Marilyn Baron Interviews Hannah Hirschfeld from Stumble Stones: A Novel
Stumble Stones: A Novel is a multilayered, dark and humorous Romancing the Stone-style suspense about a cache of priceless diamonds hidden in World War II that sparks a hasty wedding on the high seas and a dangerous chase through Europe that holds the key to an unsolved mystery and a promise of lost love.
The hero, Alexander Stone, is a German hedge fund manager and the heroine is Hallelujah Weiss, a rabbi’s daughter who writes for the steamy soap opera As the Planet Spins. The story is set in contemporary and WW II Europe. In this interview, I am focusing on a secondary character, Hannah Hirschfeld, one of two women whose Holocaust stories are featured in the book.
In the book, Alexander witnesses a ceremony outside his home that commemorates the Hirschfeld family with the placement of four stumble stones.
Stumble Stones is a real project. German artist Gunter Demnig has placed some 50,000 of these brass plaques—known as Stolpersteine or “stumble stones,” cobblestone-sized Holocaust memorial stones, in 18 countries in Europe.
Marilyn Baron: Where and when were you born?
Hannah Hirschfeld: I was born Hannah Hirschfeld in 1928 in Dahlem, Germany, a suburb of Berlin to Julian and Ana Hirschfeld. My father came from a long line of jewelers. He made jewelry for the Queen of England.
MB: Tell us what goal(s) you hoped to accomplish?
HH: I was in hiding through the war and now that I’m out, and I know that my parents and brother never survived, I intend to marry SS Sturmbannführer Franz Hoffman, the officer who deported my parents and younger brother to Auschwitz and who has requisitioned and is now living in my family home.
MB: That sounds rather drastic. Why would you do that?
HH: I hold him responsible for the deaths of my family. His was the last voice I heard before my parents and baby brother disappeared forever. Whose face I imagined in my nightmares. I was determined to spend the rest of my life making him pay. I was intent on accumulating incriminating evidence against my husband and his secret society of ex-SS officers.
MB: What influence did your birth family have on you, your choices, your life? Explain why and how.
HH: If my parents hadn’t perished in the Holocaust I would never have married Franz.
MB: Didn’t Herr Hoffman recognize you from the time he came to your home to collect the diamonds and when your father refused to hand them over, deport your parents?
HH: I was a young girl then and I was hiding in the house when the soldiers came. I never saw the officer’s face. I was one of the lucky ones, one of the 1,500 Jews who survived the Holocaust hiding in Berlin. After the war, in 1948, it was not difficult to get the Sturmbannführer to notice me. I wasn’t practiced in flirting but I barely had to bat my eyelashes or feign an indecent reveal. He was easy to lead, and once he stumbled, it was a short trip to falling in love. He was almost twice my age and it didn’t hurt that I embodied the ideal Aryan woman—blonde, beautiful and buxom. I had inherited my blonde hair and blue eyes from my mother, who had Scandinavian roots. I was calling myself Eva at the time. But my mother’s Aryan looks hadn’t saved her. I arranged to bump into Herr Hoffman outside of his house—formerly my house—and I was desperate to get in to see how the place had changed, to see if I could find a trace of my former life or my family. I had a secret. My campaign to bring the Sturmbannführer to justice was about to begin.
MB: If you could relive your life, what changes would you make?
HH: I wouldn’t have married Franz Hoffman and I wouldn’t have wasted time hating my father. I spent most of my life blaming my father for not handing over the diamonds he promised to Herr Hoffman for our freedom. He also risked the lives of his friends who had counted on him to deliver the diamonds. I found out much later that my father didn’t reveal the hiding place of the diamonds because he knew that’s where I was hiding in the house when the soldiers came to take my parents away. He saved my life. After the war, I hid the fact that I was Jewish. It’s very dangerous to be a Jew in this world. I wish I had acknowledged my religion.
MB: How did you feel when you first saw the love of your life? What drew you to the person you fell in love with.
HH: Hans Peter-Grandcoeur was walking his dog in the park by the lake. I awoke from my sleep on a bench, cold, crying and wondering what to do next. He sat down on the bench beside me, and I told him everything about my predicament. I had nowhere else to turn. I was a virtual stranger in this country and he was the first person I met when I crossed the border from Germany into Switzerland after I left my husband when I found out I was pregnant. Hans was well dressed, sympathetic and had understanding eyes. He was a good provider and a tender lover and partner. We were blessed with four children of our own besides Julian, the Sturmbannführer’s son. I didn’t regret a moment of my life with him.
MB: What do you want from life?
HH: Revenge on Franz Hoffman. I could kill Herr Hoffman in his sleep or poison his food. But am I capable of murder? I doubt it, although I’ve imagined it dozens of times in my head. I had visions of poisoning the traitorous lot of them, perhaps in the food or the wine I served them. I would be generous with the tainted portions. But my belly was growing larger as my options grew smaller. I didn’t want to spend one more minute, much less one more night, with this disgusting man I had married. Perhaps I could arrange for him to suffer a serious, unexpected accident. I dreamed of escaping.
MB: What, in the outside world, is preventing you from getting it?
HH: I have information on my husband’s illegal dealings—stolen Nazi art is only the tip of the iceberg—but some of the biggest corporations in the world are involved in this scandal. I could take it to the authorities but my husband’s organization has tentacles that reach into the highest echelons of German commerce. Who could I report my findings to? Who could I trust? Certainly not the government which seemed to be protecting the very people who were responsible for the reign of terror against its citizens.
MB: Did you turn out the way your parents predicted?
HH: I’m sure my parents would not have approved of me marrying Franz Hoffman, but I hope they would be proud of me and the family I created.
Marilyn Baron writes in a variety of genres, from humorous coming-of-middle age women’s fiction to historical romantic thrillers and romantic suspense to paranormal/fantasy. Stumble Stones will be her 11th novel published with The Wild Rose Press. She’s also published five short stories with TWB Press and self-published three books, including a musical about Alzheimer’s called Memory Lane. AmazonEncore republished her book Sixth Sense on September 15, 2015. She’s received writing awards in Single Title, Suspense Romance, Novel With Strong Romantic Elements and Paranormal//Fantasy Romance. She is a Georgia Romance Writers (GRW) Maggie Award winner, a PAN member of Romance Writers of America and GRW and winner of the GRW 2009 Chapter Service Award. A public relations consultant in Atlanta, Marilyn graduated with a BS in Journalism and a minor in Creative Writing from the University of Florida. She worked in Public Relations for AT&T in Atlanta for 13 years before starting her own PR firm. She serves on the 2016 Roswell Reads Steering Committee.
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