disclosure: we were sent the item mentioned for the purpose of review
I’ve been fascinated with stories of survival from World War Two for as long as I can remember. I normally only share fiction reads here on the blog but when I was approached about reviewing How Languages Saved Me: A Polish Story of Survival I knew instantly it would be my kind of book, and hopefully you’ll appreciate it too. Published through Köehler Books in September 2019, the audiobook version is narrated by Grammy award-winning narrator Stefan Rudnicki.
How Languages Saved Me: A Polish Story of Survival is co-written by Tadeusz Haska and completed by his granddaughter Stefanie Naumann after his death in 2012. It tells of how a love of languages literally saved Tad’s life in war-torn Poland during World War Two and beyond.
It’s one of those books that grips you from the very first page and holds your attention throughout. I was so captivated that I read it from cover to cover in one day. It’s beautifully written and heartbreaking at times as we learn about no-Jewish Pole Tad and his family and lived before WWII and how even when times were very hard for the family, his parents instilled in him how important an education was.
By the age of thirteen Tad and his brother, Antoni were orphaned, and somehow the boys survived and still remained at school with only one teacher discovering that they were living alone. Tad already has a flair for language as a teenager, and this skill will save him in the years to come. He will end up mastering nine languages over the years ahead.
The Germans invade Poland as Tad is about to begin the second year of his studies at Poznań. He soon realised that even though he wasn’t Jewish, as an academic wearing glasses, he would not be safe under the German occupation. It really bought it home to me that he often had to hide his glasses for fear that they would attract attention.
He led an extraordinary life in challenging times and survived by translating German newspapers to farmers, reading out job instructions to French prisoners of war, and even found himself having to impersonate a German.
Life wouldn’t be much easier after the war when Poland become part of the Soviet Union. We then learn about how Tad escaped the clutches of the Soviet Secret Police and how he managed to flee to Sweden. Sometime later he manages to smuggle his wife Jadwiga to safety in a coffin aboard a Naval ship.
Eventually, the family settles in America and when they become citizens they are finally no longer refugees.
I can thoroughly recommend reading (or listening to, if you prefer) How Languages Saved Me: A Polish Story of Survival. It’s a poignant reminder of the adversity faced by so many in years gone by and of one man’s courage. It really touched me and I’m sure you’d all enjoy it too.
I’ve included my Amazon Affiliate link below (I do earn from qualifying purchases) in case you’d like to read it yourself.