Ariana Neumann formed a spy club with her friends. During that time she discovered a mysterious box belonging to her father, a prosperous industrialist who emigrated from Eastern Europe. The box contained an ID card bearing the official stamp of Adolf Hitler. Her father’s youthful photo was also on the card, but the name and birthday printed there weren’t his. It frightened Neumann, and she never saw the box again until her father’s death in 2001, when he left it for her to find.
“I spent my childhood willing a mystery to come my way,” Neumann writes. “When it finally did, it took decades to solve.” Her father rarely, if ever, discussed World War II or his childhood in Czechoslovakia. During an isolated trip to Prague together, he tersely told her, “Sometimes you have to leave the past where it is—in the past.” Luckily for readers, Neumann ignored her father’s admonition and shares the results of her meticulous research in a brilliantly heart-wrenching memoir, When Time Stopped: A Memoir of My Father’s War and What Remains.
In 1939, 34 members of Neumann’s family lived in Czechoslovakia; only two, her father and his brother, escaped being transported to concentration camps. Her paternal grandparents died at Auschwitz, while her father hid in a secret compartment in their family’s paint factory, which had been taken over by Nazis. Later, as his presence there grew increasingly dangerous, he went to Berlin in a daring move, assumed the identity of a non-Jewish Czech citizen and worked in a factory that produced polymer coatings for Nazi aircraft and missiles. There he began spying for the Allies, noting, “Hunted by the Gestapo, I had come to the center of their world.”
As Neumann learns about her father’s dramatic past, she comes to better understand his reluctance to speak of it, his recurring screaming nightmares and his obsession with watches, clocks and timekeeping. “I have found the family who was never spoken about,” she writes, “the one who was not so much forgotten as veiled in silence.”
When Time Stopped is filled with heartbreaking, spine-tingling stories. But Neumann’s treasure trove of personal history isn’t solely responsible for the book’s appeal: she’s a gifted, visceral writer as well, bringing each character alive as they experience the horrors of World War II. When Time Stopped is a notable new memoir not to be missed.