Kitty Thuermer (Mali 1977-79) is one of the RPCV Community’s finest writers. However, she doesn’t write enough. What she does do is ’stalk’ famous people, usually at Borders Books down the street from the Peace Corps Office in Washington, D.C. This is the way she works…
In the book store she’ll sidle up to someone famous, lets say, Katsuya Okada or Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva (Kitty religiously studies the Style Section of the Washington Post so she knows everyone by sight.) She’ll note what book they are examining and she’ll say something pithy about the book (Kitty also is very well read; well, actually, she only reads the book reviews in the Post, but she reads all of them.) Her comments will attract the attention of the Famous Person and soon they will be engaged in conversation with this intelligent D.C. woman, and they’ll be thinking “why don’t we have such attractive and intelligent women back in Japan and Brazil?”
Meanwhile, Kitty is taking notes in her head about the chance meeting and then she’ll publish her encounter in the Post. Unfortunately for all
Washington Post readers, Kitty is a busy career woman so we haven’t (lately) read enough of her stalking stories. However, I am sure someday she will publish a novel that will put all of us other RPCV writers to shame.
Kitty doesn’t work for the Peace Corps, but as a State Department brat and NGO worker, she has lived and worked in India, Ghana, Germany, Madagascar, Mali, Tanzania, and Haiti. She is also the author of the Post’s Extreme Travel Trivia Contest for 10 years.
While we wait for her novel here is a short piece she just sent me, about her father for whom, during the last several years, Kitty has been lovingly stalking and caring.
Kitty writes . . .
If you can believe it, it used to be VERBOTEN! to leave your Peace Corps country during your two-year tour. Never mind — over Christmas 1978, I escaped the 130 degree heat of northern Mali and landed in the middle of a winter wonderland in West Berlin, the Wall still firmly intact.
When I announced to my already depressed and sallow site mates Debbie and Harriet that I was going to spend Christmas with my family and wasn’t that gemutlich — I was met with that emotional cocktail so delectably described by George Packer in Village of Waiting: envy — and contempt! My guilty promise to bring back lots of German chocolate did little to placate them.
Once in Berlin, it was fun to see my father, Angus MacLean Thuermer, using his Berliner Deutsch to navigate the city that he had called home back in the 1930s. Pop’s big dream had been to be a foreign correspondent. And, by God, one year he was a reporter for the University of Illinois’ Daily Illini and the next year he was covering Hitler’s invasion of Poland — as AP’s man on the border.
Although Pop died this past April at age 92 — he’s left a paper trail of experiences that has piqued the interest of numerous archivists and museums. He used to remind us that for most of the world, the war started in September 1939. Yet for Americans, it didn’t start until the attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941 — more than two years later. During that period, Pop and the harried AP/Berlin staff continued to file stories, often censored, and under increasingly stressful conditions. After Pearl Harbor was attacked, Pop said he was the only one who was waiting — in pajamas and with bag packed — for the Gestapo to round him up, and take him, along with other civilians, to a six-month internment.
Pop’s internment is another story, but if you want to know about his journalistic scoop, it had to do with another man’s internment - famed British humorist PG Wodehouse. Pop scored an exclusive interview with Wodehouse, who was sequestered in a converted lunatic asylum in Tost, Poland. According to Wodehouse biographer Robert McCrum, who interviewed Pop for the paperback edition of Wodehouse: A Life, “Thuermer’s report was published in the New York Times on 26 December 1940 . . . it lit the long fuse that would lead to the detonation of the broadcasts in June 1941.” Wodehouse’s broadcasts, made after internment from Berlin, were meant to show his “stiff upper lip” — but many war-weary Brits accused him of collusion with the Nazis, and he and his family were forced to flee to the U.S. to live.
According to McCrum, “Today, Thuermer’s scoop would be greeted with comment and acclaim. In the midst of war, he says it was just another job.”
Herewith, Pop’s original PG Wodehouse interview, retrieved by an AP archivist. (And by the way, those chocolates sure tasted good back in Mali, and Debbie and Harriet forgave me — sort of.)
Interview with PG Wodehouse during his WWII internment by the Germans
By Angus MacLean Thuermer, AP
(AP Editors note: Angus Thuermer of the Associated Press Berlin staff made a journey to a prison camp in Upper Silesia, Eastern Germany, with special permission of the German authorities to interview P.G. Wodehouse, the British author who was taken prisoner when the German armies swept through northern France. Thuermer, a native of Quincy, Ill., hails from Chicago and joined the AP Berlin bureau shortly before the outbreak of war.)
Berlin, Dec. 26, 1940 (AP) P.G. Wodehouse, the imperturbably creator of the unexampled Jeeves, is cheerfully writing a book about American crooks these days in a room in a German civilian internment camp that once was the padded cell of a madhouse.
