When Ariana Neumann found her father’s name, Hanus Stanislav Neumann among the 77,297 Jews who fell to Nazis on a memorial in Prague, she was shocked. She was further confused by a question mark following the name. The most puzzling part wasn’t the question mark, however. It was why Hanus’ name was even part of the memorial. Because her father was undoubtedly alive and well, working at home in Caracas, Venezuela.
When Time Stopped, a debut memoir written by Ariana Neumann, documents her Jewish father, Hanus Neumann’s perspective of World War II. As a young girl, Neumann never knew why her father refused to talk about his past, his parents, or his childhood. Every time she brought it up, he would answer curtly, vaguely.
One day, as she strolled by her father’s room, she noticed a box. Curiously, Neumann lifted the lid to find a picture of her father on an identification card. He was very young. To Neumann’s horror, it bore the name Jan Šebesta and a birthdate completely different from her fathers’.
Instantly, Neumann was convinced. This was part of the past that her father had terribly wanted to conceal.
“It was then that I first sensed that hidden beneath my father’s strength and triumphs were shadows cast by nameless horrors so terrible that they had to remain unuttered.”
Neumann wouldn’t meet this box again, until after her father’s death. She decided to unearth this mystery, the mystery her father left behind because it was too horrible to speak on behalf of it.
When Time Stopped is the product of Neumann’s meticulous research. She presents a beautifully written Holocaust story that captures the traumatizing, yet mysterious war experience of Hanus Neumann.
For Hanus Neumann, often referred to as Hans, life was normal in his hometown of Czechoslovakia. That is, until his late teens. In the 1930s, the Nazis stormed across Europe, snatching power away from countries big and small. Hans and his family—mother Ella, father Otto, and brother Lotar, remained optimistic, continuing their daily lives. Though as Jews, they were amongst the gravest danger.
Soon, deportations began. Notices arrived without warning. Hans’ greatest fear was the day his own family would be separated. And the news he dreaded soon arrived. Ella and Otto would be deported.
Hans himself received a notice for deportation two times. Both times, he was able to muster up an excuse—that his job was important for the war cause. Both times his excuses were mercifully accepted. But no one’s luck cannot proceed forever.
Upon receiving his third notice, his excuse was deemed inapplicable. Fortunately, Hans had two ingenious individuals beside him: his brother’s wife Zdenka and his best friend Zdenek. Both were Czech, but not Jewish. Together, the three devised a plan for him to avoid deportation.
Hans would use a false passport, travel to Berlin, and take on a job in a German paint factory as a specialist in developing industrial pains.
“There he would hide in plain sight. He would give himself a new name—Jan Šebesta . . . He would become someone else entirely, so that in reality, he would not be hiding at all.”
In Berlin, things were quite the opposite of safe and sound for Jan. His acting had to be on-point. Because under Jan Šebesta, the valuable chemist who earned the respect of the
Nazi-sympathizing factory boss, was a helpless Czech Jew on the Gestapo’s wanted list. Jan was faced with numerous instances of life-and-death situations. One wrong word and he’d find a gun to his head. The fact that he agreed to this plan is already incredible.
“I was utterly alone. Alone ridiculous situation. I had a false name. Hunted by the Gestapo, I had come to the center of their world. Pretending to be a technical specialist, I was working in a factory for the very people who were starving my parents, torturing and killing my family.”
This became a routine life for Jan, continuing for two years. Who could stay mentally sane after this?
With luck on his side, the escape plan to Berlin was a success. Upon the liberation of Czechoslovakia, Hans returned home. Yet nothing would ever be normal again, no matter how hard he tried. Even after escaping to Venezuela to tirelessly restart his family’s old business, nothing would erase the scars that remain.
“The father I knew had worked indefatigably, obsessively…He was doing whatever he could to bury an wavering pain under layer upon layer of work. He was simply attempting to escape his past.”
But who could blame Hans? I know I would’ve done the same. Because sometimes, facing the pain is just too much to bear. It’s easier to leave the past in the past.
Now, all of Neumann’s questions were answered. Finally, she understood.
Hans Neumann’s extraordinary story sharply contrasts with most Holocaust stories. Yes, he lived beside the Nazis. But he did so not as a prisoner, instead as a respected chemist. When Time Stopped is the perfect book for someone who enjoys historical fiction or World War II stories. It is not a book you would want to finish in one sitting. The emotional torture, trauma, and devastation that Neumann’s father faces is difficult to digest quickly.
Every Holocaust survivor has a distinctive a story. Hans was an ordinary man whose life was torn apart by the Nazis, just like any other Jew. “Hanus Stanislav Neumann” is merely a name on a memorial. But Neumann’s extraordinary book proves that even under the most unnoticeable names lies an intricately nonpareil story.
Through When Time Stopped, Ariana Neumann discovered her father’s story—unparalleled, multi-dimensional, and enticing. She has successfully substituted the question mark with answers that required a book of words to explain. Out of those 77,292 fallen souls, one story has been revealed.