Book Review: The Courtship of Julian and Frieda
One of the most compelling stories I've ever read is the subject of this week's Book Review. The Courtship of Julian and Frieda: A True Story, is written by Krista Perry Dunn. This is a powerful memoir of a young couple in love, parted by socioeconomic class, country of origin, war, concentration camps, the Gestapo - the Holocaust. The most amazing part? It is REAL.
Krista interviewed Julian and Frieda over a period of time in central New York, and then shared their story with us, her readers. Krista is such a compelling writer that I was unable to put the book down, entranced with a timeless story filled with such incredible personal lives. Destiny? Yes. Faithfulness? Yes. Love? Luck? Yes, yes. Julian and Frieda survived one of the most horrific wars in history, to find each other again. They then emigrated to the US, and are now are living proof that the past can't take away hope, love, luck, or the strength to survive. This book reminded me of Viktor Frankl's classic, Man's Search for Meaning, yet it was so much more personal and engaging. Truly, to survive and make it through WWII and thrive, later, is a story at once unique and representative of a time and place.
I was lucky enough to sit down and talk with Krista about her extraordinary book. Here's what she had to say...
WE: Please tell us about your book, The Courtship of Julian and Frieda...
KPD: The book is the true story of two remarkable young people who fell in love and ended up sacrificing everything to be together. The story takes place during WWII, and maybe the blurb from the back cover summarizes it best:
The Courtship of Julian & Frieda is the true story of a young couple who develop an extraordinary bond. In the old-world splendor of a remote mountain estate, a wealthy girl and a poor boy are thrown together by circumstance. An unsuitable match by the standards of the day, these two congenial young people would soon realize a regard for one another strong enough to defy any proscription.
Although they are both unmarried Catholics, the Nazis have decreed any relationship between an Austrian and a Pole to be strictly forbidden. The couple meet in secret; for a year they successfully elude detection until, in the summer of 1941, they are betrayed. Arrested and sent to Gestapo headquarters, they face the implacable savagery of Nazi “justice.”
The Courtship of Julian & Frieda is a story about destiny, tyranny and the power of true love; a factual account of two unworldly young lovers who, through sheer luck and unselfish devotion, overcome unimaginable odds to be together.
WE: How did you discover them, and their story?
KPD: A local newspaper did a story on them and a videographer I am acquainted with asked me if I would be interested in interviewing them on camera (for free, of course). I agreed, and when I met them I was enchanted. I interviewed them several times at their home so I could formulate the questions for the video. We had an instant rapport. When the video project fell through due to lack of funding, they were very disappointed. By that time, I was very attached to them and I offered to write their story explaining that it was unlikely that we could get it published.
WE: What was the research like, for writing this? Was it difficult for Julian & Frieda to recount their horrific experiences?
KPD: Because it's a memoir, most of the research involved interviewing Julian and Frieda. I spent a lot of time with them over an 18 month period. As they spoke, more questions would occur to me. I also referenced several books to better understand the situation.
Julian is very outgoing and had no problem discussing his experiences. It was very different for Frieda. She is a brilliant woman but rather shy . She had not really spoken of her experience to anyone until the year that we met when she and Julian recorded their experiences at the Holocaust Museum in Washington, DC. And then there was me. Frieda and I connected in an almost spiritual way. Julian, too...they are both very loving, charming people. Because we went so deeply into the story, exploring areas that lay dormant for 50 years, it was suddenly very fresh in their minds. It wasn't easy for them to discuss the nuances. We cried a lot together. It was painful but they were approaching 80 at the time and they felt that it was important to make a statement about what happened. I was haunted by their story. I would hear their voices in my head (I still do!) and would wake up in the middle of the night unable to get back to sleep.
When I started to put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard!) it went relatively fast. I would draft a section and show it to them and we would make corrections and/or additions.
WE: Is the process of retelling the past a way to increase intercultural and historical understanding?
KPD: I believe it does promote understanding. I think their story illustrates a lesser known fact of the Nazi's insane racial policies as well as how noble ordinary people can be. It also illustrates that it truly is the content of your character that defines you, not your race or nationality...one of the heroes of the book is Hans Bauer, a German. I believe that I will always be a little in love with Hans!
WE: Where are Julian & Frieda now?
KPD: They still live in central New York. Frieda is currently in a nursing home recovering from a broken arm. She had a stroke last year and though her mind is sharp, she has physical challenges to deal with. Julian is quite well and goes to see her every day.
WE: Is there anything else you'd like to share with us?
KPD: Just that these two people are an inspiration to me...and being a somewhat jaded child of the 60's, that's saying a lot. They have such a unique attitude. No bitterness, no prejudice. They are truly remarkable people and I feel privileged to be their biographer and their loving friend.
WE: Thanks so much, Krista. I can't recommend your book enough to anyone - there's such humanity and love in it. It is one of my favorite books, EVER, and I have read thousands and thousands of books. Thank you for enriching my life with their story.