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Jewish World Review
May 6, 2005
/ 27 Nissan, 5765
Every face tells a story: 60 years later, survivors' tales offer insight of those who died
Richard Z. Chesnoff
Remembering 6 million souls isn't easy. But an ambitious worldwide program the Holocaust Survivors Memoirs Project is working to find and publish the memoirs of survivors of the Nazi Holocaust, enabling us to remember those who died by telling the tales of those who miraculously lived through it.
This week marks six decades since the war in Europe ended. And in those 60 years, hundreds of films, books and plays have been devoted to chronicling the story of the savage Nazi slaughter of 6 million European Jews - men, women and children. We have built museums and monuments all around the world, from New York's own Museum of Jewish Heritage A Living Memorial to the Holocaust, to the stunning Holocaust museums in Washington and Jerusalem.
Still, the story of the Holocaust remains utterly staggering. How was it possible to kill so many innocent people? What perverse minds thought up the mass murder mechanisms? What conscienceless people carried it out? What weak people stood by and didn't protest?
In fact, there may be only one way to truly understand the scope of the Holocaust. Not through the formal study of the Holocaust and its perpetrators, but by telling the stories of the individuals who perished, or better yet, the individuals who survived. Ultimately, it may only be through their stories of bravery and, sometimes, luck that we can begin to understand the scope of the destruction.
There have already been sterling contributions to this collective memory of individuals Steven Spielberg's attempt to record the memories of thousands of survivors and, of course, the classic book of the Holocaust, "Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl," the story of only one of the 1.5 million Jewish children who died at the hands of the Nazis.
The Survivors' Project is funded by Random House Publishing and Jerusalem's Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial, chaired by Nobel laureate Elie Wiesel and coordinated by New York lawyer Menahem Rosensaft, himself the son of concentration camp survivors.
The project has already published six memoirs: from the story of Adam Boren, who escaped the Nazis and went on to fight in the Warsaw Ghetto uprising of 1943, to that of one-time German track star Margaret Bergmann Lambert, who was forced out of the 1936 Olympics by Nazi anti-Semitism and then immigrated to the U.S.
Mountains of other manuscripts wait to go to editors and the press. There's the tale of my friend of 50 years, Efraim Paz of Tel Aviv, a kibbutz pioneer who returned to his native Poland in 1939 to urge family and friends to leave and was himself caught by the Nazis. There is the story of Ruth Wachner Pagirsky of Belle Harbor, Queens, a Berlin-born Jewish girl whose wealthy family fled Nazi Germany to Poland in 1936 only to face Hitler's murderers again when Germany invaded three years later. Ruth escaped by posing as a Polish slave laborer. Sent to a German farm, she pretended to be mute for three years to hide her German accent. Of 302 family members, only she and a cousin survived. Liberated in 1945, she immigrated to America in 1946 with her Polish-born friend, Tuska, who had hidden with her. In 1948, she married another survivor, Irving Pagirsky. Today, Ruth Pagirsky visits New York-area schools to tell pupils her story.
Each a tale of miraculous survival; each a testament to those we can only remember.
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The Arrogance of the French
This book will open your eyes!
Why do the French hate America? Richard Chesnoff has figured it out and informs us with entertaining clarity.
France sucks, but this book doesn't.
Michael Barone, Co-author, The Almanac of American Politics
Americans-and the French-will learn a lot from this book.
Clifford D. May, President, Foundation for the Defense of Democracies
Richard Z. Chesnoff insightfully-and entertainingly-explores America's most dysfunctional relationship with America's least reliable ally.
Sales help fund JWR.
JWR contributor and veteran journalist Richard Z. Chesnoff is a contributing correspondent at US News & World Report, a columnist at the NY Daily News and a senior fellow at the Washington-based Foundation for the Defense of Demoracies. A two-time winner of the Overseas Press Club Award and a recipient of the National Press Club Award, he was formerly executive editor of Newsweek International. His latest book, is "The Arrogance of the French: Why They Can't Stand Us & Why The Feeling Is Mutual". (Click on cover above to purchase. Sales help fund JWR. )
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© 2005, Richard Z. Chesnoff