Q. WHY WRITE YOUR STORY NOW?
A. I really never planned on talking about my experiences at Auschwitz. I was only four years old when I arrived and I remember very little. That's a blessing, I'm sure. And I truly remember nothing of my life in the ghetto before Auschwitz. But about two years ago on a visit to the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial Museum in Israel, an archivist showed us a document that really took my breath away. It had a surprising detail about my survival. I also gained access to a private diary and a collection of essays that specifically reference my family and I was even more stunned by what we found.
My kids and grandkids encouraged me to start sharing my memories and also, what I had learned. They are very persuasive. I guess I trained them well! Plus, each year there are fewer and fewer survivors who can share their stories firsthand. I now feel a responsibility to talk. I've found it not only rewarding, but also very cathartic. There is some closure.
Q. DO YOU EVER HAVE NIGHTMARES ABOUT THOSE DAYS?
A. When I was in grade school, I had one vivid nightmare that kept coming to me night after night for a very long time. I dreamed I was in a factory and I was being made into soap. I never knew why I had that specific nightmare, but I recently learned there was speculation that the Germans turned the fat from murdered Jews into soap in the camps. It must have been something I was aware of in some way. It's the only way I can explain the nightmare.
Every now and then as an adult, something will trigger other memories. When one of my kids took German in high school and I visited the class for "back to school night", the teacher's thick German accent triggered some memories and I got very upset. Recently, I saw the broadway musical "Fiddler on the Roof" with my wife and there was a scene where the Jewish characters had to pack up their homes in a rush and leave their community behind. I was surprised that bad memories rushed back in again.
Mostly though, I focus on the positive. I have a lot to be happy and grateful about - especially when I look at my family, I just feel lucky.
Q. YOU SPEAK REGULARLY AT MIDDLE-SCHOOLS AND HIGH SCHOOLS NOW. WHAT MESSAGE DO YOU TRY TO CONVEY?
A. Like all survivors, I hope that no one ever forgets what happened in 1939 Europe. I hope that no one ever forgets what can happen when evil goes unchecked. But I also think there are really important lessons to be learned, that can be applied even in small ways, to everyday life for students. I was bullied after the war because I had no hair from malnourishment. We had no money and no means. I learned to focus on the future and hold hope that things would get better. Hard days happen - especially for middle-grade children. But if you believe that everything will get better, then it will.
We got help from Jewish aid organizations and American charities and that help meant everything to us. The message is... have hope when you need help, and help other people when they need hope. I guess that's what students can really learn from my story.
Q. DO YOU PLAN TO WRITE ANY MORE BOOKS?
A. I'll probably leave the book-writing to my daughter and co-author Debbie from here on out. I had one important story to tell and I'm glad to have told it in print. Debbie's the real writer in the family. Did I mention she's an incredible writer? While I'm at it, did I mention that my daughter Lori and my son Scott are terrific attorneys? And my daughter Lisa is a star in the financial industry? My wife Judy and I are just a little bit proud. I guess you probably shouldn't ask me about my eleven grandkids. I've got a lot to say about them...