Today, I'm happy to feature an immigrant success story. I interviewed Frankie Picasso, an author who released a book called For Want of 40 Pounds: From Persecution to Perseverance, What Would You do For Freedom? It's the story about her father, the patriarch of her family, who escaped the Holocaust and then went on to become a successful immigrant and entrepreneur.
Frankie says the book is about “resilience. independence, freedom, courage. It's about being an immigrant, an entrepreneur, his rise and fall and rise again. It’s about love and family.”
I think it touches upon many reasons people self-publish. Often it's to preserve family memories before they're lost forever. And it's the kind of book that a mainstream publisher might not want it because there are so many stories of this kind, but that does not make her family's story any less significant than any others.
Oh, and Frankie is not only an author, but appears to have very interesting-sounding “other” lives. She's also a talk-show host and professional female kickboxing promoter. I asked her about that, too!
A few highlights …
On Her Father's Amazing Childhood Journey
He said to his mom, “I'm going to save you.” And he left. He was 13 years old and he had no money. He had no food, he had no map, he had nothing but a compass. In his mind he was going to go to England, and England was the place where they were going to help him. So he grabbed a buddy to go with him and they took three months to walk from Vienna to Amsterdam because they had to avoid the Nazis through Germany and sympathizers.
And that's because their work ethic is so hard and they're so appreciative of the opportunity. So I really don't think that people need to be afraid of immigrants. I think they should welcome immigrants.
Listen to my interview with Frankie Picasso
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About the Host
Howard Lovy has been a journalist for more than 30 years, and has spent the last five years amplifying the voices of independent publishers and authors. He works with authors as a book editor to prepare their work to be published. Howard is also a freelance writer specializing in Jewish issues whose work appears regularly in Publishers Weekly and Longreads. Find Howard at howardlovy.com, LinkedIn and Twitter.
Read the Transcript of my Interview with Frankie Picasso
Howard: Hello Frankie, and welcome to Inspirational Indie Authors.
Frankie: Thank you, Howard. So nice of you to have me here. I really appreciate it.
Howard: So before we get into your book, tell us a little more about yourself. I see from your website that you are an international socialpreneur, talk show host, champion for change, and also the first professional female kickboxing promoter in the world. And that all sounds very fascinating to me. So tell me a little more.
Frankie: Yeah. Well, like, I guess I'm a Jack, is it a Jill of all trades? I don't know what's culturally appropriate anymore. I've done a lot of things. Yes, I'm an author. This is my fourth book. All self-help books generally or nonfiction I should say. I'm also an artist and also for socialpreneur impact activities. I really believe in helping to change the world in whichever way we can do that possibly. So, I love to paint pets for people and that money goes to charities, like, mercy trips, for cleft palate surgery for children or things like that. What else can I tell you? I did manage a world kickboxing champion. Yes, I did. He was a 12-time champion.
Howard: That's wonderful. Well, it sounds like you have a lot of separate books in there.
Frankie: I do.
Howard: So let's focus on this one first though. So you told me that your book is about resilience, independence, freedom, courage, about being an immigrant and an entrepreneur and it's about love and family. So what is it about, about your father, Bert Mann that that makes him worth a biography?
Frankie: You know, so many people had heard bits and pieces of my dad's story and he never told the whole story and he's 94 years old. He just turned 94 last week on March 18th. And he's very future forward, a visionary I would say. But he never liked to revisit the past. And it got, last year, he said, “Okay, you know what? You can tell my story.” And that was really significant because for so long people had wanted him to tell his story. He's an immigrant. I think the most fascinating thing really was at 13 years of age, his father was interned in a camp and their family store had been taken and their apartment, they'd been thrown out of their apartment by the Nazis and he couldn't stand that his mother was living in a hovel because you know, she owned it. She had owned a store and they had lived in a beautiful place. And he said, “You know what, mom?” This was in Vienna.
Frankie: And he was a younger brother too, but he said to his mom, he goes, “I'm going to save you.” And he left. He left. He was 13 years old and he had no money. He had no food, he had no map, he had nothing but a compass. And he took off and he said, “I'm going to go save you” and in his mind he was going to go to England and England was the place where they were going to help him. So he grabbed a buddy to go with him and they took three months to walk from Vienna to Amsterdam because they had to avoid the Nazis through Germany and sympathizers. And so they, you know, they slept during the day and traveled at night and eventually they got to Amsterdam and he heard some sailor speaking in German, because that was the only language he spoke.
Frankie: And so he said, “Excuse me, I'm looking for a boat. And, you know, to go to England.” And he goes, “Well, do you have any money?” He goes, “Well, no, you know, I don't,” and he goes, “Well, come back at midnight.” So they did. And the sailor got him aboard this ship and they stowed away on the boat. It's just crossing the English Channel, you know? And when they got to England, you know, they were picked up and they said, “Okay, well”, they were put into a refugee camp and he saw some notices on, you know, a sign and all of the young men were being conscripted, the Englishman. So they needed farm workers. And he said, “Okay, I'm going to go work on a farm or else I stay in kind of jail.”
So he went to work on a farm for a reverend in the Midlands. That's where he learned to speak English. That's where he learned to talk and work and whatever. But a letter had come from his mom. A letter came from his mother and said, “We have, like, an opportunity, a very short window opportunity where Hitler is allowing, the Jews to pay their way out and he needed 45 pounds. And, he gave the letter to the reverend and he said, “Can you help?”
