web analytics
August 30, 2014 / 4 Elul, 5774
At a Glance
InDepth
Sponsored Post
Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat (L) visits the JewishPress.com booth at The Event. And the Winners of the JewishPress.com Raffle Are…

Congratulations to all the winners of the JewishPress.com raffle at The Event



‘With Tears Running Down My Cheeks’

           Stuart W. Mirsky, a city official in the Giuliani administration, is an author and occasional op-ed contributor to The Jewish Press. He has just completed A Raft on the River, (available at Amazon.com) a Holocaust story about a young girl’s struggle to survive the Nazi invasion of her hometown, Kolomyia, in what was then eastern Poland (Paul Mould Publishing, UK). 

 
The Jewish Press: How did you come to write A Raft on the River and why?
 
I was fortunate not to have many relatives in Europe at the time of the Holocaust (except for a long lost great-uncle on my father’s side) but, like most of us, I was raised in the Holocaust’s shadow. My parents encouraged me to learn about it but this had the unfortunate effect of making it almost too familiar, just another story in the long tale of our people’s suffering. But in 2006, when I was approached to edit the Holocaust manuscript of Bitter Freedom, my writing had hit a roadblock and I needed something different to work on.
 
Bitter Freedom was a searing personal account of the survival of four people as they hid for twenty-two months in a hole in the ground, never able to come up for air, change their clothes, take a bath, living in the darkness with bugs and rats and Germans periodically stomping around overhead. The author, Jafa Wallach, her husband and her brothers lived through it all. At times, their story brought tears to my eyes. But the family wanted the story preserved as Mrs. Wallach had written it, though I thought there were ways to make it stronger. Jafa Wallach, who recorded her experiences a little more than a decade after they ended, wasn’t a professional writer and I wanted to do more than the family would allow.
 
As I was finishing it my mother, Ruth Mirsky, came to me with a story about a woman she knew who had gone through the Holocaust, too. Also from Poland, though a bit farther east (in what is today the Ukraine), Miriam Sorger had fled the Kolomyia ghetto at age fifteen, after her blind grandmother was shot by a guard and her mother, sister and cousin were shipped to the camps. Running alone through the countryside, Miriam struggled to hide her identity until she found safe harbor in the home of a Ukrainian priest.
 
How did her story differ from the first one you worked on?
 
Unlike the people in Bitter Freedom who suffered terribly in their hidden bunker for two years, Miriam’s is a story of desperation, courage, and chutzpa. She lived each day in fear of discovery. Though some of the people she encountered were sympathetic, others were clearly on the side of the Nazis and her problem was telling them apart. She was living on the edge, her childhood wrenched from her, along with everything she had known until then.
 
But what really attracted me was that her story gave me the opportunity to do what I couldn’t do with Bitter Freedom. Unlike Jafa Wallach, Miriam had no manuscript. Her story was told entirely in a series of anecdotes which she had shared with her children over the years and they were afraid of losing that knowledge forever. One of her sons, David, was instrumental in the plan to finally get it written down.
 
Miriam recalled everything in bits and pieces so I had to visit her weekly, over a six-month period, to tease out the details. She wanted her story accurately told but, at the same time, I wanted to put more of myself into it than I had been able to do with Bitter Freedom, to give it a somewhat literary voice and make it more accessible to a wider audience.
 
How did Miriam manage to survive, given what you’ve described?
 
            A lot of luck and her own naive courage. And, of course, we do remarkable things when we have to. In one instance, in a little town, she was very nearly caught in a Nazi sweep. Earlier she had tried to talk her way into joining her brother and his family who were in hiding with an old Polish woman, but the woman was too afraid. That turned out for the best, since things didn’t go well for her brother and his family in the end. Miriam ended up wandering aimlessly from town to town for weeks on end, living off the land, but eventually she found a place as a servant in the home of a Ukrainian priest in Podhacje. But the priest’s wife — he was an Orthodox priest and therefore married — turned out to be a cruel taskmaster who hated Poles almost as much as she did Jews. Miriam, of course, was pretending to be a non-Jewish Pole.
 
How did her experiences affect her Judaism, her connection with her own people?
 
            For years she had to live as someone else, but when she got back to Kolomyia it was the Jewish community, what was left of it anyway, that took her in. It took her a long time to give up the little borrowed cross she had been wearing because she had become attached to it as a kind of good luck charm. Traveling west to escape the Russians, Miriam and her new family ended up being caught by the British. Hoping to convince them she was a returning German Jew, she allowed her Polish papers and the little cross she had hung onto until then to be burned. Still, the British guessed the truth and sent them all to Bergen-Belsen, then being used as a displaced persons camp.
 
Miriam’s story isn’t unique but her flight into the occupied countryside and her struggle to hide in plain sight afforded me the opportunities I’d missed with Bitter Freedom.
 
            Do you plan to do other Holocaust stories?
 
