MEMORY IS THE ACCOMPLISHMENT: ORIGIN NARRATIVES
By Bruce Piasecki, author of Missing Persons, a Memoir
What do we owe to the literary contributions of Jewish emigration to the United States? How can the legacy of Polish Jews be better known during this time of Black Lives Matters and social unrest? What do these people share?
Here is a blog from Rudy Shur, the publisher of four of my books. In many ways I could not have written 2040: A Fable without these prior memories in place.
NOTES FROM A DYSLEXIC PUBLISHER — -by Rudy Shur
The Point —
Sometimes there are reasons for publishing books that are more important than turning a profit. The Holocaust, for example.
“Garden City Park, NY: A few years ago, I was given the opportunity to publish a book on a subject that was new to my company’s list. With no experience in bringing out such a title, I needed to learn as much as I could about its marketplace. After making numerous phone calls to various book retailers, I learned that while this subject was popular in fiction, there was only one nonfiction title on the topic that seemed to sell well year after year. Since the book I was looking at was nonfiction, my business sense should have dictated that I not go ahead with the project. However, the subject — for me, at least — was too important to be dismissed. It had, in fact, been a part of my life since I was a child.
“As fate would have it, I was born in an American “DP” (Displaced Persons ) camp just outside of Munich, Germany. My parents were lucky enough to have escaped the Nazi invasion of Poland in 1939. They had managed to make their way into the Soviet Union just as the German Army swept into western Poland. When the Nazis invaded Russia, my folks found themselves in the middle of the bloody Battle of Stalingrad. Again they escaped, making it all the way to Uzbekistan in the east. As the war came to a close, they knew that the Soviet Union was not where they wanted to spend the rest of their lives.
“My parents had heard about American camps set up for Jewish refugees, and that was where they decided to go. So with my mom eight months pregnant, they made the trek back across the USSR to that DP camp in Germany — the place where I was soon born. One year later, my parents and I boarded a ship to New York. My parents’ sponsoring organization — the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society (HIAS) — placed us in a five-story walk-up located in an ethnically diverse south Bronx neighborhood that included Puerto Ricans, Blacks, and many other Jewish refugee families.
“My father had taken with him several postcards from the DP camp that the US Army had produced, each of which showed graphic photographs of the many atrocities carried out in the Nazi-run concentration camps. The Army had given out the cards to the civilian German population to show what the Nazis had done.
“I don’t believe my father ever wanted me to see those cards, but being a nosy ten-year-old kid, I eventually came across them in our small apartment — and to this day, I still remember many of the images. When I spoke to my father about the postcards, he tried to explain what had happened — that his grandmother, mother, two brothers, and six sisters, along with their entire families, had died in those terrible places. I certainly heard what he was telling me, but at the time, it seemed very distant.
“As I grew up, I learned as much as I could about World War Two and what the Nazis had done — not only to the Jews, but also to Catholics, gypsies, gays, and anyone else that the Third Reich regarded as “impure.” It may have taken years for me to understand and appreciate what my folks had experienced, but it all came to a head with the book project that I found before me. It was a book about the Holocaust, and how one Jewish man had escaped into the Polish forest, where he would spend much of WWII fighting the Nazis alongside other brave partisans. What made this story that much more meaningful to me was the fact that I had met the man who had lived it and survived to write about it
“And why do so few people know the stories of these great men and women? While novels about the Holocaust provide intriguing storylines, true stories about this period in history are written not to entertain, but to remind us how cruel people can be — and how individuals can take a stand against insane behavior.
“These books are in Square One’s list to remind readers that the Holocaust did happen — and that until we understand the nature of lies and their ability to gradually distort facts, history will continue to repeat itself. The fact that bookstores, libraries, and museum shops do not carry many nonfiction Holocaust-based titles is telling.
“And while Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl remains popular, Square One will continue to make available other stories that are just as compelling as Anne Frank’s story. Kind regards,
Rudy Shur, Square One Publishers, Inc.”
My reply to Rudy is also below:
Rudy, this is vivid below, searching still after all these decades. I remember seeing my father and my father in law’s shoebox of the postcards you know too well.
My lifelong writer friend Scot Paltrow of WSJ and Reuters is also a Polish Jew. I shared Rudy’s memory now with my friend Hadassah Broscova, now in Scotland, founder of Carpe Articulum; Cevin Breyerman who runs Publisher’s Weekly, and by blind cc to my old concept editor, a Russian Jew. For these people — well, writing and memories matter. They are brother and sister, memory and writing. I believe prejudice is not only ignorance, it is also forgetfulness turned socially violent.
Plus we must add the great agent founder of Waterside Productions, William Gladstone, in the book business as long as Rudy. I hope they now share Rudy’s thoughts into their special networks.
Rudy……You capture the feeling of those postcards. Memories are sacred. Thanks for publishing my memoir, Missing Persons.