Monday, 1 September 2014

Only when we learn from historical mistakes can we avoid making such mistakes again today.







Interview with Eva Weaver
by Agnes A. Rose





Eva Weaver is a writer, coach, art therapist and performance artist; often exploring issues of belonging and history in her work. She is German and like many Germans, she is haunted by the events of the Second World War, which inspired her to write the debut novel “The Puppet Boy of Warsaw”. She moved from Germany to Britain and now she lives in Brighton.





Agnes A. Rose: Thank you so much for accepting my invitation to this interview. Your debut novel “The Puppet Boy of Warsaw” was published in Poland last year. I know that many of your Polish readers are very impressed by this book. Why did you decide to describe such a tragic story of Mika and Max?

Eva Weaver: Ever since I learnt about the Holocaust/Shoah as a teen, I have been struggling with this historical fact. How the Holocaust had been possible; what it means for Germans now and for my personal life; whether any true healing and reconciliation of such deep wounds can ever be possible and, indeed, what it means to create art and literature after Auschwitz – these questions have been with me for a very long time. After years of working with this through performance, I still felt a strong need to attend to this in a substantial way.

During a creative writing exercise the image of the oversized coat with a multitude of pockets came to me and then soon afterwards the puppets hidden within. I trusted these strong images and started to write and follow the story that unravelled, which took me to a young Jewish boy, the Warsaw ghetto and beyond.

“Puppet Boy” is an attempt to give those numbers and statistics of the Second World War a human face, to contribute to honour the dead so we won’t forget their heart-wrenching and so often heroic stories and of course to ask myself and my readers what would we have done living in those times?





Agnes A. Rose: Some of Polish readers point out that in your book you forget a little about the tragedy of Poles describing Polish people as living without any major changes outside the ghetto. Maybe we are a little touchy. But in spite of all I would like to ask you why you focused your attention mainly on Jews and Germans?

Eva Weaver: Oh, I have not forgotten at all about the tragedy of all Polish people, Christian Poles and Jewish Poles and do not wish to alienate or offend anyone. I created Mika and Jakob as Poles, not Christian Poles but Jewish Poles, and proud to be Poles, proud of the Jewish heritage.

As a German I found it particularly important to mainly focus in my book on the Jewish Holocaust – six million of Jews, children, women and men died in the Shoah, many in Nazi ghettos and extermination camps located in Poland.

I am also very aware of the hardship that Christian Poles underwent throughout the war and occupation and especially during the Warsaw Uprising. I found that a lot of information exists about the Warsaw Uprising but not very much about the Jewish Warsaw Ghetto Uprising and found it important to write and educate about this tragic part of Warsaw’s history.  

Agnes A. Rose: The puppets are very important in your book. Could you tell your Polish readers, who have not read “The Puppets Boy of Warsaw” yet, what their role is?

Eva Weaver: The puppets are metaphors for the will to survive and the power of resistance. They are characters in their own right, and yet they need a human, Mika and later Max the soldier, to come to life and make an impact.

Like behind a mask, there lies a certain power in the position of a puppeteer – one can get away with being cheeky, pulling the audience’s leg and speaking the truth in times of oppression, which makes it an ideal tool for resistance. One can to some extent “hide” behind the puppets like the jester; the puppeteer through the puppets can speak truth without being held fully accountable.

The puppets come into play in times of biggest challenge and when most needed – then they comfort, entertain, exude authority and call for resistance. They support resistance in a practical way- the smuggling of the children out of the ghetto – and in a psychological way: because to still play and make art in times of adversity can be an act of resistance in itself. The puppets are also charming- they charm the audiences be it children or adult and show that there is still something else but brutality and devastation. In that sense they are holding a beacon of hope for the people of the ghetto and later, hope for reconciliation.

The prince puppet particularly is an important character in the book, a connection between the Jewish boy Mika and the German soldier Max.

