By KATIE EUBANKS
‘Surviving Hitler, Evading Stalin’: Mildred’s story
MCL’s own “Middle Ages” columnist, Sherye S. Green, has co-written a new book called “Surviving Hitler, Evading Stalin: One Woman’s Remarkable Escape From Nazi Germany.” Editor Katie Eubanks chatted with Sherye about this amazing true story, and how writing it has blessed her.
Katie Eubanks: How did this project come about?
Sherye S. Green: In June 2010, I was in Europe with my mother. … On that trip, I met a woman named Jean Behnke from Lyons, Kansas. We struck up a conversation, developed a friendship and stayed in touch.
In January 2019, Jean and I were talking on the phone, and she told me about her cousin, Mildred Schindler Janzen, a World War II survivor, and said, “This might be right up your alley.” I wrote her name down and put away those notes.
Then in August 2019, Susan Nickerson, one of Mildred’s daughters, texted me (about expanding on Mildred’s written account).
I flew to Kansas on October 10 and was on the ground till October 14 (interviewing Mildred). The manuscript was finished on March 11, 2020, Mildred’s 91st birthday. I sent proposals out. … And on Easter, we heard from Sunbury Press out of Pennsylvania.
KE: Could you give a brief synopsis of what the book covers?
SSG: She was born in Kansas in 1929 to German immigrants. Within the same year, she returns to Germany with the family so her dad can help his dad run the family farm. On February 1, 1945, Russian soldiers invade the farm and capture her family.
And that sets off a chain of events that will eventually bring her back to the United States in 1947.
(She and her family) never let go of each other, even though many of them were separated for many, many years.
And although the Nazis bugged her family — her father was not a Nazi sympathizer by any means — God’s fingerprints are all over this story. There’s the kindness of a stranger during a very unkind time. A lot of people stepped up and helped the family.
There are 95 original documents and photographs that accompany the book. I think that’s important. I hope we educate readers. History can repeat itself … I sort of think that’s why the world is in the state that it’s in today, because people don’t know their history.
KE: How is the book unique, in terms of World War II stories?
SSG: This is a Gentile story. She grew up an evangelical Lutheran (she’s North American Baptist now).
Also, I’ve taught World War II for 20 years, and had heard of the Russian atrocities, but this was my first up-close and personal look at that.
KE: Was Mildred able to recall everything clearly to share her story?
SSG: Yes, yes. She is like the Energizer Bunny. (laughs) Before COVID, she was going to an exercise class three days a week. And she’s an excellent cook.
Her mother lived to 99. But I think it’s more than just biology. It’s their hearts.
Our perspective on life, regardless of circumstances, is always a choice. If you read her story, if she were hardhearted, you would understand, but she’s not. She’s such a joy to be around. And I think that’s God, because I don’t think any human can do that (naturally). Life is hard, but God is good.
KE: Do you have a release date?
SSG: Late November or early December. We hope for 2020. This is the 75th anniversary of the end of the war. So we’re trying to partner with that milestone. (Preorder link at bottom of page.)
KE: What about the publishing process surprised you the most?
SSG: That we actually found a traditional publisher. I’ve knocked on the doors of traditional publishers (for my other books) for 15 years, and it has never happened (before).
I had a lot of people say, “I don’t want you to get your hopes up. I’m sure this is a nice story, but she’s an unknown, and you’re an unknown.” And I would get off the phone and think, “I respect your opinion, but this is a really good story.”
That was my impossible prayer. And God answered it.
KE: How has writing this book blessed you?
SSG: Mildred’s faith in God — that has been one of the biggest personal blessings. I have this whole new family of not just friends, but friends in Christ.
“Surviving Hitler, Evading Stalin” can be pre-ordered at sunburypress.com/collections/mildred-schindler-janzen (order will be placed once book is published), and will be available soon at Lemuria Books in Jackson or sheryesimmonsgreen.com/copy-of-surviving-hitler-evading-st. or Facebook.com/SheryeSimmonsGreen.