Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Q&A with Sacha Batthyany

Sacha Batthyany is the author of the new book A Crime in the Family: A World War II Secret Buried in Silence--and My Search for the Truth. His parents emigrated from Hungary to Switzerland, where he was born in 1973. He is a political reporter for the Süddeutsche Zeitung in Washington, D.C.

Q: At what point did you decide to write a book about your family history and the legacies of World War II?

A: I was 34 years old when I first heard about a massacre in a tiny village in Austria and the role my Grandaunt Margit played in it. I was shocked at first and totally surprised. I never thought that my family could be involved in something like this.

But it took me years and lot of research to finally decide to write a book. Why? Because I had so many questions and no answers.  Not only did I want to know what happened. I wanted to find out why nobody in my family ever talked about it.

I was interested not only in historical facts, but also in personal questions: Why did lots of my family members always keep quiet? What about my father? How much did he know, how much did he want to know? Some family members were supportive, others were not - and they criticized me for my work and for the book a lot. 

Q: The book includes your own experiences as well as your research into what occurred in the past. How did you choose the structure of the book, and did you write it in the order in which it appears?

A: I spent lot of time thinking about a structure, to be honest. There are lot of people involved, lot of different documents, such as diaries and old files. And I traveled all over Europe, to Siberia and South America, to find answers.

Then there are also all my sessions with my psychoanalyst, which I describe throughout the book. There were simply a lot of different threads I had to combine, which was not easy. But I somehow wanted to show that everything is connected.

Q: Throughout the book, you ask how your family history relates directly to you and what your role is. What did you conclude, and did writing the book change your perceptions?

A: I really do think that the European history, my family’s history, is still present in a way, and it still haunts me. It influences me in my everyday life; that’s what I found out in my research. Things may have happened in the past, but they are affecting my life today.

I think we all have to carry a certain bag we inherited from our ancestors. I was looking in my bag now for the last seven years. And writing a book about it helped me to understand a little bit more where I come from and who I am. 

Q: Much of the book deals with your family's connection to a Jewish family, the Mandls. Have the members of their family read the book, and if so, what do they think of it? And can you say more about the reactions from your own family members?

A: Some of the Mandl family members did read my book and from what I hear, they like it. One day I’ll visit them again in Argentina to talk about it – and also to hear their critique – and I’m looking forward to it.

Regarding my own family, there has been a wide range of reactions: I received positive and supporting letters, but also harsh criticism.

Q: What are you working on now? 

A: I’m currently working as a political correspondent in the U.S. – which has kept me very busy since November.

--Interview with Deborah Kalb

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