The prince becomes a trusted comrade, friend and a kind of protector in the darkest hour. The prince is an unusual hero. He is like a mirror, a double of Mika’s deepest most courageous and honourable spirit. The prince puppet connects three generations and for me this puppet signifies hope for healing and reconciliation, a hope in the power of the arts and creativity to support us through the most horrific trauma.

Agnes A. Rose: How did you prepare for writing “The Puppet Boy of Warsaw”?

Eva Weaver: I did a lot of research: I read a lot of novels and non fiction about the Holocaust/Shoah, particularly about the Warsaw ghetto. Also lots of eye witness reports, diaries, articles and films. I worked a lot with photographs while writing- the Warsaw ghetto has been well documented, and large archives exist accessible online as well as even some films. I have had several exchanges with Antony Polonsky, professor of Holocaust studies at Brandeis during the writing of “Puppet Boy”.

Another important part of my research was my visit to Warsaw and Krakow in October 2010. I have also researched about the Siberian Gulags and the banishment of German soldiers to Siberia, including literature and non fiction, eye witness reports via the web. 

The Polish book cover of
The Puppet Boy of Warsaw
Agnes A. Rose: What kind of feelings accompanied you during the writing of this novel?

Eva Weaver: It was of course a very emotional process! Exploring for months the theme of the Holocaust was hard, but what is this compared to having to live like Mika and his family in a ghetto, continuously threatened by death? It helped that as an Art Therapist I have already thought a lot about and witnessed the power of creativity to help us survive and work through deep trauma and this forms an important part of the book – Mika’s puppeteering, how the puppets become a means of survival and resistance. Creativity here is something like a delicate counter balance to the horror of the ghetto, something that still holds the beacon for humanness in the face of the unthinkable horror of the ghetto and the deportations. I doubt I could have written the book without including the puppets. I also had a lot of support through colleagues and friends, Jewish and non-jewish, English and German, writers and non writers, artists, my mentor and coach, my agent, editor and my writing group. Of course as writers we spend a lot of time on our own and it can be a lonely endeavour, but I also see this book as a big collaboration having very much evolved out of community and dialogue, from its first kernel to the epilogue and I am hugely grateful for this.

Agnes A. Rose: What is the most interesting or maybe surprising fact you came across in your research for “The Puppet Boy of Warsaw”?

Eva Weaver: The courage of the Jewish people inside the ghetto and especially the heroic acts of the Warsaw ghetto fighters, who, children, young people and adults alike, gave everything in the uprising despite knew that their fight would be futile in the face of the overwhelming German occupying power. Also people who managed to keep art and culture alive even within the terrible conditions of the ghetto.

The many acts of resistance be it by Jewish Poles as well as Christian Poles on the other side of the ghetto wall. Especially the story of Irina Sendler acts of resistance touched me deeply.

Agnes A. Rose: Was it easy to find a publisher for “The Puppet Boy of Warsaw”?

Eva Weaver: I had the good fortune to find a fabulous and enthusiastic agent based in a large agency who quite quickly found a good publisher and later sold the book to twelve countries.

Agnes A. Rose: I read that your mother had been bombed out in 1942 during the first air attacks on Nuremberg. Could you tell us something more about this tragic event if it is not too painful for you?

Eva Weaver: My mother was only eleven at the time. During the attack she did with her parents and some neighbours in a makeshift bunker. After hours of bombing when they emerged from the bunker in the morning, most of the houses in their streets were reduced to rubble and stood burning. The front facade of my mother’s house was ripped away and they could see inside as in a doll’s house. There was still a slice of bread on a plate and an egg in an egg cup in the kitchen, untouched, my mother tells me.

Agnes A. Rose: In Poland your book is promoted as the ravishing study of human courage and strength of forgiveness. Do you think that a contemporary man is able to forgive the atrocities of World War II to those who were responsible for that tragedy? Are we able to live without any prejudices to each other in successive generations?

