Konstanz via Gurs to Auschwitz-Birkenau 1898-1942 movingly tells the story of its heroine’s deportation, imprisonment and eventual transport to Auschwitz through her own postcards and letters and through writings by Erna, family friends and other witnesses.
Thanks to her U.S. family—her niece, Renée Weiss (d. 2010), and her great-niece, Madeleine Fagan, both of Columbia, Md.—Johanna’s personality and presence are conveyed through personal photographs, correspondence and other mementoes. When Johanna writes in her last postcard to her mother mere days before her execution that “even the bad times will come to an end,” her innocent optimism evokes heartfelt grief. The reader comes to know this young woman, to admire her and to mourn her.
Seiffert further enhances Johanna’s story with primary archival documents—reproduced in the book—that attest to the persecution and murder of thousands of Jews by Hitler and his Nazi regime. Johanna’s chilling tragedy is both personal and vast in scope. Johanna Hammel is a Holocaust memoir for the ages.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Hans-Hermann Seiffert is a non-Jewish member of the “Stolpersteine for Konstanz—Against Intolerance and Forgetting Initiative,” which has been active since 2005.
A Stolperstein is a brass-plated cobblestone memorial to a victim of Nazi Germany. The word literally translates to stumbling stone. This memoir, according to Dr. Erhard Roy Wiehn, an emeritus professor of history and sociology at the University of Konstanz, is instead a kind of Stolperschrift, which is a written dedication. It preserves a plaintive voice of courage and humanity.
Seiffert was born in 1940 in Sehnde near Hannover, Germany. He received a Master of Business Administration in Göttingen and subsequently held management positions at manufacturing systems engineering companies in southwestern Germany. Upon retiring in 2005, he decided to devote himself to the study, research and publication of the story of National Socialism and the Holocaust. He has focused on the fate of the Jews who lived in Konstanz, a small town in southwestern Germany near the Swiss border.
Johanna Hammel is Seiffert’s fourth Holocaust memoir and the second one translated into English. He is also the author of My Beloved Children! Letters of Hella Schwarzhaupt to her Children from Internment in Camps Gurs and Récébédou, which was published in 2014.
Uta Allers translated the German edition of Johanna Hammel (pub. 2010) into English, and Ann G. Sjoerdsma edited the translation for an American audience.
Hans-Hermann Seiffert will be in the Washington D.C.-Columbia-Baltimore metro area for a short book tour in October 2018. Please check the Events page for dates, as they are scheduled.
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