Interview & Giveaway: Claiming My Place by Planaria Price

Happy Friday, dear readers! Today on the blog I have an interview with Planaria Price, who is currently on Blog Tour for Claiming My Place! We also have a giveaway so be sure to enter.

Enjoy getting to know Planaria....

Hello Planaria and welcome to Passages to the Past! Thanks so much for stopping by today to talk about Claiming My Place!

To begin, can you please tell us a little about yourself and your writing?

I grew up in the San Fernando Valley of Southern California and had always been an avid reader. I clearly remember a day when I was eleven. I suddenly threw down the book I was reading and decided I was going to write a book, too. I got out a blank notebook and started writing.... maybe a sentence or two. Then realized, to my utter surprise and sadness, that I had no clue what to write about; I had no plot. I had only an imagination that went nowhere. Throughout school, especially middle and high school, I excelled in English and often won prizes for my imaginative writing. But, alas, all the school papers I wrote were about the lives of famous historical characters; imaginatively written, of course. I have now accepted the fact that I am solely a nonfiction writer and of my seven published books all are nonfiction. But hooray! I now have a genre classification: creative nonfiction.

After graduating from Berkeley and earning a master’s degree in English Literature from UCLA, I followed my passion and started teaching English to adult immigrants in Los Angeles. While teaching for forty years, I wrote several ESL books about American culture, folktales and myths and have lectured at more than a hundred conferences and schools. In addition to this, I have worked with my husband to save and restore over thirty Victorian and Craftsman homes in my historic Los Angeles neighborhood. Claiming My Place is my first book for young adults.

What inspired you to write Barbara’s story in Claiming My Place?

I’ve always been interested in the Holocaust and would constantly recommend Holocaust biographies to my adult ESL students. My inspiration for Barbara’s story came from the serendipity of meeting her daughter Helen West. Please see below.

You co-wrote Claiming My Place with Barbara’s daughter, Helen. How did you meet Helen and what did the co-writing collaboration process look like?

As I describe in the preface, it was truly a dark and stormy night in April 2005. My husband and I were eating dinner at the bar at Nepenthe in Big Sur, California. For some reason, (neither Helen nor I remember why) the woman sitting next to me, Helen West, turned to me and started telling her mother’s Holocaust story. It was so incredibly unique and fascinating, I urged her to write it down. She said she was a psychotherapist and not a writer. My husband said “Planaria’s a writer” and I gave her my card. She evidently googled me and a few months later emailed “Let’s do it”. In October 2005, I flew to Washington DC, stayed with Helen for a week and interviewed ninety-year-old Barbara Reichmann for five days. She was such a delightful vibrant woman with the clearest of memories that went back to when she was three. The collaboration process was that I would be the writer and Helen would be sure that everything included in the book was 100% accurate. I wanted Helen to be a part of the process, so I decided to end my part when Barbara got to America and asked Helen to write the afterward about her memories of their life in the USA from 1951 until the death of Barbara in 2007.

The fact that Barbara’s memory of her childhood was so interesting and vivid made me realize that I had the makings of a totally unique and important book about the Holocaust. None of the other Holocaust books that I have read follow the protagonist from peacetime early childhood to the onslaught of the Nazis nor describe the refugee experience as well. I realized I had a wonderful medium to show readers what normal middle class Polish Jewish life was like in the 1920’s-1930’s. I knew it would be a marvelous educational possibility as well as emotional—to portray the tragedy of what has been lost.

What research did you undertake when writing Claiming My Place?

Besides interviewing Barbara extensively (with a tape recorder as well as my laptop) for five days in 2005, sending Helen and Barbara the first draft in January 2006 and then returning to DC in February to interview Barbara, in depth, for two days, I was in constant email and phone contact with Helen from the beginning. Helen also gave me family contacts to whom I spoke or emailed, especially her cousin Marek (whose story, in most of his own words, is in the chapter Hela and Marek pp188). I was also able to use the wonderful research done by Ben Giladi with his Voice of Piotrkow Survivors and information from the Rabbi’s son Napthali Lau.

What would you like readers to take away from reading Claiming My Place?

I wrote the book for so many reasons. First and foremost, to tell the story of an “ordinary” person cast into extraordinary circumstances, hoping that Barbara’s story would inspire readers to wonder what they would have done in her place. I chose to write the book in the YA genre solely in the hopes that it would be accepted on the required Holocaust curricula of schools so that the younger generation would learn the accurate history of the Holocaust, understand what normal Jewish life was like before, and think about how refugees cope and survive. Unfortunately, the book is so “timely”. My wish is that reading Barbara’s story will raise awareness to today’s hatreds, genocides and the current plights of refugees so that people will fight against it and say Never Again to all racism.

What was your favorite scene to write?

There were so many!!! It’s too difficult to bring one to mind but I guess I really loved writing about when Barbara finds a job at an extermination factory; the irony of that was fantastic.

What was the most difficult scene to write?

