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tv   Rebecca Frankel Into the Forest  CSPAN  December 23, 2021 3:28pm-4:31pm EST

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welcome to all of you with us in person today and those of you joining us online. i'm ari goldstein, senior public -- it's a pleasure to welcome you to today's book launch for "into the forest," a holocaust story of triumph and love by rebecca frankel. we first met rebecca here at the museum in january 2020. when she came to the museum to attend a reunion of the partisan family, and she told us at the time that she was working on researching a new book project about a family that survived the holocaust in the forest. it's a great honor to celebrate the product of that research now a year and a half later, which was just released by st. martin's press on september 7th. you may rebecca as family or friends or as the author of the
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"new york times" best selling book "war dogs: tales of canine heroism, history, and love." she was also the executive editor at "foreign policy" magazine, and her work has appeared in "national geographic" and elsewhere. "into the forest" is an emotionally gripping love story, but it's a particularly remarkable book because it's set against the backdrop of holocaust by bullets, a little-known chapter of the holocaust we are only just beginning to understanding. and the stories are helping to fuel that deeper understanding. in addition to rebecca frankel, we're joined by david roth cop, host of the deep state radio podcast and ceo of the bothcop group. his father survived the holocaust in austria. copies of "into the forest" will
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be for sale in our museum lobby. we hope you'll take advantage of the opportunity to buy the book and get your copy signed by the author. you can order your copy of "into the forest" at the link at the live stream chat. without further ado, please join me in joining rebecca frankel and david rothkopf to the stage. >> hello. thank you all for being here. >> hi. very nice of you to join us. i think we're going to have a very interesting afternoon. and hopefully at some point, perhaps about 40 minutes from now, you will have the chance to join in and ask some questions. so, you may want to think about that as we go forward. it's a real pleasure to be here with you today. >> it's a pleasure to have you here with me today.
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>> you know, i remember the first time you brought up this book. i was the editor of "foreign policy" magazine and becky was, i think, the executive manager, managing editor at that time. i had an office and i would sit there and becky would do the work and come in and say, here's a good magazine. and i would say, yeah, that's pretty good. but at some point after "war dogs," this -- and this is, by the way, the curse of all authors. as soon as you finished a book, people go, are you going to write another book? >> yeah, they do. >> they don't give you a break. >> yeah. >> almost immediately. you went and you did the counanimous o'brien show. >> i did, yeah. >> with "war dogs." and now she's doing this. so, moving up. and we came back and you were like, well, there's this story i'm interested in. >> yes. >> that you came upon.
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so, maybe that's a good place to start. >> sure. >> how did you come upon this story? >> well, in a way i didn't actually come upon it. it was sort of always in the background of my growing up. the rabbi where my parents and my family were members of the synagogue, he and his wife had this incredible story of how they met and how their paths crossed as children. their families were interned in the same ghetto in a small town in polo. and ruth, the rabbi's wife, her mother intervened on the rabie's behalf when he was an 11-year-old boy. and decades later after the families had gone their separate ways and survived the war, there was a random encounter at a wedding in brooklyn. and rabbi was there, and he met this woman who knew ruth's family and was reconnected to the woman who had saved him in the holocaust and went to see her and met her very becoming older daughter. and they started this sort of
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slow, simmering romance from there. so, attending the synagogue, where rabbi was the rabbi, as we all call him, rabbi, this story was always sort of in the background. and rabbi's story was a little bit better known. so, this romance was a part of it, but i didn't really know ruth's family's story very well. and so when i finally decided that another book might be something i would want to do, i thought, well, if i'm going to do another book, it has to be a topic that i care about very much. it has to be a great story. and it has to be -- involve a subject that i find sort of endlessly fascinating, endlessly interesting. and certainly there's no limit to that with this story. but then i started to talk to both of them. they said that, sure, yes, if you want to write a book, that's okay. and then it really just became about my conversations with ruth. and i was introduced to her
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family, who the book features. and i was introduced to her parents, mariam and morris. not just how they survived the holocaust and how they survived in the forest but really just to what incredible people they were. and i think that that's another component to this book that i hope people walk away from getting to know morris and mariam and getting to know what kind of people they were. >> i think that the great thing about the book is that it is that human story. but through revealing a human story, you revealed something about bigger issues, the nature of history and of life on earth. and i think one of them just comes to me as we're talking here. and that is that the book begins
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with normal life, and it ends with normal life. and in the middle is this unthinkable reality. and, you know, that's -- that's not just a lesson of the holocaust. i think it's a lesson of all times. >> yeah. >> and that gives it a kind of universality. did that strike you as you were grappling with this? >> i mean, it did on a lot of levels because really what happened is they were going about their lives, their normal lives. and it didn't just happen overnight. it happened over years. it happened over decades. and for most of the people that it happened to, it was a totally unthinkable thing, right? even when they heard, so this is taking place in this small town.