            Having done two, and having found myself with tears running down my cheeks as I worked on both, I’m not sure I’m up for another at this point. I’m finally getting back to the work I’d set aside when I first decided to assist in preparing Bitter Freedom for publication. My first historical novel, The King of Vinland’s Saga, published in 1998, is about Norsemen and Indians in eleventh century North America and I’ve been working on another, about Saul and David, looking at their conflict from a new angle, one that recognizes Saul’s contributions as much as David’s.
 

I’ve also got one in the hopper about escaped African slaves in pre-Civil War America and another about the Russians and the Khazars in 10th century Europe. Finally I’d like to finish one I’ve begun about a dying businessman struggling with an obligation to forgive a great wrong. So for the time being I think I’ll leave to others the Holocaust and the terrible tales of suffering and loss it generated.

About the Author: Jason Maoz is the Senior Editor of The Jewish Press.


If you don't see your comment after publishing it, refresh the page.

Our comments section is intended for meaningful responses and debates in a civilized manner. We ask that you respect the fact that we are a religious Jewish website and avoid inappropriate language at all cost.

If you promote any foreign religions, gods or messiahs, lies about Israel, anti-Semitism, or advocate violence (except against terrorists), your permission to comment may be revoked.

No Responses to “‘With Tears Running Down My Cheeks’”

Comments are closed.

SocialTwist Tell-a-Friend

Current Top Story
ISIS in Quneitra
Updates from Kuneitra, Syria [video]
Latest Indepth Stories
IDF Chief of Staff Benny Gantz reviewing maps on the Golan Heights.

The bad news is that ISIS and Al Qaeda are on the Syrian Golan. The good news is that every terrorist in Syria is killing each other.

TorahScroll AoT17

The congregants, Ethiopians spanning generations, were beaming with joy and pride.

Troodler-082914

The withdrawal from the Gaza Strip nine years ago did not enhance Israel’s security.

Eisenstock-082914

How does a soldier from a religious home fall in love with a soldier from a non- religious kibbutz?

In 19th century entire ancient Jewish communities fled Palestine to escape brutal Muslim authorities

Responsibility lies with both the UN and Hamas, and better commitments should have been demanded from both parties in the ceasefire.

But the world is forever challenging our Jewish principle and our practices.

If this is how we play the game, we will lose. By that I mean we will lose everything.

Reportedly, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates have formed a bloc that seeks to counter Islamist influence in the Middle East.

One wonders how the IDF could be expected to so quickly determine the facts.

While there is no formula that will work for everyone, there are some strategies that if followed carefully and consistently can help our children – and us – gain the most from the upcoming school year.

We risk our lives to help those who do what they can to kill to our people .

Twain grasped amazingly well the pulse of the Jewish people.

The entertainment industry appears divided about the conflict between Israel and Hamas.

More Articles from Jason Maoz
Charles Krauthammer

Wye would be seen to have set the groundwork for the creation of a Palestinian state

Presidential-Seal-062014

These are not necessarily the best all-around biographies or studies of the individual presidents listed (though some rank right up there), but the strongest in terms of exploring presidential attitudes and policies toward Israel.

The Clintonan “engagement” liberals remember with such fondness did nothing but embolden Arafat and Hamas and Hizbullah as they witnessed Israel’s only real ally elevate process ahead of policy.

What really makes one wonder about the affinity felt by certain Jews for Grant was the welcome mat he put out for some of the country’s most pernicious anti-Semites.

With 2013 marking half a century since Kennedy’s fateful limousine ride in Dallas, the current revels are exceeding the revisionist frenzies of years past, with a seemingly endless parade of books, articles and television specials designed to assure us that, despite everything that has come to light about him since his death, JFK was a great president, or at least a very good president who would have been great had his life not been so cruelly cut short.

As someone who for the past fifteen years has been writing a column that largely focuses on the news media, I’ve read what is no doubt an altogether unhealthy number of books on the subject. Most of them were instantly forgettable while some created a brief buzz but failed to pass the test of time. And then there were those select few that merited a permanent spot on the bookshelf.

George W. Bush has been getting some positive media coverage lately, with recent polls showing him at least as popular as his successor, Barack Obama, and a big new book about the Bush presidency by New York Times chief White House correspondent Peter Baker (Days of Fire, Doubleday) portraying Bush as a much more hands-on chief executive than his detractors ever imagined.

Readers who’ve stuck with the Monitor over the years will forgive this rerun of sorts, but as we approach the fortieth anniversary of the Yom Kippur War – and with the stench of presidential indecisiveness hanging so heavily over Washington these days – it seemed only appropriate to revisit Richard Nixon’s role in enabling Israel to recover from the staggering setbacks it suffered in the first week of fighting.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/indepth/interviews-and-profiles/with-tears-running-down-my-cheeks/2008/07/16/

Scan this QR code to visit this page online: