I’ve had people tell me they are between books, looking for something new to read; a new author, a new genre. There are more writers than ever before: More good writers, more not so good writers. The choices of things to read are enormous. The purpose of interviewing a writer is to give you, the reader, a chance to hear from the writer directly, to hear the writer’s own voice.
Just as I have no philosophy of painting – I just get up everyday and paint – I would say I also have no writing philosophy. An expressionist, I paint and write because I had to get out what was is inside myself and put it down on canvas or paper.
When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer?
For forty years, from Europe, to the U.S., to Mexico, I carried with me the 80 plus letters I had written to my mother from the trenches of Russia–without ever re-opening or re-reading them. When, in 1984 I finally decided to read the letters I was surprised. Having expected the frightened ramblings of a teenager stuck in a war he neither wanted nor believed in, I was surprised to find the letters were much more interesting than I had expected. Once I had read all of them, I knew I had to write the rest of the story.
Why did you write this book?
Many of the collectors who have purchased my paintings over the years have been Jewish. When they learned that I, a partial Jew, had been in Hitler’s army, they were surprised or even shocked.
I began writing partially as an explanation for all the people who didn’t know that everything in WWII wasn’t black and white, and that the real story didn’t resemble the typical Hollywood versions of the war.
Once I had begun to write, however, I became somewhat obsessed and could do nothing but write. I was overcome by emotions and memories that I thought I had dealt with long ago; I was astounded by the amount of detail that came back, given that I’ve never had a very good memory in general. Writing this book was a final catharsis and a coming to terms with my part on the Russian front and as a Russian prisoner of war.
If you had it to do over what would you change about the book?
The book went through many editions. Some letters were deleted because they were either repetitive or unnecessary. By the time it was ready for the publisher, there was nothing I would have changed.
What do you find most difficult about writing?
Since I have been a lifelong professional artist, I never considered myself a writer. But I did like to fantasize about certain scenarios or imaginary settings and stories. If I had had more time I would have loved to write a sequel to this book about post war Vienna.
Where do your ideas come from?
This memoir is a true story, to the best of my memory and abilities. But, in general, I have always been able to visualize. My brain is divided into compartments, like a building. My favorite level is filled with drawers that I can pull out to get new ideas. There are many rooms above that I haven’t yet visited.
What surprising things did you learn while writing this book?
That I had a talent for writing and, in this particular case, that writing can be very therapeutic.
Where do you live and how does that influence your writing?
Living for 35 years in Mexico, on a country hillside, overlooking Mexico’s largest lake surrounded with mountains, has been perfect for any kind of creative activity. The property is filled with trees, plants and birds. Though a clear sky, I can see a distant horizon from almost any window. I know this has influenced my painting, and it has given me the space and peace to write as well.
If you have a career outside of writing how does it fit into your life as a writer?
This question has to be the other way round. I have been an artist for 50 years, completing over 2000 oils, 1000 drawings, hundreds of watercolors and serigraphs as well as numerous sculptures. I’d have loved to write more, but there just wasn’t enough time.
Do you have a special routine you go through before you begin writing? As with my painting, I don’t wait for inspiration. I just begin and do it. If it’s no good, I toss it and begin again.
Who will enjoy and benefit from reading this book?
I hope it will be read by young men around the age I was when the story took place. It will surely be interesting to WWII buffs, as well as to those who read Jewish literature and history in general. Many women have enjoyed the book because of the strong and loving mother/son relationship that is revealed in the letters upon which the book is based.
It’s obvious yours has not been an ordinary life, Georg. Thank You.
Georg Rauch. The Jew with the Iron Cross, A Record of Survival in WWII Russia