April 05 , 2021
Sherye S. Green opens up about writing the life story of a remarkable Nazi Germany survivor
Surviving Hitler, Evading Stalin is the remarkable true story of a young Gentile woman whose peaceful farm life came to an abrupt halt when World War II came knocking at her door. One month before her sixteenth birthday, Mildred “Mickchen” Schindler and her family are captured by Stalin’s Red Army.
After being driven from their home, Mildred and her family are forced to separate. In this memoir, Schindler recounts her journey to America and a later odyssey of making her way home to find her family in a war-torn countryside.
But Schindler couldn’t have told this story alone.
Now 92 years old, Mildred has long desired to tell her story and share the testimony of how strength and faith has carried her toward a life filled with love and laughter. But writing a memoir is no easy feat.
That’s where Mississippi author Sherye Simmons Green comes into play.
Today, we’re sitting down with co-author Sherye S. Green to discuss Mildred’s story, Sherye's role in it, and to transport us back to the turbulent times of WWII.
An interview with Sherye S. Green
Questions by Joe Walters
Q: Sherye, I’m so thrilled that Mildred’s harrowing story finally gets to be shared on a larger stage. How did you first get involved in the project?
A: While on a trip in 2010 to southern Germany and Austria, I met and became friends with Mildred’s husband’s cousin, Jean Behnke. We are both retired history teachers and also share a love of books. Through the years, we’ve kept in close touch. As my writing career progressed, I sent Jean copies of an inspirational novel and a devotional collection I had written and drafts of World War II-related magazine articles I had penned.
At the urging of her family, Mildred wrote down a rough draft of the events of her World War II experiences in late 2017. In May 2019, when Mildred’s family began discussing the possibility of developing her story into a book, Jean shared my name with Karen Van Allen, Mildred’s older daughter, as a possible writer for the project.
Susan Nickerson, Mildred’s younger daughter, contacted me three months later in August. We corresponded through phone calls and emails, and then I flew to Kansas in October to meet Mildred and interview her, other family members, and friends. Once home, I began to write the story and completed the manuscript on March 11, 2020, Mildred’s 91st birthday. A proposal was submitted to Sunbury Press in late March, Mildred received a contract in mid-April, and the book was published seven months later, on November 28, 2020.
Q: What was it about this story that you felt the world needed to hear?
A: What captured my imagination and caught my heart's attention when approached to work with Mildred on this project was the fact that she is living proof that it is indeed possible to endure horrific circumstances and go on to live a productive, joy-filled life. Never before have so many people needed to hear the inspiring message I heard in my conversations with her.
Q: Could you tell us a bit more about what Mildred’s childhood was like?
A: Mildred grew up in a warm, supportive family with loving parents. She was born in Kansas in 1929 to German immigrant parents. Within six months of her birth, the family returned to Germany so that her father could help run the family farm. Two years later, Mildred’s younger brother, Horst, was born. The siblings grew up on the Schindler family farm in Radach, Germany, a secluded farming community in the northeastern portion of the country. This was all before WWII came knocking.
Mildred’s childhood was a happy time and a season filled with much joy and laughter. The security of their parents’ love offered Mildred and Horst a safe, secure environment in which to grow up. Mildred strove to lead a life of character, faith, hard work, honesty, and integrity.
Q: How about now? Who is the woman that told you this story and what was the process like of listening/recording/learning?
A: I first met Mildred on the afternoon of Thursday, October 10, 2019, in her home in Ellsworth, Kansas. From the second our eyes met, I felt as if I had known her all my life.
Mildred is a delightful nonagenarian whose sparkling blue eyes, bright spirit, and easygoing manner put me instantly at ease. Over four days, Mildred and I visited in five different interview sessions for eleven hours of recorded conversation. While there, I also had the opportunity to meet and interview several family members and friends.
One of the most challenging aspects of writing the book was weaving together the various materials—Mildred's interview notes, the information provided by her family members and friends, newspaper archives of the period, personal documents, and historical research—into a cohesive framework. As a student of history and a former teacher of the same, it was important to me to offer readers a historical background for Mildred's life events. Although I had taught students about World War II's broader ins and outs on both the high school and college level, I became a student myself because many of the historical occurrences related to Mildred's story were unfamiliar to me.
It has been an honor to meet Mildred, get to know her, and partner with her to tell her story. I hope readers will find that viewing this true story through the lens of history makes the book more compelling.
