A Lake Country woman became so enthralled with a friend’s stories of survival and resilience during the Second World War she decided to write a book about his life.
Roxi Harms, author of The Upside of Hunger: A True Tale, self-published her book in July 2018. The book is currently ranked No. 27 on Amazon for its Kindle edition in the Second World War genre.
Based on the real-life story of Penticton resident Adam Baumann, whose journey takes him from his remote village in Hungary to fight as part of the German army as a teenager to his immigration to Canada, Harms said the book is a story about strength as well as portraying a side of history that’s not as commonly discussed.
The Second World War
An A on Baumann’s arm is a symbol of his participation in the war, a tattoo of his blood type etched into his skin when he was a part of the Schutzstaffel, or the SS. He received military training in Germany before fighting Russians on the eastern front in Ukraine.
“As you get through the book you’ll learn the tattoo on his arm was an impediment for much of his life and only people who had that tattoo were members of the SS. But the more I learned about the SS and the history of the war and the people in the war, the more I wanted to get the story out there,” Harms said.
“Certainly all I learned through school was that the SS were really bad people and they killed lots of Jews, which of course they did. There’s no question about that. But the SS was a big organization and there were lots of different divisions of the SS and the division of the SS that he was in… he was a 15-year-old with a machine gun in a foxhole shooting Russians and being shot at.”
She believes the more informed people are about different perspectives of history, the more likely history won’t repeat itself.
Baumann said he was a naïve teenager at the time, that propaganda played a huge role in influencing him, and there was little choice other than to enlist. You were either drafted into the Hungarian army or you joined the German one, he said and at the time when he enlisted with the German army in the summer of 1944, it was idolized and respected.
“Hungary was an ally of the Germans, so consequently all of the news, all of the propaganda was one-sided,” he said. “But we didn’t know a heck of a lot about the history (of other parts of the world).”
“We had to be in the army one way or another, and there was a much higher status being in the German army than the Hungarian one,” he said. “It was economic, but it was also pride.”
“Millions of people just got sucked in,” Harms said. “But it’s interesting, it does evoke those (conversations.)”
After the war, he travelled back to Hungary to the small town of Elek where he was reunited with his family, even spending time in a cell after he was captured by Russians.
The cell he spent time, and starved, in now houses a Coca-Cola factory.
“It shows you the changes that take place, and there are so many contributing factors,” Baumann said. “There’s new politics, a new way to view the world, new styles and new inventions, a new way of learning.”
But the war is only one part of the book.
“It’s not really about politics or taking sides, or who’s right or who’s wrong. Of course now, after the fact (you) learn what the situation (with Germany) was.”
When the book was published he said he didn’t have much reaction because he had spent so much time working with Harms.
“I am absolutely pleased that the book is in existence for the simple reason my family ended up in Germany, of course after the war,” he said.
“Here is who we are, and here is where we come from. It’s just a legacy, a part of history, my history passed on to them,” Baumann said. “It’s a civilian story.”
The author and Baumann met while on vacation in Costa Rica, and what started as a conversation has led to a seven-year-long friendship, and a five-year book project.
Harms recorded more than 400 conversations with Baumann and found the 89-year-old’s attention to detail to be remarkable. She only changed dialogue in the book which she tried to keep as close to Baumann’s memories as possible.
“He couldn’t remember the exact words, but I’d try to make them up based on his exact writing style,” she said.
She didn’t set out to write Baumann’s story but became compelled because she couldn’t get his story out of her head. The Upside of Hunger: A True Tale is her first book. She originally intended to write about her own family’s history.
Writing a novel
The dynamic duo also have a fair amount in common.
Raised in a Mennonite community, Harms understood Baumann’s life, which involved growing up in a small rural colony.
“There was an appreciation for that and, I think, an appreciation for that way of life being lost and wanting to capture stories on that way of life,” Harms said. “I think another part of it is we’re (both) very entrepreneurial, and we can debate until the cows come home.”
Proceeds from the book will go towards a scholarship fund set up by Baumann and Harms. So far, Harms has sold about 700 copies and hopes to reach at least 2,000. George Elliot Secondary and Penticton Secondary have also picked up copies to use for classroom studies.
Harms doesn’t know where her next project will take her, but said she feels like “my own story is in me, and at some point will probably come out.”
The Upside of Hunger: A True Tale is available at Mosaic Books and Indigo in Kelowna, Buckingham Palace Bookstore in Salmon Arm and online via amazon.com.
Harms will hold a book signing Jan. 12 at Mosaic Books from noon to 3 p.m.