On Family Secrets, author and host Dani Shapiro speaks with people who have kept intense secrets from their loved ones, or discovered huge secrets that changed their lives and relationships. On this episode, she talks to Ariana Neumann, a writer and mother of three who lives in London and recently published a book about discovering her father’s fake identity. As a child growing up in Venezuela, Ariana describes her father Hans Neumann as an active man, engaged with the arts, hobnobbing with politicians; their home seemed to be “the center of it all,” she says. He was also obsessed with his watch collection, and had a certain room where he would retreat from the world to store, study, and repair them. Ariana, an only child, was obsessed with mysteries, especially Nancy Drew, and even started her own detective group called the Mysterious Boot Club.
Dani wonders if she was so interested in mysteries because she knew instinctively that something was being kept hidden at her house, and Ariana says it might be true. Hans would frequently wake up in the middle of the night screaming and sweating, but would never talk about whatever nightmare was haunting him. One day, one of the members of her Mysterious Boot Club saw her father walk out of his watch room with a box, and told Ariana he carried it like it had something precious inside it, like jeweled watches. Excited, Ariana found the box and looked inside, but to her disappointment, she only found papers, not jewels. But those papers revealed something disturbing.
She found a picture of her father as a young man. “Right underneath the picture...was the stamp of Hitler...it was dated 1943, it said Berlin,” Ariana remembers, “and that made no sense, because I knew my father was actually a Czech immigrant.” Most terrifying of all: the name on the picture was not her father’s name. She tried asking her mother about it, shouting that her father was an imposter, but her mother just told her not to worry about it. She wouldn’t discover the truth about that picture until years later, after her father died; he never told Ariana his secrets, but he left her the box of papers. “In death, Hans is giving Ariana permission...to piece together their family history,” Dani tells us. What she discovers will give her a completely new understanding of her family’s legacy, her father’s incredible life story, and her own heritage. Listen to this episode of Family Secrets to learn what she uncovered.
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