Q: How would you explain the differences between Mildred’s home life in Germany vs. America?
A: That's one of the benefits of being on a farm in Germany. Her home life in Radach was actually not much different than that of her home life on the farm in Kansas. Everyday activities such as cooking and homemaking would have been very similar. Farmers in both countries would have employed many of the same agricultural techniques. They did have more modern conveniences available for purchase in the US, though.
Q: What would you say is the most memorable scene in the book? Why?
A: The most memorable scene in Surviving Hitler, Evading Stalin is when Mildred recalls the events of October 8, 1953, the day that she and her husband, Leon, drove to Hutchinson, Kansas, to pick up her mother, Mutti, and her brother, Horst, at the train station. By this time, Mildred had been apart from them for over seven years. How tender and sweet this reunion must have been. This scene also sets the stage for the years that lie ahead for all in this family.
Q: What unexpected thing might readers take away from the memoir?
A: One of Mildred's story's most surprising aspects is that readers are afforded a glimpse into ordinary German citizens' lives during this time. It is easy to assume that every German living in the years of the Third Reich supported dictator Adolph Hitler and adopted his warped way of thinking. Nothing could be further from the truth. Surviving Hitler, Evading Stalin is an account of noble German citizens who were just as horrified as millions of others worldwide about the terrifying events unfolding within their country during World War II.
Q: What is one thing you’d like to tell your readers before they peel open Surviving Hitler, Evading Stalin?
A: Buckle your seatbelt and have a Kleenex handy. Mildred’s account of escaping imprisonment and certain death had me reaching so quickly for my tissues.
Q: What would you say has been the high point of this book’s publication journey so far? How’s Mildred feeling about it all?
A: Receiving feedback from our readers has been especially meaningful to both Mildred and me. The overwhelmingly positive response has been both humbling and gratifying. Although our great hope was that the story would touch our readers’ hearts and minds, we had no idea just how significant it would become to those who purchased it. From the number of comments received through social media, phone calls, and personal letters, we’ve both been thrilled to learn the book is a reader favorite.
Mildred has been tremendously pleased with both the book itself and the warm reception it has received. Many in her area have written her fan letters. Some are from people she knows, but many are from total strangers.
Mildred and I both look forward to a time when we can greet our readers in person.
Q: Now that the book is finally out in the world—what would you say you’ve learned the most from it?
A: There are several lessons I’ve learned through the writing of this book.
First, it’s never too late. For Mildred, it was the right time for this then ninety-one-year-old to tell her story.
Second, miracles still happen. Although I’ve had books and magazine articles published within the past thirty-five years, I had not yet garnered attention from a traditional publisher. I offered up three “impossible” prayers for the book: that we would find the right publisher, that the book would be published within the year 2020 as that was the seventy-fifth anniversary of the end of World War II, and that the book would be released in time for Christmas. God answered these three prayers in Sunbury Press.
Third, the life of one person can make a difference. Mildred’s examples of daring, devotion to God, and choosing joy over bitterness continue to inspire and motivate me. I hope her story will do the same for the readers of Surviving Hitler, Evading Stalin.
Q: Do you have anything going on that we can follow?
A: Well...I highlight a new theme from the book over on our Facebook page each month. Mondays are devoted to a blog post accessed through my website in which I share detailed information about Mildred’s life, how the writing of this story impacted my life, a reflection on the month’s theme, some tidbit of World War II history, the power of choice, or stories about my favorite authors of World War II-related books.
Our world is desperately yearning for a good story, and I hope Surviving Hitler, Evading Stalin offers one.
About Sherye Simmons Green
Sherye Simmons Green's writing reflects her journey of faith and explores the inner landscapes of the heart. A former Miss Mississippi, she has enjoyed two careers — one in business, the other in education. She holds degrees from Mississippi State University and Mississippi College. An author, singer, and speaker, Sherye has long been intrigued by the power of words to influence and shape thought and action.
About Mildred Schindler Janzen
Mildred Schindler grew up on a peaceful family farm in the German countryside. WWII came knocking at her family’s door in February 1945, setting in motion a chain of events that would forever change their lives. Surviving Hitler, Evading Stalin recounts this teenager’s incredible escape from occupied Nazi Germany to America. Once there, Mildred made the decision to look beyond her personal pain, choosing instead to forge a life filled with joy, compassion, perseverance, and love. As a wife, mother, and grandmother, and now an active senior, she has decided to tell her story…all of it!
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