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and so this part of poland was occupied first by the soviets. and a relative -- relatively speaking, this was fortunate for the jews living there because under the soviet occupation, things were controlled. their lives were limited. there were abuses, and there was violence. people were taken away to siberia, but they weren't taken away and killed. and there's testimony and records and people talk about how refugees came in from the western part of poland, the part of poland that was occupied by germany. and they came and they told stories about what was happening to the jewish people there. and people did not believe this could be true. and what struck me about that was not that there was a naivety to this or that there was a lack of being prepared and being willing to take big risks and run while there was still time. but actually what it was was the
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humanity that these people had that they couldn't possibly imagine that people -- germans, nazis, whoever -- could do this to other people, that it was truly unimaginable. and so it -- it -- being immersed in these testimonies, being immersed in these stories and memoirs, it's hard to imagine even now that it could -- that it could happen again. and yet, of course something terrible could happen again. i -- i just -- and in particular, you know, getting to know mariam and morris and the way that they dealt with what was happening to them. i think they were very unique in some ways, not just because they were really independent people or they were particularly courageous people. but just because they had a strong marriage and really a family where there was a lot of love and a commitment to stay together no matter what. and that made a big difference
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in their experience. >> well, i mean, yes. when i read it, you know, i was struck by that they seemed like ordinary people at the beginning. and they were leading ordinary lives. but that when events like this intrude on your lives, it's that idea of ordinariness is swept aside. and what happens is people are put to a test. of and when you -- the book is called "into the forest." when they go into the forest, that's the test. and maybe you can describe a little bit about the nature of that test and how intense it was. >> sure. well, so it's interesting to think about it. i know the whole story. anyone who reads the book is going to know the story about
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what happened to them. but when they went to the woods, it was the only safe place to go. so, they were escaping these horrific conditions. they were escaping ghetto liquidation. their family members and friends had just been murdered. and it was the only place to go. and the family, as they've told me, if morris had said for years later, if i had known what the woods was going to be like, i would have never gone in. so, the tests that they were faced with was just about how to survive. and morris was in a unique position to do this because his normal life, in his normal life, he had been a lumbar dealer. lumber dealer. so, what that meant in this small town was he had a knowledge of the forest, which was important, given what they were facing. he had very good relationships with the local christian farmers, both polish and belle
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russians. so, he had these friendships to rely on. and the others who escaped the ghetto who knew him knew he had this good position. he and another family, the feldmann family, they were wealthy so they had gold with them and they had belongings to trade for food or information about where the nazis were. so, they were just uniquely positioned to do well under these circumstances. and there was a group of people who wanted to be with them no matter what. and morris' position always that to be in a large group, to be around a lot of other people, put them in greater danger. and they just wouldn't leave. so, at a certain point he accepted that these people were part of his responsibility and he became, as i say in the book, the reluctant leader of this group. and they went -- they migrated off and they had to leave certain places that became unsafe after they were discovered and this happened over a period of two years. but what's interesting to me is
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interviewing one of the grandsons of ruth and rabbi, now both sides of his family, rabbi's family and ruth's family, they both went through this holocaust. he had two grandfathers that survived, rabbi's father, joseph, and ruth's father, morris. and he said in a conversation that we had, which was very interesting to me to learn this about them. he said that his grandfather morris, what happened to him made him the man that he was and that it gave him -- it was this test that you mention. he found something within him, and he became kind of reborn in a way, however reluctantly it was. and his other grandfather, joseph, he said about him that that experience broke him, that the man he was before the war
