When Time Stopped: A Memoir of My Father's War and What Remains

by Ariana Neumann

Hardcover, 2020




Scribner (2020), Edition: Illustrated, 336 pages


"In 1941, the first Neumann family member was taken by the Nazis, arrested in German-occupied Czechoslovakia for bathing in a stretch of river forbidden to Jews. He was transported to Auschwitz. Eighteen days later his prisoner number was entered into the morgue book. Of thirty-four Neumann family members, twenty-five were murdered by the Nazis. One of the survivors was Hans Neumann, who, to escape the German death net, traveled to Berlin and hid in plain sight under the Gestapo's eyes. What Hans experienced was so unspeakable that, when he built an industrial empire in Venezuela, he couldn't bring himself to talk about it. All his daughter Ariana knew was that something terrible had happened. When Hans died, he left Ariana a small box filled with letters, diary entries, and other memorabilia. Ten years later, Ariana finally summoned the courage to have the letters translated, and she began reading. What she discovered launched her on a worldwide search that would deliver indelible portraits of a family loving, finding meaning, and trying to survive amid the worst that can be imagined. When Time Stopped is a powerful detective story and an epic family memoir, spanning nearly ninety years and crossing oceans. Neumann brings each relative to vivid life. In uncovering her father's story after all these years, she discovers nuance and depth to her own history and liberates poignant and thought-provoking truths about the threads of humanity that connect us all."--… (more)

Media reviews

Kirkus Reviews 2020 January
A London-based former foreign correspondent for Venezuela's Daily Journal uncovers the true story of her Jewish father's double life during World War II. When he learned that he was scheduled to be deported from Nazi-occupied Prague to a concentration camp, Hans Neumann took a brazen step: He hid in plain sight, assuming a false identity and going to work as a chemist for a supplier of the German war machine in Berlin. That daring feat alone might make his story unique, but there is much more to it. After the war—during which his parents and 23 other relatives were murdered by the Nazis—Neumann settled in Caracas, and he and his brother founded a paint company that became an international conglomerate. He and his glamorous second wife attained an enviable position in Venezuela: rich, cultured, well respected, and socially prominent. Neumann hid his Jewish roots, but the author, the couple's only daughter, found an early clue to his erstwhile double identity when she stumbled as a girl on the fake ID card that had enabled him to work in Germany. Even then, she had no idea he was Jewish——and remained largely in the dark until her father died and left her a box of papers that held a memoir of his bold escape to Berlin. In this elegantly structured debut, the author reconstructs with considerable literary finesse the life of her father, who owned 297 pocket watches—a unifying motif and organizing metaphor that readers may see as his metaphorical attempt to replace time stolen by Hitler. She also offers vivid images of Terezín (renamed Theresienstadt by the Nazis), where her grandparents were interned before they died in Auschwitz. Because Terezín was nominally a transit and labor camp rather than a death camp, prisoners could send and receive letters and packages, and the author includes poignant excerpts of some of the letters.

User reviews

LibraryThing member Lisa2013
I love this author’s writing style. I love the humor. It took me a while to get into the narrative but once I did I enjoyed the story/stories. I loved the passages written by her father, Hans. They were incredibly powerful and completely riveting!!!

This is the kind of genealogical research I wish I could have done. I’m in awe.

The author has a lot materials from so many different parts of her family and others. There is a voluminous collection of photos of people and photos of documents and other pictures and many images really enhanced the storytelling. I appreciated all the evidence presented. There is a helpful family tree and map included too! A list of discussion questions were also in my edition.

At first there was a lot about her life, which was interesting, but I felt distant from her father and the others (maybe because when she started she knew virtually nothing about their pasts) but the more I read about the people alive during WWII in Nazi occupied areas the more engaged I became. It took me some time but I grew to know about and deeply care about these people.

I found it interesting that she was doing gung ho research and had wanted to be a detective when she was a kid, but she seemed so uncurious and naïve and ignorant about historical events until she eventually started her inquiries.