Eva Weaver: The question whether the wounds of the Holocaust can ever be truly healed has been with me for many years and the prospect that healing as such might not be possible has haunted me. Hence, like a lot of my performance work before, this book is an attempt at exploring the human heart, at looking at survival, at the small human gestures that were present in every war, every catastrophe and in this way to “attend” to the wound in the best possible way I can.

Agnes A. Rose: As you mentioned above, you have already visited Warsaw and Krakow. Could you tell us about the places relating to World War II that you saw then?

Eva Weaver: I visited Krakow and Warsaw in autumn 2010, tracing the remains of the Jewish Warsaw and the ghetto, the Jewish cemetery, remains of the ghetto wall, Umschlagplatz monument, monument of the fighters of the Warsaw ghetto, Uprising and the Jewish Historical Institute, which houses the Ringelblum archive. The visit moved and impacted me deeply. Although I had read a lot I, like Mara in the book, was shocked to find hardly any traces of the former city and in particularly the fact that many of the modern housing blocks in the Northwest of the city had been directly built on the rubble from the completely destroyed ghetto, which had never been cleared away. This total absence of Jewish culture was devastating and haunting. In a different way the colourful old centre of town, which had been painstakingly rebuilt stone after stone after the war also felt very moving.

Agnes A. Rose: How much important is history for you? I mean not only World War II, but the history in its general sense.

Eva Weaver: I believe to know about historical events, to understand the complexities of history is crucial. Only when we learn from historical mistakes can we avoid making such mistakes again today. I understand Antisemitism is still a problem in Poland and other countries, and it is crucial that we continue to remember the Holocaust and as many of the individuals and their life stories as possible. My hope is that my book and its young protagonist Mika will bring the ghetto and the Uprising closer to a younger contemporary audience and help support dialogue. Only through education and cultivation of empathy can we fight prejudices of any kind.

Agnes A. Rose: What do you read in your free time? Do you have your favourite authors?

Eva Weaver: Some of my favourite writers who have also taught me a lot about the craft of writing are amongst others Margaret Atwood, Paul Auster, Barbara Kingsolver, Alice Walker, Haruki Murakami, Annie Proulx, Anne Michaels and Angela Carter. All are exceptional storytellers and hugely enjoyable to read.

Agnes A. Rose: You are not only a writer. Could you tell us a little bit about your other work?

Eva Weaver: I am also working as a shamanic practitioner, breathworker, and Creativity Coach. As part of “IGNITE YOUR LIFE” I am running retreats and workshops with my partner for Empowerment and Transformation, offering a mixture of empowerment tools, Breathwork and Firewalking, (www.igniteyourlife.co.uk).

Agnes A. Rose: What writing projects are you working on at the moment?

Eva Weaver: I am writing on my second novel “The Ship of Fools”. It is also a historical novel, this time set in Scandinavia at the turn of the 19th century, about two young women who have been committed to a mental asylum on a small island, their escape and epic journey across the archipelago and throughout Sweden to Sápmi/Lapland, the very North of Sweden, Norway, Finland and Russia, the land of the indigenous Sápmi people. It is a novel about the power of vision, friendship and love in the face of betrayal, and incarceration and a woman’s search for her heritage, her destiny and belonging.

Agnes A. Rose: Finally, is there anything you would like to tell your Polish readers?

Eva Weaver: I would love to be able to visit Poland and especially Warsaw, again and I am keen to do a reading and have more dialogue with Polish readers. In particular I would also like to see and connect with the Museum of Jewish culture, which was not finished when I visited.

In the meantime you can find out more background on The Puppet Boy of Warsaw on my Facebook page: http://www.facebook.com/thepuppetboyofwarsaw or email me on evaweaver@talk21.com.

Agnes A. Rose: Thank you very much for this conversation. I hope that in Poland we will be able to read your next novel soon.

Eva Weaver: Yes, so do I, I hope it will also be translated into Polish! Thank you very much for asking me for this interview!




If you want to read this interview in Polish, please click here