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just -- he could never really recover from it. and of course he went on and he survived the woods also in different circumstances. rabbi's father. but that he was never the same. you could never really truly refind who he was or his happiness. at least that's how i interpreted what he told me in that conversation. whatever it was, whatever this family went through, mariam and morris, their relationship survived. what happened to them in the woods and their love continues to only blossom over time, which is pretty amazing. >> well, it is amazing. you know, and i think one of the things i hope all of you watching this and sitting here with us take away from this is that while this is a real story of real people, it reads with the drama of a novel. it -- you know, it plays in your head like a movie.
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and one of the things that strikes me -- and i don't think it gives away, you know, the substance of the book, is something that's been cited in a couple of reviews which is -- i'll paraphrase what one of them said. but essentially, no saint survived in the woods. >> yeah. >> and i think maybe you should talk about that a little bit. what does that mean? >> well, so, it was interesting. the origin of this of course for me as a writer came with my relationship to ruth and to rabbi. and so the first people i interviewed for this book were ruth, rabbi, and ruth's younger sister, toby. and of course in the book -- and i'm sorry i didn't say this earlier. but in the book, ruth's -- the name that she was given when she was given was rahul and toby's name was tanya. and i know them as ruth and toby
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now. but in interviewing them so many years later -- it was incredible, of course, how many of these memories were with them. they were deeply rooted in a lot of emotion. and of course they were deeply tied to the family, the family members, and to what happened to her parents in the woods. but it was also colored of course by how well-loved and how well-protected they were. and it wasn't just because they were young children. it was because they had adults who had survived who were taking care of them and who were protecting them. because what happened in the woods was really terrible. and it was, as toby, the youngeral daughter has said, it wasn't as horrific as what happened in the concentration camps, but it was awful. and they would wake up to people who had die frd hypothermia or had starved to death and they would see bodies. but they also had happy memories from the woods. which after i became familiar with other people's testimonies,
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people who had survived in the same woods or nearby, the things they talked about, there was absolutely no room for happy memories. there was one woman, in fact, who her testimony really has stayed with me because it was so hard to listen to. but she escaped a ghetto liquidation at the age of 12 with another girlfriend of hers, and they fled to the woods. and there were people around them who she knew from growing up who were friends of her parents. and she went to help her. and they did so initially begrudgingly. and what they used to do is none of them would let them sleep in the tents or underground bunkers hidden in the woods to keep warm in the winter. they wouldn't let her sleep in there with them. so, she would sleep outside on the ground. and in the middle of the night, they would leave camp and they would leave her behind because she was just another mouth to
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feed. and they didn't want her. she wasn't a particularly big girl, so she wasn't very strong. there was nothing she could really do to participate or to contribute. so, she was constantly left behind. and, you know, to compare the two experiences of young girls who are about relatively the same age, you know, it's -- lucky doesn't feel like quite the right word to apply to any of this. but, you know, i was constantly reminding myself or referring back to the memories of ruth and toby and the family and then comparing them of course to get a bigger perspective of what the overall experience in the woods truly was. and there, you know, were people who helped each other. there were certainly examples of it. but after a certain point of being cold and hunted down and
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starving, self-preservation becomes kind of the only -- the only thing, or at least it did for many people. and there were people who talk about their experiences, and they were turned away or they'd ask someone for help and they said no. and they would say, but i don't blame them. i don't -- i'm not upset with them. so, yeah, there weren't a lot of saints. >> i think if -- i confess to you, the audience, i was an english major, which shows a real lack of character. >> i was also an english major. >> and judgment on my part. but, you know, i think if this were a novel, people would say, very clever, rebecca. they are leading these very civilized lives, and they go into the woods, and it becomes about surviving. they become -- they sort of return to a state of nature.