Again, there were so many. And I don’t want to give anything away. Three come immediately to mind: when Barbara returns to Piotrkow and meets with Pan Dobranski when her mother falls ill, but especially, what happens to Sabina after the war. I cried when I wrote that and still cry when I read it now.

When did you know you wanted to be a writer?

As I said in the first question, I was eleven. The memory (and disappointment) is still crystal clear. I wanted to be a writer, but I had nothing interesting to write about.

What does your daily writing routine look like?

It looks horrible……. At this point, it is depressingly non-existent.

What has been your greatest challenge as a writer? Have you been able to overcome it?

My greatest challenge is to find the needed unbroken swatches of time and the quiet; unfortunately, with my life now, it is unattainable. But there is always the hopeful future.

Who are your writing inspirations?

Oh my! I am such an avid reader there must be hundreds. Lewis Carroll and Charles Dickens, Mark Twain and Oscar Wilde. Jonathan Swift is such an inspiration because he was able to write (without the benefit of even a typewriter) while he was horribly ill. (Same with Charles Darwin). And definitely, I am inspired by the writings of Maxine Hong Kingston.

Oh, how could I forget the brilliance of EB White? Lately, I have been totally delighted by the incredibly researched historical fiction of Sandra Gulland and her Josephine B trilogy. And I can’t forget Ariana Franklin. When I heard she had died I read ALL her books plus those under her real name Diana Norman. I do that a lot…….If I like an author, I binge on all of their works.

At this particular moment, Michael Connelly and Jacqueline Winspear come to mind, as I am currently reading them mostly because I need distraction. Next week, there will be another inspiration, for sure.

What was the first historical novel you read?

I think I was ten when I picked up my mother’s childhood book Nobody’s Girl by Hector Malot. (Sans Famille) I think it is the French child classic equivalent of Little Women. I cried and cried and cried. I re- read it a few years ago and cried again. And, of course, Oliver Twist. I love melodrama.

What is the last historical novel you read?

After reading Gulland’s Josephine trilogy I was delighted to have found a fourth book, The Game of Hope. It follows the life of Hortense, Josephine’s daughter and Napoleon’s step daughter. Marvelous.

What are three things people may not know about you?

I am not private at all. My life is an open book. Well, it will surprise people that I am shy. I travel all the time but really don’t like travelling, and most people are surprised when I tell them my age.

What appeals to you most about your chosen genre?

My chosen genre of creative nonfiction chose me. I do it well and, as I said, I have no talent for making up plots for fiction. Plus I learn so very much with each book for nonfiction does require mountains of research.

What historical time period do you gravitate towards the most with your personal reading?

I’m an omni-reader……my reading totally varies, from ancient times (The King Must Die) to medieval (Ken Follet: the Knightsbridge Trilogy) to the French Revolution to WW1 (Maisie Dobbs) to WW2 (Phillip Kerr) to current times (Michael Connelly). My son-in-law is constantly giving me big bags of ARC’s and most of them are marvelous. I just put my hand in the big bag of books, grab one and read. I like surprises.

What do you like to do when you aren't writing?

My passion was teaching. I have been (sadly)retired from teaching for 6 years (but still working at restoring homes). Any spare minute of time I grab to spend reading. I probably read two books a week at the expense of exercising, watching television, going to movies, writing! etc. It is becoming an obsession, for sure. To assuage my guilt, I write “book recommendations” to my friends… (I guess it’s like a private blog)

Lastly, what are you working on next?

I have two unfinished books in the oven (definitely becoming over-cooked). A travel memoir of the 60’s and 70’s called “Before McDonalds Ate Europe” and a teaching memoir about a Thai student I befriended called “The Year of the Monkey”

Claiming My Place
By Planaria Price with Helen Reichmann West

Publication Date: March 13, 2018
Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Hardcover, eBook, AudioBook

Genre: YA/NF/History/Holocaust/WWII

A Junior Library Guild selection

Claiming My Place is the true story of a young Jewish woman who survived the Holocaust by escaping to Nazi Germany and hiding in plain sight.

Meet Gucia Gomolinska: smart, determined, independent, and steadfast in the face of injustice. A Jew growing up in predominantly Catholic Poland during the 1920s and ’30s, Gucia studies hard, makes friends, falls in love, and dreams of a bright future. Her world is turned upside down when Nazis invade Poland and establish the first Jewish ghetto of World War II in her town of Piotrkow Trybunalski. As the war escalates, Gucia and her family, friends, and neighbors suffer starvation, disease, and worse. She knows her blond hair and fair skin give her an advantage, and eventually she faces a harrowing choice: risk either the uncertain horrors of deportation to a concentration camp, or certain death if she is caught resisting. She decides to hide her identity as a Jew and adopts the gentile name Danuta Barbara Tanska. Barbara, nicknamed Basia, leaves behind everything and everyone she has ever known in order to claim a new life for herself.

Writing in the first person, author Planaria Price brings the immediacy of Barbara’s voice to this true account of a young woman whose unlikely survival hinges upon the same determination and defiant spirit already evident in the six-year-old girl we meet as this story begins. The final portion of this narrative, written by Barbara’s daughter, Helen Reichmann West, completes Barbara’s journey from her immigration to America until her natural, timely death. Includes maps and photographs.

