How can languages save your life? (Episode 70)


This story is featured in Episode 70

How can knowing multiple languages help you stay alive? A Polish American academic Tadeusz “Tad” Haska survived WWII and the stalinist repressions thanks to his unusual linguistics talent. This incredible story was lovingly described by his granddaughter Stefanie Naumann in her book  How Languages Saved Me: A Polish Story of Survival, released in September 2019 with Koehler Books.

*** Winner of the Royal Dragonfly Book Award ***

2019 First Place – Historical Nonfiction

2019 First Place – Memoir

It’s a great book and a must for anyone interested in world war II and its unexpexted turns.

Co-authored by Polish-American academic Tadeusz “Tad” Haska (1919-2012) and his granddaughter Stefanie Naumann, a professor at the Eberhardt School of Business at the University of the Pacific, “How Languages Saved Me” centers on Tad, a non-Jewish Pole who, after being orphaned at the age of 12, clung to the study of language like a lifevest.

“Our parents taught us that education is the only thing that could never be taken away from us,” he shares in the book’s first chapter, which provides an insightful and unique perspective on the volatile and challenging Great Depression years in post-World War I, pre-World War II Europe.

World War II erupted shortly after Tad’s twentieth birthday, announcing its arrival with a sudden bombing on September 1, 1939 over Poznań, the city where he was preparing to begin his second year of university. “My world collapsed,” he recalls, bringing the reader down to the ground level of a storm of humanity’s horrors that would last for six years and forever change the course of countless lives.

“How Languages Saved Me” is an extraordinary account of how one young Polish man’s knowledge of nine languages helped him survive before, during, and after WWII. In one hundred and fifty heart-pounding — and sometimes darkly humorous — pages, readers will step inside Tad’s recollections of translating German newspapers to farmers, job instructions to French prisoners of war, and impersonating a German on occasion — as well as escaping jail by the Soviet Secret Police, fleeing to Sweden, and smuggling his wife to safety in a coffin on an all-male Naval ship.

“My grandfather started writing his memoir in the early 1990s but had not finished it at the time of his passing in 2012 at age ninety-three,” Naumann shares in the book’s introduction. “I used recordings, as well as his journals and the letters he wrote to complete his memoir in his own words.

“There are still political refugees in the world just as there were when Tad Haska escaped Poland,” she continues. “My grandparents faced unspeakable adversity, and they taught me what the courage of conviction means. They came to the United States because my grandfather fiercely believed in independence and the voice of the people being heard in government.”

Stefanie Naumann recently appeared as the keynote speaker at the Polish American Club of Sacramento’s annual Heritage Dinner, and is available for interviews and article requests. The book has also been endorsed by various Polish-American community luminaries, including Leonard Kniffel, past President of the Polish American Librarians Association (“Astonishing in its directness and simplicity, this memoir of the Holocaust and Communist Poland delivers a gripping account of one man’s terrifying journey from orphan child to war refugee to American citizenship”) and Gregory Kojak, Chairman of The Polish American Association (“an engaging true story and a great read”).

TADEUSZ HASKA was born in 1919 in Mikołajki, Poland, and died in Monterey, California, in 2012. Orphaned at the age of 12, he used his knowledge of nine languages to survive World War II. He immigrated to the U.S. in 1949, where he earned his Ph.D. at University of California, Berkeley in Linguistics in his ninth language — English. He taught, and served as chairman, in the Polish Department at the Defense Language Institute in Monterey, CA for 35 years. His work was featured on the TV program The Big Picture.

STEFANIE NAUMANN, Tadeusz’s granddaughter, is a Professor of Management in the Eberhardt School of Business at University of the Pacific, where she has taught for 20 years. She earned her Ph.D. from Louisiana State University, and has published over 30 journal articles. She is a 20+ year member of the Academy of Management, a lifetime member of the Polish American Genealogical Society of America, and has earned awards for her research, teaching, and service.

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“How Languages Saved Me” [Koehler Books] is available in hardcover, paperback, and ebook formats wherever books are sold as of September 24, 2019. Pre-order a copy today on Amazon.

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The book was released in hardcover, paperback and ebook formats on September 24, 2019 with Koehler Books — and now is available as an audiobook!

The audiobook edition of How Languages Saved Me — recorded by Audie and Grammy award-winning Polish American producer and narrator Stefan Rudnicki, with an introduction from author Stefanie Naumann — is available on Audible as of January 2020.

Become an Audible member today to experience this awe-inspiring story!


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