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it's not about the values that you've got in your daily life. it's not about goodness. there are mothers muffling their children so they're not heard, and sometimes that is to -- the child doesn't survive that. that's -- that's the horror of this. but, you know, one of the things that has always struck me about this is this is a universal experience. this didn't just happen once in history. this happens all the time in history. you know, the slogan associated with places like this is, you know, "never again." but that's -- that's a lie, folks. it will happen again because it always happens in human history. and this is about how people
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keep going in the midst of it. >> there is -- so, there are these three men during my years of i came across -- >> how many years of research? >> i did almost six. almost six years. or at least from the time that i first started interviewing ruth until the time i made my last edit. and they were, they were boys together and two are brothers. one is a friend and they had all stayed friends, and i think the figure was recorded by one of their sons in the '90s. the three of them are sitting together on a couch and they're joking and they're laughing in yiddish and the son does a very good job of interviewing them. two brothers from at bram wits family and another name, and a family from lazarus, his family name in poland, and you know, they're talking about what they
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went through and two of the men were, had joined the partisan in the woods. they had been in these battalions fighting after they escaped the get toe. and in one of his testimonies, because he gave many over time, there was one attack on the woods early on. so probably in the early fall of 1942, just after the jews fled most of these ghettos, the ghetto liquidations ended, mostly by that fall. a lot of them, mostly, happened in the summer. and it was just brutal. most of the jews were there were killed, a lot of early iterations of the partisan units formed at that time had been killed. and he said, i don't know why we did it. i don't know how we did it. we were supposed to have killed ourselves, committed suicide. instead what they did is picked up whatever tools they could find and dug into the absolutely frozen ground and they started again.
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i think it's, sometimes it's inexplicable why some people, for what reasons they had to keep going and what reasons they had not to, because, you know, often encountering reasons not to keep going than reasons to keep going. but in the rabinowitz family story they had each other and it just made all the difference in the world on a day-to-day basis and ended up two years exactly almost to the day of being in the woods. >> again, it's kind of -- why not the core theme -- one of the core themes here is that the reason people survive, and this goes to -- i mean, you don't have to live through the holocaust to discover that it's each other. it's family. it's connectedness. >> hmm. >> it's, and it's for each
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other. one way or another. and, and that's why i think the revolution underscores that. you want to talk a little bit about that? >> yeah. you know, when i first started the book, i -- you know, i'm doing the book proposal. which is, like, writing any book in some ways. i really wanted to make sure that all of the most incredible things about this story were presented at the beginning, because that's really the way, just to get people interested to know that there's this love story and to know -- because it would be impossible to argue that one holocaust survival story has more value then another. they don't. they're all important. we should know as many as we can, but when you're trying to get people to read a book you have to tell them why this is the rare story or why it's interesting or different. and so i started with this love
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story of ruth and rabbi, ruth rabinowitz and so with the surviving children, and how they -- they encounter each other, because it is pretty miraculous and people said if it wasn't a true story i wouldn't have believed that it happened. but the other love story, of course, is morris and miriam and finding that was really, gave the book, i think, it's soul, on the story. its soul. because they don't just have an incredible story. they were incredible people, and the way they lived their lives is an example i think we can all use now. one of the things i think about a lot myself is, you know what was it that prompted miriam in the midst literally of a massacre to turn to an
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11-year-old boy who had no one, who approached her during this massacre and said, please, pretend that i'm your son, and she, in a minute, she said, yes. it was a very dangerous thing to do. to do that, to take in a strange boy who had no papers that she had no connection to, didn't know him at all. she was separated from her husband at this point. morris had been pushed away from the crowd and she had her two young daughters with her, and that really, that moment, as a mother, of course, i think for the family and the generations that would come later, from, you know, morris and miriam's union and eventually the one that rabbi and ruth would have later on, it's like a, a legacy moment to their family. i know the lebowski family and surviving rabinowitz family members that this moment and miriam's action is something they think about all of the time. that, you know, she decided to do this thing when it would have been easier to say no and many people turned this young boy away.
