Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Interview with Susie Davidson: “I Refused to Die: Stories of Boston area Holocaust Survivors..."

In her introduction to her book: “I Refused to Die: Stories of Boston Area Holocaust Survivors and Soldiers Who Liberated the Concentration Camps of World War ll,” Susie Davidson writes: “ The darkest chapter in Modern Jewish began long before and extends far beyond late April, 1945 in the minds of those who lived through the horrors of the Nazi Holocaust. For these survivors, the pain has never changed, diminished, never ended. Endured long ago, yet forever feeling like yesterday, it defines their existence like a gray shroud of gloom that indelibly drapes every waking moment.” (17) In this book the words of the Holocaust survivors and their liberators capture the horror, despair, and the salvation of those who survived this nefarious time in history. In a project three years in the making and partially funded by the Mass. Cultural Council, Davidson has compiled a collection of testimony, poetry, and essays of Boston-area Holocaust survivors and liberators that should be in the classroom, as well as in the home. Hillel Newman, Consul of Israel to New England wrote of Davidson: “In writing this book Susie Davidson advances the eternal message of the most significant event in Jewish history. In doing so, she is fulfilling a most important service to the entire community.” Davidson will be participating in the “The Somerville News Writers Festival,” Nov 13, 2005 at the Somerville Theatre in Davis Square.

Doug Holder: What was the germ of the idea for this project?
Susie Davidson: Well, I have written for the ‘Jewish Advocate,” for many years now, so I have met some of the survivors. I was always very impressed by them. Here were people who experienced things that are even hard to imagine. Yet they were out there contributing.
They were living their lives. They were not self-centered and wallowing in misery. They were doing the best they could and making contributions to our society. They are teachers, educators, scientists, and engineers, etc...They rebuilt their lives. I found that so amazing. In June 2002 I went to the groundbreaking ceremony of the Liberator’s monument in downtown Boston at the N.E. Holocaust Memorial. It was a very nice ceremony, with the mayor and other leaders. Al Rosen, a World War ll vet got up and made a speech that inspired me to write “I Refused to Die...”
There are Holocausts going on in our current times, such as: Somalia, Sudan, etc... It seems that it just doesn’t end. It is a horrible state of human affairs. We all have to do what we can to stem this tide.

DH: Do you view this book as a formal educational text as well?
SD: I’ve included many supplements inside the book with WW ll material. My aim is to market this as a secondary school text. I think you don’t want the kids too young when they read about this. It is important however to place that seed of “awareness” in them.

DH: Was it difficult to get the survivors to relive these horrific memories?
SD: Some people were ready to go. Others I had to convince gently. You don’t want to exploit their experience, but their story must be told. There is nothing like a first hand witness to counteract Holocaust denial. The general awareness must be encouraged. This is not a group of people who are applying to do this. I didn’t pry but I would strongly suggest. I knew these stories would mean a lot to many people.

DH: You must have had a number of emotional outbursts during the course of your interviews.
SD: Sure...in both myself and with them. Almost all of them cried; both men and women. Some cry everyday still. I tried to be stoic, but when I proofread I would cry. These are things that you could not believe one man could do to another man.
This is true of the liberating soldiers as well as the survivors. A few of the soldiers in my book bared their lives around their experience.

DH: Can you tell me about the Black regiment that liberated the camps?
SD: There was an all Black regiment that liberated the camps. In the book there is a poem by Sonia Weitz. She was liberated by a Blackman. She had never seen a black face before. It turns out that the 761st Battalion was an all Black regiment. This regiment included many noted people like Jackie Robinson--the baseball player. They had the highest casualty rate among similar units in World War ll. They were on the frontlines for three full weeks at a time.

DH: Was there a lot of guilt around the folks who did survive. Did they ask “Why me?’
SD: Sure. Why was I spared, while my family members perished in front of me? A lot of it was dumb luck. Crazy things would happen at the last minute that would save them. This is something that you can’t get over quickly. They had to use their heads constantly to fight against the odds. Every minute was a struggle to stay alive. One survivor, Meyer Hack, took a string inside his prison uniform and pulled it every morning to bring blood to his face. This way he would not have to face the gas chamber.

DH: Did you find yourself taking on the role of a therapist to these survivors?
SD: Who am I to take that role with people that I respect so much. I think they were grateful someone was doing this. I suppose this was a catharsis of sorts.

DH: You included the work of a lot of local poets in this book. What does poetry add to this compendium?
SD: A poem often takes a third person perspective. You are taking on a persona when you are writing. So you become a sort-of first hand witness. With the images and metaphors that are used; it brings it all home in a very sharp way.

DH: What are your ambitions for this book?
SD: Right now I am doing a lot of readings. I will be doing a large reading at the Boston Public Library in Nov, as well as reading at “The Somerville News Writers Festival,” Nov. 13. I have been on Channel 2’s “Greater Boston,” show with Emily Rooney. My main objective is to get the information out there.

DH: If there is one message you would want to convey with this book what would it be?
SD: Wherever you see racism or bigotry stand up and say something. We really need to be more active and make the world a better place.

Doug Holder* For more information on Susie and her book go to http://www.irefusedtodie.com/


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