TAZ AWARD WINNER 2023
Kerrie Taber, author of the TAZ award winner Quarantining Hate and a professor at the University of Arkansas, Fort Smith, discussed her book in an email interview recently. She talks about the information she learned about her maternal grandfather.
“For the longest time I did not know what to do with what I found out about my grandfather,” she said. “I would talk to people about it in terms of how hate can be prevented from being passed on, but it did not feel like enough.”
Taber discussed the current situation where hate was gaining ground.
“I watched hate crimes and groups grow for the years leading up to January 6th. It was a couple of months later that it came to me to use my story along with some research to write a book about what I have had discussion about.”
People stepped in to help her as she worked on the book.
“It was also a little therapeutic to get what was rattling around in my head out onto paper. I was fortunate that a colleague offered to help after I asked her who she published her books with. She kept me on track.”
Taber grew up in the town of Elyria outside of Cleveland, a small working class town.
“I spent most of my childhood outside playing regardless of the time of year. I loved playing outside all day in the snow as much as being in the pool during the hot months.
“I was one of those kids that loved school and learning. I spent a lot of time playing sports, either in pickup games in the neighborhood or on organized soccer or basketball teams. I totally ruined my mom's dream of buying ballet shoes for her daughter when I got interested in sports and she had to buy soccer cleats instead. But I had a fairly typical life overall.
She mentioned that her perspective on her grandparents hasn’t changed much since she wrote the book.
“Because they were both gone by the time I graduated high school, and I never knew my maternal grandmother since she passed when I was two, the image I have of them has stayed pretty consistent. What I do think about more is how much they had to forego due to trying to hide from what my grandfather did. They had to be so careful not to get the attention of anyone who could possibly turn them in.”
Many people ask Taber if her grandfather had any remorse over what he did.
“I try to examine things that he did to see if I think they show remorse. I would like to think he had remorse, but it is so hard to tell since nothing close to the subject of what he did ever came up.”
Taber knew at a young age that her mom was born in another country and that the family came over when she was young.
“That was not much of a secret. I thought it was kind of cool. I do not know if it was because of the fact my mom and her family were directly impacted by WWII that made me interested in that timeframe or if it was just because it was a very dynamic time in our history. But as I learned more about WWII, I began to wonder why my grandparents made the decision to leave Lithuania as the Germans retreated instead of staying. I never thought the reason was because my grandfather was involved in the Holocaust, but that they decided they did not want to live under Soviet rule.
“It was stories from my mom about her being told that Nazi officers were at her christening that made me wonder if there was not more to it. This was because as I learned about WWII, I learned that Nazis did not think highly of people in other countries and did not interact with them unless they were aligned with the Nazis.”
Taber learned very little about Lithuania, the customs, language, and culture when she was growing up.
“I wish I had learned a lot more about that side of my family and heritage, but I think my grandfather got used to not talking about Lithuania by the time I was born so little was said.”
Taber’s mother was only two when they left, so she did not learn much about her.
“What I learned about what might explain my grandfather's actions was from my research into how all these seemingly ordinary people could end up participating in the Holocaust. “The layers of beliefs and events that possibly explains why my grandfather participated in the Holocaust is complex. There was a strong foundation of global antisemitism leading up to WWII and then you have the fact that some Jewish people filled administrative roles for the Soviets when they controlled the lands from the middle of Poland east after the nonaggression pact with Germany. This added to the target on the Jewish people when the Soviets retreated and the Germans were advancing.”
What does she wish she could ask her grandfather now?
“I wish I could ask him why he would do what he did and to do it so many times. The Jewish community in the Kaunas area was very large and well established, so I cannot understand how they went from long-time neighbors to people who were rounded up and massacred. Even after learning about the situation around the Holocaust spreading to Lithuania, it is hard to understand why so many would willingly help the Nazis.”
In Taber’s family, many conversations turned into disagreements. Her perspective after writing the book hasn’t changed much.
“My mom's side of the family loved to debate and it also carried over into our household. But the conversations turning into disagreements was partly because it was a room full of stubborn people who enjoyed a debate. The disagreements between my mom and grandfather were probably due to the fact they are very similar in that they both have strong personalities.
Her mother was strong willed which got her in trouble.
“It did not change much when she got older. I am sure some of the problem was that my grandfather was still very militaristic in his view of how things should be done and also the desire to keep a low profile to avoid being found. His life depended on his family not making the family the focus of anyone, and he had a daughter who was a bit of a rebel.”
Her book cover was a joint venture.
“I did the idea for the cover and put together the pictures for the background. A colleague at the university, Jay Fox, did the letter press for the title. We looked over some quarantine signs and I thought that having the Quarantining like a stamp over the word Hate would be cool. “At first, I did not have an idea for something behind the title, but then thought about putting photos. It was interesting finding public domain photos to use. Joyce Faulkner took the cover art and then finished up the book cover to include the back material and color. It was fun seeing the general idea in my head come together into what it ended up being.”
Sandra Miller Linhart did her final editing.
“I went through some initial editing with two colleagues, one who is a professor of rhetoric and the other who works in our writing center on campus. They made sure the flow was good and some basic writing polishing. Since I am not a writer in general, having them go through it made me feel good enough about the manuscript to send it around. They also pointed out areas where people needed more information.”
Taber used Google to look up her research information.
“I changed the search terms based on a conversation with my parents and the article popped up that mentioned my grandfather as part of the Lithuanian Auxiliary Police. I had been trying to find something on my mom's heritage in Lithuania for a while, but it was not until that point that I found anything. More recently, I found books and other articles that mentioned my grandfather and added some information to what I had from the first article.
“For the other material in the book, I used my university's journal database to find articles around the different topics I wanted to include in my book.”
Taber does her writing when she’d rather be asleep.
“It seems like I did my best writing as I was trying to fall to sleep. A lot of great chapters got lost between trying to fall to sleep and the next morning. My subconscious may have saved some of the ideas for when I did sit down to actually write.”
Part of her information gathering was done between her office at the University of Arkansas, Fort Smith and home.
“I would read the articles for the chapters at home and highlight things that I found interesting and might use. I would then go into my office on campus to do the rest of the work. I was able to focus better in the office away from things around the house that could distract me from writing.
“I would first write out by hand the things I highlighted with each article getting its own note pages. This first part was very "old school" in that I worked from printed out articles and wrote out the notes by hand. The handwritten notes help me have more of it in my head so that if I came to something I wanted to say, I could usually remember where I saw something around that topic and go to the notes to find it.
“I would usually go into the office in the afternoon to do the work as I found that the afternoon worked best for me to focus. If something would come to mind when I was at home, I would jump onto my computer to write it out or edit a section. Since I initially did the work in Google Docs, I was able to easily access the chapters from wherever.”
Everyone should read this book. Taber was courageous in opening up her family’s secrets to her readers but for a good purpose, to stop the advancement of hate.