Barbara Stark-Nemon (www.barbarastarknemon.com) grew up in Michigan, listening to her family’s stories of their former lives in Germany, which became the basis and inspiration for Even in Darkness, her first novel. Barbara holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in English and Art History and a Masters in Speech-language Pathology from the University of Michigan. After a 30-year teaching and clinical career working with deaf and language-disabled children, Barbara became a full-time writer. She lives and works in Ann Arbor and Northport, Michigan.
1. What inspired you to write Even in Darkness?
Even in Darkness is based on the life of my great aunt, who alone among her siblings did not
escape Germany during the Holocaust. Her story of survival—the courage and strength she had
to remake herself and her life in the face of unspeakable loss—has been an inspiration to me
throughout my adult life. Hers is a beautiful story and having come to know it in depth I wanted to
share it and create a legacy for her.
2. You researched the book thoroughly. Did you know from the beginning how extensive
your research would become?
Yes and no. I’ve known since one of the visits I made to my great aunt in Germany many years
ago, that I wanted to write her story, so I started interviewing her (she was already over 90 years
old) and the priest, who is the other main character in this story. I also interviewed my parents
and grandparents. I already knew a lot about my grandfather and great aunt’s family from Sunday
nights around the dinner table. Then my aunt died, and the priest sent me all her personal
papers, including over 50 letters that her son had written to her during and after the war from
Palestine, where he had been sent at the age of 12. Those letters deepened and changed what I
understood about all their lives in a way I couldn’t have predicted.
3. What was one of your favorite stories that your grandfather told you about his life in
My favorite story is one that’s actually in Even in Darkness and describes how, when all hope
appeared to be lost for getting a visa to leave Germany, my grandfather chose to try one last time
at the bidding of my 12-year-old mother who pestered him that she wanted to go to the U.S. to
join her best friend who had already emigrated. My grandfather didn’t want to frighten my mother
by telling her that he’d tried repeatedly to see the American consul and been denied an
appointment. My mother begged him to go that day; it was her birthday. When he said he might
not be able to get in, she told him to tell the diplomat it was his daughter’s birthday. My
grandfather stayed all day in line at the consulate, and as he was about to be turned away yet
again, he pleaded that it was his daughter’s birthday and he just felt it was a lucky day. The
official let him in, and an hour later he had the necessary visa. That was in May of 1938, and they
were finally able to leave in October, just a few weeks before Kristallnacht.
4. Where did you begin your research and where did it lead you?
I traveled to Germany, Belgium, the Czech Republic, and to Israel to trace all the histories and
see all the places I learned about in my grandfather’s stories and later, in the trove of personal
papers my great aunt left to me. I was able to interview even more people related to this story,
walk the streets, photograph the homes, take trains over the same routes to the concentration
camp, look out over the hills surrounding the kibbutz where all my characters lived out their lives.
In archives and museums I learned details of births, deaths, marriages, businesses, deportations,
displacements, escapes and emigrations. All this knowledge fed my imagination for the parts of
the story I didn’t and couldn’t know.
5. How did you feel reading letters written by your ancestors? What did you learn from these
This was one of the most thrilling and challenging aspects of writing Even in Darkness. To
translate these sixty-five-year-old letters and hear the voice of my mother’s cousin as a 19-yearold
pioneer in Palestine with his description of his escape from Germany and the early years of
his life half a world away was both fascinating and did more than anything else to make that time
and his character live for me. The exhaustion, desperation and heartache of his parents, having
just survived years of persecution under the Nazis, and then three years in a concentration camp
and displaced person camp, can be heard in his youthful assurances that one day it would be
safe for his mother to visit, brushing off the dangers he faced, and his exuberance for all that he
was training to accomplish on the kibbutz he and other young pioneers were starting.
6. What kinds of considerations were there in incorporating real letters into your novel?
The biggest challenge was to capture the voice, the history and the language of the letters and
still work within the story structure of the novel. It was the most poignant and concrete example of
the constant balance I had to maintain as I was writing Even in Darkness between what really
happened to the people on whom the book is based, and what worked for purposes of writing a
7. What was the most surprising part about your research? Did you uncover any family
There were some surprises. Through interviews with cousins in Europe I learned a different
perspective about other members of my grandfather’s family, whom I knew only though his
stories. I learned about my mother’s cousins who were hidden in a convent by nuns. I learned
about the personal decisions about faith and influence in the Catholic Church at that time that had
enormous impact on my family. I learned that another great aunt was a beautiful singer and
evaded arrest by singing for a German officer. And I learned that what people had to do to
maintain their safety and their sanity during the dangerous years of the 1930s in Germany
resulted in boundary crossing behaviors that were both courageous and painful.