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and said, no. but she didn't. i think, you know -- one of the reviews they say a lot of graciousness and i think, yes. there was, for their family, but their good deeds or approach to life or approach to helping other people, there was a reward. i mean, that moment literally secured the future generations of miriam's family, in a way. fate. >> there were some things. >> yes. i think so. >> but -- well, you know, one of the things that struck me, and strikes me as i'm talking to you and it strikes me again where
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we're having this conversation is that if you're jewish and you read this story, you probably know somebody or have a relative who has a similar experience. you know? the part of poland that they live, my grandfather came from there. escaping the nazis, you know, my dad fled the nazis and i had a cousin who, who walked across europe, as a 9-year-old girl. sort of -- in haystacks and walked from austria to portugal in a way of escaping. so we all have these stories. why should somebody who's not jewish read it? >> well -- certainly this is a part of history we should all know. but an easy answer to that question. you know, it's interesting. i did think about this a lot, because growing up jewish, growing up in, you know, a hebrew school where the rabbi and his wife of holocaust survivors. this is very much a part of the dna of our community, to know this history to talk about it,
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and so engaging in this history and doing the research and encountering the truly horrific parts of this, what the nazis did to the jews, being one of them, that was something that i was sort of already prepared to encounter, and people who have this background, whether or not it's your family or something you know, this is what you learn in school. but the thing i found so absolutely horrifying and certainly those other things were, too, is listening to the survivors talk about what happened in their communities, and that people who they were friends with, who they were close to, their neighbors, their teachers, there's a breakdown in these communities. and there's so many reasons why and i'm not saying these are bad people and not saying there's just good or bad people. it was a terrible time, and terrible things are happening, but -- i think it is valuable to
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know how, what a family that stands together a community that does approach things with kindness and humanity can do and how they can survive and what happens in these communities where people don't do that. and i think we're at a moment where it's important to hear about these things and to talk about them and it doesn't have to be necessarily about the holocaust. i mean, i think maybe this is a little bit about what you were saying, but that, you know, communities are going to be tested and there are going to be breakdowns in the norms we have and how we're meant to treat each other and if this can be a lesson how we can all be kinder it doesn't necessarily have to be a holocaust story. >> when i went to berlin for the first time, and i guess i was in my 20s or something, and i went
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there, and -- had this kind of strange feeling as i was walking on the street and seeing these people. and i'd look at them and i would think, these were the children of the people who did these terrible things. and i thought to myself, they look normal. they look like the people i'm with. in my life. and then i thought, that's the point. it's that there is this banality to this that everybody is capable of tolerating really, really bad things in their lives. particularly if they don't think it affects them directly. >> uh-huh. >> is that a, a theme that you encounter in terms of the others in the community? because the other people in these communities tolerated it? >> they certainly did.
