Saturday, April 18, 2015

Narcissistic mother as a muse: holocaust memoirs by Julian Padowicz

Today I have a very special guest – a holocaust refugee, US Air Force veteran, film director and author Julian Padowicz. This remarkable gentleman has many achievements to his name in the world of film and literature, but today we are going to focus on his series of memoirs. The first book in the series, Mother and Me: Escape from Warsaw 1939 chronicling a young Jewish boy’s trek through Europe in the company of his self-enamored mother won the ForeWord magazine Book of the Year award in 2006. Since then Julian has written three more installments: A Ship in the Harbor, Loves ofYulian and When the Diamonds Ran Out. Narcissists may not make idea mothers, but they surely provide priceless material for an engaging book.  

MJN: A few years ago I conducted an interview with a number of WWII veterans from the former Soviet army. One gentleman said, "When I hear my great-grandkids bickering over stupid stuff, it's music to my ears. The best compliment a veteran can hope for. It means that I completed my task. Thank G-d they have nothing more serious to worry about." How much do your own grandkids (and greatgrandkids) know about your past? Do you discuss your experiences and your books with them?

JP: I'm afraid that my grandkids know very little about my past. One of my daughters made sure that both of her sons had their own, autographed copies of my first book, "Mother and Me: Escape from Warsaw 1939," but, I'm not even sure they read it. But, as the man you quote said, it's good they have less troubling things to worry about.

MJN: This is going to sound strange, but I am going to ask this question anyway. Do you ever wish you had been born earlier and actually had a chance to experience combat? What if you were old enough to join the army with your stepfather Lolek? Do you think you have the makings of a soldier? And realistically, how many men who are forced to fight truly do have the proverbial "right stuff"?

JP: In Poland, before the war, boys were brought up to be "little soldiers," wearing toy swords and soldiers' caps. When war broke out, I was terribly unhappy that I wasn't old enough to join the army, instead of having my heart broken by my nanny's departure. When I reached America, by the age of 9, I desperately wanted to join the Boy Scouts so that I could wear a uniform, like so many men did. But then, in my twenties, I joined the Air Force, and had my own "right stuff" experience with airplanes.

MJN: Your mother, the indomitable heroine of your memoirs, is one of my favorite people. After reading the four installments of your memoirs, I somehow have a feeling that her cheerful egotism is a form of psychological self-defense. I got a feeling that she was just as vulnerable as her first husband, who tragically chose to end his life prematurely, although she took a different path. Looking back at all her adventures, I keep thinking of how many opportunities she had to give up, to take a different turn, to put on a black veil and beat her chest.

JP: My mother was a very complicated person. I had a hard time saying that she was anything but a thorn in my side, when I was young. She was a mixture of chutzpah and pathological neediness. She needed approval and acclaim to the extent that she openly lied about events, frequently at my expense. When I was in the Air Force, she would use her status as the wife of a French diplomat to meet my superior officers and embarrass me and my wife by flirting with them and telling them outlandish lies about us. They thought she was charming; I thought she was an embarrassment. It is only now, some forty years after her death, that I see her as a rich source of material. She is not only a central character in my four memoirs, but the inspiration for a character in my novels. I call her "my mother load."

MJN: You have always been successful about selling books at various events in physical venues. I have several books myself with small presses, and they target internet marketing. I feel that the value of face-to-face interaction is underrated. Authors need more venues to establish that sort of interaction with their prospective readers.

JP: Certainly face to face interaction has worked for me in the sale of books. I have a talk, which I have been delivering and honing for nine years now, which I give wherever I can, and it does create that face-to-face for me and sell books.

MJN: I've always thought you had a beautiful voice and beautiful face, both manly and gentle and classy. I can easily see you as a host on History Channel. I believe you have worked on documentary films. Can you tell us about that segment of your artistic career?

JP: When you introduce a request with that kind of compliments, how can I refuse? Yes, I did spend some thirty plus years as a producer of industrial documentary films and classroom films. It began as a script writing job for a documentary series on the American way of life for the US Information Agency, in the sixties, and turned into my own production company when I couldn't find anyone else to hire me as a writer. I learned to shoot a sixteen millimeter camera, to record sound, and to edit, out of necessity. But when videotape replaced film, I didn't want to make the transition and turned to writing books.

MJN: Some time ago you created a number of audio books, including one on the nature of cats. That was before iTunes. Have you thought of converting them to an updated format and making them available again?

JP: I have given it some thought. But I know nothing about marketing that kind of material today. When I was producing audiobooks, some fifteen years ago, I was self-publishing before "print on demand" became popular because I realized that I could record myself and produce cassettes, as the market demanded, using the equipment I had from my filmmaking days. But electronic marketing is way over my head.


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