School group at summer camp, outside Hamburg, Germany, 1940. Photograph by Hans Sinn
About Writing The Pact
The Pact was inspired by the true story of a neighbor of mine. I’ve known Hans Sinn for over 25 years, but I knew nothing about his history or background until one day in 1998. We were sitting together by a lake, watching our children play in the water. The children were singing songs and playing games – the kinds of things kids learn at camp. My husband innocently asked Hans if he had ever gone to camp. Hans replied, with a sad smile, “Yes. Hitler Youth camp.” It was quite a shock! He then went on to describe his escape from an SS training camp in Denmark. It was an amazing story, and perhaps even more striking to hear it while we were sitting beside a peaceful lake in Canada.
However, it wasn’t until 2012 after I came back from a visit to Germany that I decided to delve deeper. I began interviewing Hans and spent many hours talking with him about his life before, during and after the war. I would not have been brave enough to tackle this story without having him as a guide.
Hans told me many interesting facts about his life, and about what it was like for him growing up during the war. He had a number of wonderful photos that he shared with me, pictures that he took as a schoolboy. The photographs really helped me to get a feel for the people and places in Hans's youth. I worked with Hans's stories and photos to create the fictional character of Peter Gruber. Peter’s life, and Peter’s biography shares much of the same history as Hans’ life. For example, Hans, at ten years old, had a good black market business and was reading Dostoyevsky. I thought that those were really unusual and incredibly authentic details, so I used them as elements in the story.
Peter is a very different person from Hans. Hans didn't discuss the emotions or motivations that guided him in his youth. I built Peter’s inner life myself, and started to discover who he was by thinking about who might have been his friends. I think one of the most important elements of a young person’s life is his or her relationship to friends. It is through our friendships that we learn who we are. So I created Gunter, Otto, Hermann and Olga to help Peter discover who he was.
A number of people have asked me what became of the “real Peter” after the war. Like Peter, Hans came to Canada after the war. He dedicated his life to work as a peace activist. He met his wife Marian while on the Vancouver-Berlin Peace Walk in the early 1960s.
Over the years, Hans has been active in many organizations including Peace Brigades International, the Canadian Friends Service Committee and The Canadian Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament. He worked with dissidents in East Germany to effect the fall of the Berlin Wall. Today, he advocates for recognition of the Armenian genocide, and works with Indigenous groups in Canada to effect social change. He is encouraging projects that acknowledge the legacy of Germany’s War Children. You can find out about his organization Brooke Valley Research for Education in Non-Violence at: http://www.brookevalleyresearch.ca/
After the war Hans made a pact with himself that his hands would never touch a gun again. I took the title for the book from his commitment to peace.