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and then it came to a point where, you know -- it was a matter of not just tolerating it, but in defying the norms put into place in the laws and restrictions. the penalty was death. or, you know, something not too far off in terms of how terrible it was, and i think a lot about the people in the surrounding forest communities. very poor farmers, who were nearby, adjacent to the woods and some of them chose to reach out to the jews they knew were hiding there and let them know when the nazis were getting close to change their location and hide and then some of them informed on the jews they knew were hiding there and turned them in, and sometimes it was, the reward for doing this. i came across from documentation. something for like a cup of sugar or a batch of flour. thinking, this is how little a jewish life was valued or this is how terrible their
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circumstances were as well, that they would make a decision to send innocent people to their death because this is how desperate they were for something to eat. so -- you know -- i certainly think that that's, that's part of it, but it's -- >> you know, i mean, it's also -- i'm struck -- it's a beautiful story. it's very specific. it's about very particular people going through a particular experience, but as with all stories like that, there is a universality that pertains to it, and how do we survive? what are we up against is part of it, but the fact there is a systematic destruction of societies is also with us all the time.
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>> uh-huh. >> you know? i sit here talking to you, i remember, you know, i once -- by you and i, by the way, i mean she once did something, but you, i remember you put together a great photo essay about afghanistan. >> hmm. >> and it was, went into a hospital. >> right. >> that had -- and -- and -- we had destroyed it. you know? we had -- and you could see operating tables, and you could -- you know, sort of manifested the inhumanity of this. we were doing this. >> uh-huh. >> and -- and -- 170,000 people died in afghanistan. a couple thousand american. 170,000 died there. maybe 600,000 to 800,000 people died in iraq. 5 million, 6 million people died in central african republic.
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we can go and there's these long, long lists of these things, but it seems to me that -- 170,000 died there. maybe 600,000, 800,000 people died in iraq. 5 million, 6 million people died in central african republic, and, you know, but we can go, you know, there's these long, long lists of these things but it seems to me that all of this, seen in pictures, but it seems to me this is all with us. >> well, we used to talk about this at foreign policy a lot. we would talk about, have editorial meetings, talk about what's the best way to tell this story and what david was just referring to was the hospital bombing in kunduz, electrical report taliban members were hiding out in this area, and the u.s. went in and destroyed a hospital, and ended up killing a lot of incident civilians. but, you know, i think the idea was, how do we tell this story and how do we tell the human story of this? where do we find the people in this story, and where do we, you know, not to be too literal, but point the lens in which it's just so distant and something
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that doesn't pertain to our everyday lives? the way we did that, find out identity of one of the people killed and did a three-part story on this man and what happened to him that day and learned about his family and his circumstances, and i'm still very proud of that work we did and the photographer's name was andrew mcnulty, but i think that's so much a part, because speaking to what you were saying about this being universal. that is the way to make these connections real. it's always going to be the stories of people and what happened to them, and, you know, the closer we can get to their voices and experiences, and the better we get to know them i think the better we'll connect with them and the better we understand them, at the minute i think we should look at some of these people. give us the pictures of some of these people.
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i want to say as an aside that this morning, on twitter, i saw a tweet by andrew clipton? >> oh, you did? >> he said he's still in. >> kabul. >> kabul. and he said he went to his favorite barber, and the barber told him that the taliban had come in and said, you're no longer allowed to cut beards. >> oh. hmm. >> and it kind of resonated to me. again, with all of this. >> yeah. >> you want to talk about some of these pictures? >> sure. let's see. so these are some of my favorite pictures. this is raha and tanya, or ruth and toby as i've been speaking about them and this photo was taken in there backyard in 1938 or 1939. so this is before their lives were disturbed. miriam liked to dress them in matching clothes and ruth would tell me about the photo saying she loved the shoes she had. red buckle shoes and they were
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her favorite shoes. and this story has an interesting history to it. again, we see a young ruth and toby, and a friend of theirs, and in front of miriam's shop. miriam owned a little, wasn't quite a pharmacy. they sold mostly, i don't know, home remedies and things like that. maybe some clothes. and the reason why this photo is so creased and why it has a little tear is because after the war, when they were trying to get to israel and it was illegal for jewish refugees at the time to just come to israel, but, of course, so many jews wanted to go to palestine, as it was then, before israel became a state, it was going to be this jewish safe
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haven to be free as jews and couldn't travel as jews but as greeks to pass illegally with the fake papers they had. all of these families told they couldn't bring anything with them that would identify them as being from poland or as jews for that matter. so what they had to do was rip out anything that had polish language, and so morris couldn't bring himself to abandon these photos and that's what he did. made a tiny tear and got rid of the polish advertiser in the window of miriam's shop so he could take it with them. and this, again, one of the photos morris brought with him because of the creases in it and the picture of ruth's kindergarten class, the last time she was in school before the war.