The English author’s companions in confinement are truck drivers, coal heavers, Cambridge graduates, artists, some of His Majesty’s consuls - an assortment of Britons picked up by the Nazis all the way from Brest Litovsk, in Poland, to the English Channel and from Kirkenes, in Norway, to the Brenner Pass.
Wodehouse was arrested in occupied France, at his villa in Le Touquet, on the Channel, during the German offensive last May.
My visit to the Silesian camp where he and 1100 other British subjects are now held inside double barbed-wire fences was the result of long argument with German officialdom, which finally gave its permission.
I found him concerned with his new novel. He told me he was thinking of calling it “Money for Jam,” and whne I confessed that the phrase didn’t mean anything to a Middle Western American he exclaimed:
“That’s what I was afraid of. What it means is money for nothing, or easy pickings.”
The camp commander, a little Saxon Colonel, had ordered the novelist brought to his office for the interview.
Wodehouse came in smiling; pulled a battered old cap from his shining head, stretched out a hand and said:
“Well, my, my.” It’s certainly grand of you to come down to see me.”
He was wearing a long, heavy tan bathrobe held together with a leather belt; a blue turtle-neck sweater; a tweed sports jacket, trousers and a pair of knit globes. He carried a three-inch stack of sheets of paper - the innards of the new book.
Coming over here to East Germany came as an absolute blow to me,” he said. “It all happened so quickly, you know, that I really didn’t have a chance to leave France.
“Really before I could do anything the war was over for me. By the end of May the whole thing was settled in my territory.”
His eyes twinkled as he told of the months during which he had to report every morning at nine o’clock to the German police.
In July he was sent along with other British prisoners to Loos and there, he said, they had their worst experience as they were turned over to the French polic, who treated them as criminals and allowed them only one hour in 24 outside a cell.
But “The German Commander came to inspect,” the author related, “and went through that place like an east wind. He raised hell.”
Shortly the prisoners - Wodehouse and his oddly assorted companions - were transferred to Belgium and from there to the present camp, a group of red brick buildings with barred windows which formerly was an insane asylum.
Asked about his daily schedule Wodehouse laughed and said, looking at the camp commander:
“Well, am I allowed to tell him-?”
“Sure, why not?” the English-speaking officer replied.
The prisoners, Wodehouse then said, have reveille at 6 a.m., dress and wash, have breakfast and then roll call at 9 a.m. After that they have a chance to see the doctor, and are free to pursue their chosen activity until lunch time, since as civilians they are not required to do manual labor.
The 1,100 men eat in three shifts in a dining hall.
“Immediately after roll call I go over to ‘The White House’, our amusement and concert hall,” Wodehouse said, “to do some more work on the book which I started here. It’s about three American crooks who appeared in one of my other books and the scene, as usual, is laid in England.
“This is the first time in 35 years that I’ve written a book in long hand. Oh, but now,” the writer recalled, “even that’s stopped, as the commandant has been kind enough to lend me his typewriter.”
Wodehouse, who obviously struck the right note with his German captors by his gracious bearing and cordiality, endeared himself even more when he refused to accept special housing privileges. The commandant, in view of Wodehouse’s age (he’s 59), his position in the world and the work he is doing, offered to remove him from a room with 60 other internees and place him in a private room.
Wodehouse refused, saying he would stay with the others.
He has taken advantage of a single room in the amusement center, where he writes undisturbed each morning and afternoon.
On our way to see the room, which has a high, barred window with double panes of glass, the commandant revealed it had been the padded cell.
Wodehouse laughed and remarked:
“I guess this book will be the first ever written in the padded cell of an insane asylum.”
In order that he might take back to his bunk a half-pound of American pipe tobacco, some soap and a can of baked beans which was a present from the Associated Press, the little group went back from the commander’s office to the dormitory where the English author is “bedded down” among the other English.
In the twilight the long room resembled anything but the villa from which Wodehouse came. Unshaded light bulbs hung down from the ceiling and many of the internees were far from looking their best.
Wodehouse, who is president of the camp library, said:
“I have my own library here, 14 of my own books being read by my roommates. You can imagine how flattering it is to have 14 men in one room reading your books at the same time”
He claimed the early-to-bed schedule was “giving me health I never achieved in private life.” As to the food, same in amount and quality as that given the German population, he said he was becoming “a great admirer of the German potato.”
In view of Wodehouse’s age and position, interested American parties have been interceding in his behalf with the German police authorities to get him outside the barbed wire and into a hotel where he merely could report periodically to the authorities. Their efforts so far have been in vain.