This Holocaust narrative stands out because of the author’s father hiding in plain sight with an assumed non-Jewish identity in Berlin for two years during WWII and also because so many family members’ relationships, lives, and fates are revealed. It’s an extraordinary narrative. I also found it interesting and not surprising how so many of the survivors felt lifelong impact from the trauma they’d experienced. What was unexpected was how so many of them were able to flourish and be successful anyway.
This author writes beautifully and this is a quotable book. Here is just one phrase that I appreciate. “Memories, like misfiled documents, are not always where you expect to find them...I learned that detailed questions often did little to trigger specific memories. People returned to distant facts in roundabout ways, along their own winding paths, which seemed more mapped by emotion than by logic.”

ETA: I want to add the other quote I "liked" in my quotes: “Perhaps all remembrance is a process of compilation and creation. Every day we absorb what is around us and assemble observations of a specific time: sounds, smells, textures, words, images, and feelings. Of course, we prioritize and edit as we go, subjective witnesses to our own lives, providing recollections that are often biased and incomplete.”
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LibraryThing member thewanderingjew
When Time Stopped, Ariana Neumann, author, Rebecca Lowman, narrator
Ariana Neumann did an amazing amount of research over decades, in order to discover her father’s true past and name, and in so doing, her own heritage. Brought up without much religious foundation, she had no idea of her Jewish background until she discovered a box with her father’s documents, documents he had carefully kept secret from his family until his death. Neumann did not discover most of the information until more than a decade after his death when a box she had seen as a child, reappeared in her life. With this box, began a research project which exposed relatives with whom she never had contact and a religion which she never knew she had a connection.
Through careful investigation, she discovered unknown relatives who had documents and letters that enabled her to retrace her father’s history in Europe. Neumann had been raised in Venezuela and never knew her father had been born in Czechoslovakia, nor that he lived through the German occupation as a Jew on the run with another identity. Although his family once numbered more than 30, she discovered that most of them were murdered.
Because of the documents and letters, some new information was provided which I believe was very enlightening. The book will inform the reader of the plan Nazi Germany masterminded that enabled the murder of so many innocents, of the steps some took to protect those innocents and of the lucky intervention that often made the difference between life and death.
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LibraryThing member bookwyrmm
A daughter's engaging look at her search for the unspoken past of her father, a Czech holocaust survivor.
LibraryThing member EllenH
This was such a well written family story and world history in one. Ariana Neuman takes her Father's mysterious life on as a mystery like she'd been looking for as a child interested in being a sleuth. Growing up in Argentina with her Father, she'd known that something in his past caused him great pain, but other than to see a few glimpses of his pain, her Father would never discuss what it was to cause the nightmares and silence of his story. When he died he left a box of carefully organised documents, letters, and pictures for her to finally look into his secrets. As she researches, she not only comes upon his life in Czechoslovakia as a Jew during the Nazi Regime, but his whole network of family and friends, many who did not survive. The journey she was on wasn't fast, as she had a life of raising children and the stories she found were not easy ones to know.… (more)
LibraryThing member mumoftheanimals
Excellent account of a family’s attempt to survive during the Holocaust.
LibraryThing member Judiex
Like all Holocaust stories, WHEN TIME STOPPED is unique. The author, Ariana Neuman grew up in Venezuela in the 1970s. Her father, a wealthy industrialist, didn’t talk of his past. One of his main hobbies involved his large watch collection. She didn’t even know he was Jewish though she felt she was different from the other Catholic children she knew from school and church.

After his death, he left her a box in which she found clues to his history including an ID card bearing someone else’s name. That freed her to search for his story.

She learned that the first member of the thirty-four member Neumann family, then living in Czechoslovakia, was sent to Auschwitz in 1941 for swimming in restricted part of a river. He died soon afterwards. By the end of the war, only nine survived.

Her father, Hans, was one of them. Despite all the restrictions, he managed to survive by hiding in plain sight in Berlin, of all places.

Her search took her to many locations and enabled her to meet relatives she didn’t know she had.

WHE:N TIME STOPPED has two compelling stories, that of her father’s life and her search for family members. It includes a map, family trees, and many photos of her family and some amazing watches.
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LibraryThing member suesbooks
This was well written to teach me both about the communities' responses to the Nazi regime, and also about the responses and activities of many individuals. I learned about so many underground activities and individual dares that actually worked. This book was extremely sad and also very educational for me.… (more)


Original language


Physical description

9 inches


1982106379 / 9781982106379
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