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and she's in the second row. yeah. she's in the second row. after surviving the war and going italy. it is very beautiful. the italians who were there were very welcoming to the jewish refugees. and even though there were four families to a small house, there was a lot of joy and lot of happiness being together and having survived. to fill out, to get tan, to be happy. to go back to school. to find community. so i think probably they are not going to be much different from here on.
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there's another woman in the photo who was with them in the woods and a friend that they weren't able to identify for me. but as you can see there, very thin, their clothes are very ill fitting. they were wearing donated clothes. they didn't have very much when they came out of the woods. so it is a happy photo because, of course, they had survived, but they don't quite look like themselves. and this is one of the first photos that was taken of the family when they finally made it to a tiny fishing village in italy, which was meant to be the quick jumping off point of where they could take a boat from the coast of italy and make their way over to palestine. and miriam and morris are in the front sitting down. of course, you have the two girls with them on the right over here is their aunt, miriam's sister, and they're wearing dresses that they had made before the war in doma. they traveled and got matching dresses. they left these dresses with a polish farmer, a friend of morris and miriam's, and they kept their dresses for them and their other belongings safe
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throughout the war. when they made it out of the woods, they went back and they were still there to claim. and then this is a wonderful photo because you see how happy and bright eyed they are. and it's not as much later. it's a photo from italy. both say that italy is the place where they became children again after surviving the war and going to italy, it is very beautiful. the italians who were there were very welcoming to the jewish refugees. and you know, even though there were four families to a small house, there was a lot of joy, a lot of happiness being together and having survived. and again, just happy photos from italy. wonderful to see. it took them, you know, perhaps a shorter time than other people, but to sort of fill out, to get tan, to be happy, to go back to school, to find
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community. so i think probably they are not going to be much different from here on. just as the girls are getting older, i think italy was a wonderful place for them and they were so set on going to israel that they stayed quite a while and eventually that option wasn't available to them. they came to the united states. but i think that is good for photos probably. >> one more question and then i think we'll go to questions from the audience. the story with the happy ending. but it is very dark. >> yeah. >> at its center. the toll it took on people, the pictures here are smiling people. that must have left scars that
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are with them still to this day. how do you see the scars? what do they look like to you? >> well it is interesting because my, doing interviews and with ruth and toby who are still with us, and who are, you know, being a part of this book coming out into the world, and that is a particularly wonderful thing for me personally x i know for a lot of people who care for them. they were far enough away from these experiences that there wasn't a tremendous amount of emotion in our immediate conversation. both sisters gave testimonies in the mid'90s, and it's startling to me to watch them because both women cried profusely. it was obviously very difficult to resurface these memories. and i didn't encounter that too much with them. although what would happen occasionally, one instance with toby, i had found someone they
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met in italy, a very young girl, who had survived by her parents had given her when she was a baby to a catholic polish woman, and this woman managed to hide her with the family, and she survived that way. and unfortunately this woman who survived the war, her parents had survived the woods like the rabinowitzes, she met a tragic end in a car accident. i initially asked toby about this woman, and she said she remembered her because there were photos of her, and she remembered she was a very interesting little girl. she had grown up believing she was catholic so the girls were sort of astonished to see someone jewish wearing a cross around their neck. and i said i'm going to try to
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see if i can find her. maybe she's still alive. and i can interview her, and toby said okay. and she called me a couple days later and said i don't know why i couldn't tell you, but she's not alive. she died when she was in her 20s, and it was very tragic. she said, and on the phone, she said i was upset with myself, i should have told you but i just couldn't bring myself to say it. so it didn't always surface in our conversations, but i know a lot of this was difficult for them. and in fact there is a man ted winestone, now in his 90s and he lives in memphis, tennessee. and i was able to go to memphis and interview him. hi had been in the woods with the rabinowitz family. and i interviewed him and spent a couple days there, and we had very long conversations, hours at a time. and wrapping up our last conversation i was talking to him and his memory is absolutely astounding. he remembers dates, numbers, times of day, the distance between the places they were. it was tremendously helpful to me to speak with him. and i said, you know, this is amazing, your memory is just
