Adventurers Against Their Will

Extraordinary World War II Stories of Survival, Escape, and Connection - Unlike any Others

by Joanie Holzer Schirm

Sorting through her parents’ belongings after their deaths, Joanie Holzer Schirm discovered their lost world.Sorting through her parents’ belongings after their deaths, Joanie Holzer Schirm discovered their lost world. Hand-written on faded and brittle stationary, stamped by censors and military authorities, and neatly filed in two Chinese lacquered boxes were 400 letter from 78 correspondents – along with carbon copies of the letters her father Valdik had sent them – dating from the late 1930s through the 1940s. Postmarked from as far flung places as Palestine, China, England, South America, Holocaust experts have called the collection one of the most substantive and important personal collections to have recently come to light.
Adventures Against Their Will is a gripping wartime adventure, a fascinating account of WWII archival reconstruction, and a searching exploration of family and friends with the will to survive. Schirm’s painstaking search 70 years later for seven of the writers shines a light on the lives of displaced people who rebuilt their lives across the globe.
As Schirm painstaking pieces the letter-writers’ stories together, she comes to realize that all of them, as her father puts it in a letter, were “adventurers against their will.” None of them knew that they were a part of history – they were simply trying to live out their lives, to hold onto their dignity, and protect their loved ones. The lessons that they taught her comes through in every line of this fascinating and beautifully written book; that the poetry and the poignancy of everyday life endures. As a paradoxical, but apt Czech Expression has it, “paper can withstand anything."
Available in both English and Czech, Adventurers Against Their Will won the 2013 Global EBook Award for Best Biography and is recommended reading for high school students by the Florida Department of Education. At a time when the number of displaced people around the world is larger than those displaced during WWII, this relevant and intimate story has captured the imagination of international readers,
“My father never mentioned that he planned to leave a magnificent gift; a treasure trove through which I would meet the souls of his cousins and friends. Many of the secrets cloistered by those bright and shiny Chinese boxes were ghastly. Lives lost; lives shattered. Friends abandoned. Lovers betrayed. The paths I followed beyond the letters made clear that the guilt and grief continued to wound and sometimes cripple those who remained, long after the war was over. The message of Adventurers is evergreen – teaching us about the traumatic lives of displaced people, the dangers of persecution and prejudice, and the consequence of indifference.” – Joanie Holzer Schirm