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“Price has boldly elected to tell the story in Basia’s own first-person, present-tense voice. The result is a dramatic, suspenseful account of survival in extremis, told in collaboration with Basia’s American daughter.” ―Booklist

“Price's rendering of West’s mother’s early life reads like suspenseful historical fiction, telling a rarely heard side of the Jewish experience during WWII . . . Family, friendships, and romance give poignancy to this unique coming-of-age story, which is further enhanced by maps, a glossary, and an afterword.” ―Publishers Weekly

“A rich exploration of a Holocaust survivor’s sheltered childhood, the atrocity that failed to destroy her, and her later life as an immigrant.” ―Kirkus Reviews

“I was completely engrossed by this drama of survival. Barbara Reichmann's story is quite extraordinary. It is sad, and terrible, and yet somehow captivating. The whole story of those who survived the Shoah by passing as Christians and working in Nazi Germany is an often forgotten part of the historical record.” ―Kai Bird, Executive Director, Leon Levy Center for Biography at CUNY Graduate Center, and co-author of the Pulitzer Prize–winning American Prometheus: The Triumph and Tragedy of J. Robert Oppenheimer

“As occurs with The Diary of Anne Frank, this book merges the dire circumstances of the Holocaust with the tenuousness of being a teenager. But Claiming My Place expands the view provided in the diary for one critical reason. Anne Frank’s story is told within an isolated cocoon. In Barbara’s story, however, the Holocaust is in full view as her experiences unfold.” ―David H. Lindquist, Ph.D., IPFW College of Education and Public Policy / Regional Museum Educator, United States Holocaust Memorial Museum

“This frightening true story of a young Jewish girl's flight from the deadly grip of the Nazis celebrates the surprising ingenuity and raw courage found only in the depths of the human spirit. Risking what few others dared, Barbara Reichmann, née Gucia Gomolinska, speaks with wisdom and uncommon self-awareness through her detailed, colorful, and evocative recollections from earliest childhood. In the final portion of this book, her daughter, Helen West, continues Barbara’s journey in an insightful and loving overview of Barbara’s life from the family’s arrival in New Orleans in 1951 until her death in 2007. This is a great read with the suspenseful, inspiring and uplifting appeal of a novel, about a character who will capture the reader’s heart.” ―Allan Holzman, Peabody and Emmy Award-winning director and editor (Steven Spielberg’s Survivors of the Holocaust, Old Man River, The Native Americans)

"Thanks to the detailed memories and the conversational tone, this book provides an engaging and informative reading experience with as much appeal as a fiction title. Recommended for most YA nonfiction collections." ―Magdalena Teske, West Chicago Public Library District School Library Journal

"This book was truly a celebration of the human spirit. What a gift she has for putting you in the story. Her way with words, plus her weaving of the actual events recounted to her by the unbelievably courageous Basia and her daughter Helen, was nothing short of magical. The included photographs and epilogue served to fully round out this amazing tale. I never wanted this book to end!" ―Rabbi Lynn Brody Slome

About the Author

After graduating from Berkeley and earning a Master's Degree in English Literature from UCLA, Planaria Price began her career teaching English to adult immigrants in Los Angeles. She has written several textbooks for University of Michigan Press and has lectured at over 75 conferences. In addition to her passion for teaching and writing, Planaria has worked with her husband to save and restore over 30 Victorian and Craftsman homes in her historic Los Angeles neighborhood. Claiming My Place is her first book for young adults.

For more information, please visit Planaria's website at

Blog Tour Schedule

Friday, March 1
Interview at Passages to the Past

Sunday, March 3
Review at Jorie Loves a Story
Review at Locks, Hooks and Books

Monday, March 4
Interview at The Book Connection
Review at So Many Books, So Little Time

Tuesday, March 5
Feature at The Book Junkie Reads
Feature at To Read, Or Not to Read

Wednesday, March 6
Review at Svetlana's Reads and Views

Thursday, March 7
Review at Peppermint Ph.D.
Feature at CelticLady's Reviews

Friday, March 8
Feature at T's Stuff
Review at Hopewell's Public Library of Life

Sunday, March 10
Review at Clarissa Reads it All

Monday, March 11
Feature at Coffee and Ink
Review at Jathan & Heather
Review at Impressions In Ink

Tuesday, March 12
Feature at Maiden of the Pages

Wednesday, March 13
Review at Just One More Chapter


During the Blog Tour, we will be giving away a signed copy of CLAIMING MY PLACE! To enter, please use the Gleam form below.

Giveaway Rules

– Giveaway ends at 11:59pm EST on March 13th. You must be 18 or older to enter.
– Giveaway is open to the US only.
– Only one entry per household.
– All giveaway entrants agree to be honest and not cheat the systems; any suspicion of fraud is decided upon by blog/site owner and the sponsor, and entrants may be disqualified at our discretion.
– The winner has 48 hours to claim prize or new winner is chosen.

Claiming My Place Tour

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