A book of stories from around the world; a memoir of survival with Bielski partisans
TWO IJN staff members published books this month.
IJN Executive Editor Rabbi Hillel Goldberg published The Unexpected Road: Storied Jewish Lives around the World (Feldheim Publishers).
This is his sixth book.
IJN Senior Writer Andrea Jacobs co-authored the story of Paula Burger’s survival during the Holocaust in the forests of Belarus under the leadership of Tuvia Bielski, made famous by the movie, “Defiance.”
The book is titled, Paula’s Window: Papa, the Bielski Partisans and a Life Unexpected.
This is Jacobs’ first book.
Published privately, the book is available at Tattered Cover.
Both books grew out of stories published in the IJN.
Goldberg’s book collects the best stories and portraits he has written over the past 45 years. Many of these stories appeared in an earlier form in the pages of the IJN. Many focus on Holocaust survivors.
Jacobs and Burger first met when Jacobs interviewed her for “I Was There: Paula Burger’s Real Life ‘Defiance,’” published in the IJN’s L’Chaim, Feb. 27, 2009, shortly after the release of the film, “Defiance.”
“It was a tough interview,” Jacobs remembers of that initial confluence. “She kept saying, ‘Can we stop now?’”
GOLDBERG’S book gathers stories from 42 cities around the globe — including Denver.
He writes in the introduction that in 1927, a legendary figure visited Denver, Colorado: Rabbi Meir Shapiro of Lublin, Poland, the founder of Daf Yomi. Earlier, in 1923, three other well known figures came to Denver.
“No one reported on the visits of these eminences,” Rabbi Goldberg writes.
“There is no transcript of their teachings.
“No impression of other personalities.”
“No indication how they interacted.
Rabbi Goldberg wrote The Unexpected Road, in part, to capture the immediacy of great leaders who are passing from the scene.
But the book is equally about amcha, the unknown Jew who has at some point illuminated Jewish fate in a way that no one else ever has.
To quote from the introduction:
“This book is about amcha.
“About Jews who survived the depths, the Holocaust.
“Jews of phenomenal dedication.
“And phenomenal wit, quickness, intelligence — and faith.
“And about other Jews — the common people.
“The thing is, so many of these ‘common’ people became uncommon.
“Every ‘common’ Jew has a deep story, and can reach the heights.
“And when Jews reach the heights, they are still . . . amcha, rooted in the people.
“And so, these are stories from the depths, and stories about people who reached the heights.”
Goldberg’s book is divided into seven sections.
Each of these sections opens with a long story or series of stories, including Dr. Werner and Lucie Prenzlau’s love story, and closes with a portrait of a great person, such as Holocaust survivor Ephraim Englard or the late Prof. Frank Talmage of Toronto, who sustained his faith — and highly regarded literary efforts — in the face of a fatal, degenerative disease.
The book rescues otherwise unknown Jews from obscurity and shines a new and penetrating light on well known Jewish spiritual leaders.
“You might find your neighbor in this book,” says Goldberg, “or a dazzling incident in the life of the well known contemporary leader who left his home, traveling to another city for four days without money or cell phone, to see whether he could live like the millions of impoverished people around the world and survive on trust in G-d.”
Rabbi Hillel Goldberg has written a Hebrew volume on the Vilna Gaon’s understanding of the laws of mikveh, and three books on the Musar movement. One of them, The Fire Within, has just been reprinted by Artscroll.
Another IJN staffer, Assistant Editor Chris Leppek, has published three novels: The Surrogate Assassin; and Chaosicon and Abattoir (co-authored with Emanuel Isler).
NOT long after the “Defiance” article appeared, Paula Burger and Andrea Jacobs were eating lunch together when Burger suddenly asked Jacobs whether she would help write her memoirs. Jacobs agreed.
Every Sunday morning, they sat at Burger’s sunlit kitchen table and returned to her early years in Novogrudek, Poland, and to memories of her parents Wolf and Sarah Koladicki and her little brother Isaac (now Cantor Isaac Koll).
The Nazis invaded Novogrudek on July 3-4, 1941. The idyllic bubble she inhabited with her parents on their ranch outside Novogrudek burst forever. There was no going back.
Wolf helped his family elude the Nazis on numerous occasions, avoiding the fate of thousands of Jews who were executed and dumped into anonymous pits. As Burger says in the book, “We were not there to be counted.”
The Nazis finally found the Koladicki family and marched them to the Novogrudek Ghetto in the spring of 1942. Burger was seven. Wolf Koladicki managed to smuggle his wife and children out of the ghetto several times.
Eventually, a devious man who wanted the family’s property informed on Wolf to the authorities.
When the Nazis came for Wolf, Sarah denied knowing her husband’s whereabouts or even having any children.
She was arrested, tortured and shot to death on Yom Kippur, 1942.
SOMETIME in 1942, Wolf had joined the Bielski partisans, led by Tuvia, Zus and Asael Bielski, in the Naliboki Forest in Belarus. He planned to bring his family to this harsh sanctuary to prolong their lives.
When he learned of his wife’s death, Wolf did not allow his personal devastation to stop him from smuggling his children to the Naliboki.
A wild, sparse and untamed wilderness, the forest offered a temporary reprieve for Wolf, Paula and Isaac.
Nazis, anti-Semitic Poles and drunken Soviet partisans hunted the partisans like animals throughout their two-and-a-half year nomadic existence in the forest.
“Tuvia Bielski always said he’d be famous after he’s dead,” Burger said. “He was right.”
The Bielskis rescued more than 1,200 Jews from certain death. It was the largest single rescue of Jews by Jews in the history of the Holocaust.
Only three Jewish children from Novogrudek survived the war: Burger, Koll and another girl.
IN taking down Burger’s story, Jacobs had to listen to some of the harshest events in human history. She often waited until she closed the elevator outside Burger’s apartment and cried.
Sometimes sentences struggled and screamed to be born. At other times, they flowed like water, says Jacobs.
Burger lived the story. Jacobs had to tell it. The process was difficult and often painful.
Paula’s Window took three years to complete.
One of Jacobs’ favorite passages describes a mission Burger and her husband Sam took to Poland with the late Rabbi Stanley Wagner in 1999:
“We toured many sites, including a mass grave in Ponar, near Vilna. The Nazis murdered thousands of Jews in Ponar and threw their bodies into a fathomless pit. This is how my mother died.
“Over the decades, the residents of Ponar attempted to cover up the graves — but they kept sinking deeper into the earth. All the birds left that forest, driven out by the smell of burned and rotting flesh. They have not returned.
“My mother is not buried in Ponar. I will never find her grave. But wherever she is, I hope flowers grow and the birds are not afraid to sing.”
Copyright © 2013 by the Intermountain Jewish News