After a serendipitous encounter with a war survivor, Canadian Roxi Harms felt compelled to share her new friend’s story – despite the fact she had no writing experience.
Harms met 83-year-old Adam Baumann at a neighbouring villa while holidaying in Costa Rica seven years ago.
She said she “instantly” connected with Baumann, who was born in an isolated village in eastern Hungary between the great wars, and had quite the story to tell.
His life took one tumultuous turn after another as Hitler hurtled Europe into the greatest war in history.
A rebellious teen fleeing the iron fist of his father, Baumann found himself on the Eastern Front, trapped in service to the Fuhrer, battling the Russian Red Army.
“I said to my husband: ‘Somebody’s got to write this down’,” Harms told Newcastle Weekly.
“In all honesty, I didn’t mean me.”
Alas, fate had already set its wheels in motion, and before too long, Harms was undertaking writing courses in order to publish her debut novel, based on Baumann’s story.
As it turned out, the pair only lived an hour away from one another in Canada – the first country (of Australia, Argentina and Canada) to accept Baumann’s residency application after the war, or else he might have become an Australian citizen, and the pair would never have crossed paths.
Over the next few years, Harms made countless trips to Baumann’s house to record more than 400 interviews with him.
“Many stories he retold because I wanted more detail; he was always able to recall it – he has an amazing memory,” Harms said.
When Harms and her husband left Canada occasionally to visit their holiday home in Newcastle, the fledgling author and war veteran would still communicate via Skype, which Harms taught Baumann how to use.
It was here that two Novocastrian friends – Georgia Drinkwater and Jenine Hughes – helped Harms transcribe hundreds of hours’ worth of interviews early on in the project.
Now the journey has come full circle, with Harms returning to Newcastle next week to launch her book, The Upside of Hunger.
Harms will share more about her book, and Baumann, at The Press Book House on Saturday 30 March from 4pm to 6pm.
Anyone is welcome to turn up on the day, and there will be limited copies of the book for sale (those who miss out can grab a copy via Amazon or Booktopia).
Neither Harms nor Baumann are profiting from the book, with all proceeds going towards a scholarship fund for underprivileged kids.