Howard: It sounds like an epic movie as well.
Frankie: Is it? Doesn't it? I mean, it is crazy.
Getting Her Dad to Open Up and Tell His Story
Howard: That's an amazing story. So yeah. So you told me that he never really talked about his past.
Howard: Growing up, except snippets here and there, but what do you think he, you know, I mean, that happens a great deal if people who have experienced trauma and then come out the other side, often it takes years and years or decades to even want to talk about it because they want to put it behind them. Why do you think, he's choosing now to, uh, to tell you about it and to ask you to write it down.
Frankie: Well, because there was three cousins left at the end of the war. And you know, my dad, the oldest is a hundred, he'll be 106 May 25th. My dad's 94 and the other one is, I think he's 92 and he's not in very good shape.
Howard: Longevity sure does run in your family though. They've lived a long life.
Frankie: Yeah and especially like, you know, those two had been in camps, had been in four of the camps. I mean crazy. I like the worst of the worst and they're still alive to talk about. It's amazing. But, yeah, I guess my dad just felt, you know, he's got great grandchildren now and I've been hounding him and said, you know, we want to know your story before it's too late. My mom had passed away in 2012 and I didn't get to ask her everything and it really, you know, kind of weighed on me. I thought, we need to know our history, we need to know stuff. And I get that it's painful, but you know, there comes a time if you don't tell me now, you'll never tell me.
Importance of an Immigrant Success Story
Howard: Right. And I think especially, now, you know, when it comes to the Holocaust it is especially important to publish in detail everything that happened and-
Frankie: And all this stuff about immigrants too.
Howard: Right, right, right. And this is also very much an American story. And without getting into any kind of politics, we're at a strange point in history right now where the value of immigrants is being questioned. Do you think this book kind of makes a statement about any current issues regarding immigration and the value of immigrants?
Frankie: You know, it really does. And he actually dedicated, he wrote the dedication of the book and he dedicated it to immigrants. You know, he did and you know, he just said that “This is for the children of the world who were forced to abandon their homes and their families due to war, famine, corrupt governments or other circumstances.” And he goes on to talk about it a little bit and just said, you know, “Welcome today's immigrants with your open heart and an open door, to safe, you know, to safe shores” and everybody is an immigrant, really aren't they? And whether you came 60 or 80 years ago, or you come today? I haven't really met any immigrants who haven't put their stamp on their new world and done the very best that they possibly could because they came from circumstances that were less than ideal that we don't even know about really.
Frankie: You know? And I really think that we need to open our hearts more to immigrants. I mean, they built this country. I live in Canada, but my dad built, you know, like, he was part of that wave of immigrants. First there were the Polish and the Italians and him. And they're the ones who were in the construction and built up the cities and built up, you know, the apartments and the organizations and all of that. So the infrastructure of the city was due to immigrants.
And then the next wave comes and the next wave comes. And you know, now it was, next it was the Chinese and then the East Indians. But you can see how they all come in waves and what they all do. And I know that I have two brothers that my father adopted who were Vietnamese, came off the, you know, Vietnamese boat children. And within a year, within a year, I mean, they got two jobs within a year they had a house, they had a car, they had, you know, TV set, like were living the dream, right? And that's because their work ethic is so hard and they're so appreciative of the opportunity. So I really don't think that people need to be afraid of immigrants. I think they should welcome immigrants.
For Anybody Looking for Inspiration
Howard: So who do you think this book is for? I mean, did you set out to write more of a family heirloom or something that a larger audience will get a great deal out of.
Frankie: Yeah. I, you know, I really, I struggled with it a little bit and that's why I had a coauthor Peter. Peter Jennings was the objective voice. He's one who interviewed my family. I was kind of the other voice I guess, but we switched on and off every chapter. But Peter, you know, he wrote that objective story and we kept in mind like, you know, who else might be interested? Because my father is an entrepreneur. He was a very successful entrepreneur. And so we wanted to put the business in there. There is the business in there, there is, you know, a little bit of the family history, but there is a business side of him.
And so I think anybody who's looking for inspiration, anybody who's looking, how do you run a company, how do you, you know, reinvent yourself and what happens when the worst things happen to you and the best things happen to you. That's all there. I mean, it's, the human experience in 94 years of living is all there.
Howard: Right, right, right. Absolutely. And I think that's a lot of issues authors face, you know, they have a fascinating subject and maybe a family member or their own story and they're wondering how to tell the story in a way that isn't just about them but it makes it universal and it sounds like you have many universal themes in this book.
Frankie: Howard, I got to tell you that I think people are craving this kind of story and this kind of message, so if anybody out there wants write it. And the reason I say that was because the day I released the book, we were a bestseller in three countries. Like phenomenal, right? Yeah. Yeah. So I was very, very pleased about that.
Howard: Okay. Well thank you very much. Again, the book is-
Frankie: Thank you.
Howard: – Is called For one to 40 pounds From Persecution to Perseverance. What would you do for freedom? By Frankie Picasso and Peter Jennings. Thank you very much, Frankie. I appreciate you appearing today.
Frankie: I appreciate you asking me Howard, thank you.
Howard: Thanks. Bye.