In our May 27th issue we featured an article about an 8th grade class in Tom’s River, New Jersey that studied Professor Livia Bitton Jackson’s memoir as part of its Language Arts curriculum. When their studies were over, the students had some comments and questions for Professor Jackson, which she graciously agreed to respond to.
Izabella Brodbeck: The Holocaust can be told in more than 1,000 words, but Livia’s memoir tells “1,000 years.”
Professor Jackson: The 1,000 years reflected my sense of the enormity of the Holocaust experience and the history of Jewish suffering. The words were in response to the German woman’s question as to my age at the time of liberation by US troops. She thought I was “60, or 61…” When I told her I was 14, she walked away in shock, leaving me to think that I was indeed 14 but I had suffered and lived 1,000 years.
Katelyn Bajcic: Reading the story makes you thankful for what you have now.
PJ: One of the significant lessons that can be derived from the Holocaust, a story of extreme privation is gratitude for all we are granted in our daily existence.
Jenna Aldellizzi: How were you able to trust in mankind after surviving?
PJ: A survivor would have been justified in loosing faith in mankind, yet I was aware that the horrors of Holocaust were caused by the Germans and their collaborators, not by mankind. And not all Germans were evil. Many were unaware of what was going on and some of those who were even helped Jews. One must not generalize but look at people as individuals.
Emily Robinson: Was there ever a time when you might have wanted to give up on saving yourself and your mother? If you had known about the heinous personalities of the Nazis and the German people, would you have trusted the one officer, Pista, with your poems?
PJ: Never! I felt I had to keep fighting for every day, every moment. For tomorrow. For life. Especially for my mother’s life. To return home. To bring her home.
Emily, Pista was a Hungarian soldier, not a German. But I would have trusted him anyway. He had a kind face.
Mrs. Trent: Did you ever get back any of the writing you had done before the war?
PJ: No. All was lost. I do not have a single page of my former writing.
Edgar Lemus: How hard was it to adapt back to society after being isolated for so many years?
PJ: Yes, it was a difficult and gradual process. I described it in two books, sequels to I Have Lived A Thousand Years: My Bridges Of Hope and Hello, America. In those books the reader can experience how we coped post-Holocaust.
Ryan Hueston: When you were taken into Auschwitz, was there anyone other than your mother you could trust at the level of a family member?
PJ: On arrival in Auschwitz we met my Aunt Celia, my mother’s younger sister and two cousins, daughters of my father’s sister. But we were soon separated from them, and never saw them again. I had no one to share with or trust on that level.
Victoria Jackson: How did you view the Nazis during the Holocaust and how do you view them now? Is the resentment still living inside you?
PJ: During the Holocaust I dreaded the Germans. We all feared them as they treated us cruelly, often shooting at us or sending any of us to the gas chambers at a moment’s whim.
After the Holocaust I returned to Germany at the invitation of the German government for commemoration ceremonies of our liberation by the Americans. During these visits, in 1995, in 2005 and in 2015, I met a number of Germans and their families and became convinced that they truly regretted what their grandparents did. I made lasting friendships in Germany. My total outlook has changed.
This is the final lesson of the Holocaust: it cannot happen again! The Germans are no longer our enemies, and we Jews are no longer helpless victims. We have our own state, Israel, an outstanding member of the family of nations.Prof. Livia Bitton-Jackson