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incredible. and he said, you know, it is not so good. he said, you know, the memories disturb him. and he told me afterwards that in anticipation of my visit he hadn't slept for a long time. that it was, he knew he would have to talk about it. he knew it would be upsetting. he didn't say any of this to me until the end. but that it is, you know, after all this time, it doesn't get any easier to share it. and it wasn't easy for me to tell during our conversations that it was difficult. but of course it was. and why wouldn't it be? >> well and that is why the book is so important. it is so important to have books like this. again, you know, my father was, he escaped. but 36 members of his family didn't escape. some of them lived in villages like this. and he never talked about it. >> yeah. >> you know, he -- and his mother didn't talk about it. we didn't get to know about
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these things and sort of towards the end of his life, he would start sending us little bits of memory. you know, short stories or notes about who died and when, but it is all there inside of these people. all the time. and we're getting to the point where many of them are going to pass on. >> yeah. >> and if we don't turn to them, we're not going to have those stories and why it is so important that a sensitive, gifted journalist like becky can go to them and draw this out. because otherwise it will be lost. for always. i think we have time for some questions. is that correct? i see one up here. >> yes, thank you so much for this rich discussion. we're going to turn to audience
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questions now. and we're accepting them from audience members in person and online. we'll start with online questions and then get to you. those watching the livestream, feel free to share in the livestream chat and those in person just raise your hand. our first question comes from the audience member who asked if you could explain a little about your research to understand the background of the story the holocaust to the fullest and the killings in the east. >> sure. of course i started with the people i was writing about and i interviewed them and i realized i had a lot of education to find for myself in order to be able to orient what happened to them and to not just the timeline of the greater war and of the holocaust, but also of the town and what happened in the woods, what happened in the ghetto and the camps. and to do this i knew that i
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couldn't, it would not be fair to rely on the memory of two women who were such young children when they experienced this. so very fortunately there are organizations that put together a massive effort and in the 1990s, to interview as many people as they could to document them with these, some of them are very long, ten hours of tape, of video of interviewing people. so i found as many people as i could. found their testimonies of people who were there at the time, i watched them all. i watched them many, many times. and i, you know, was in part to verify in journalism, the idea is if you have an account, you have to verify it and check it and make sure it is an account that has multiple sources so that the story has as much ground to stand on as possible. and that was very difficult here because of course there aren't many survivors who are available or alive to speak to me. and that was the best way i
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could do it. and in this way it opened up a whole community of people, and it is really wonderful and there were times when i was so deeply immersed in this that i had to remind myself that they were no longer alive, that they felt so alive to me. and it really provided an understanding of this town and this place where this family lived. and then not just what happened in their family camp, but what happened in the forest and the experience ranged quite a bit, and it helped not only give me an education on the events that transpired but in having a better perspective of what made this experience unique or different or what made it sort of universal at least what was happening in the woods.
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and then of course, the world war ii and the holocaust is an extremely well researched history. and so i read as much as i could about these experiences and interviewed people who were subject matter experts and things like that. >> hi. my name is elizabeth. i think it's fabulous what you're doing. my parents, i was born in a refugee camp in berlin after they were freed. they were in the woods and they talked about it all the time. dad was 97 when he died. mom was 86. and until their dying breath, they talked about it because they didn't want us to forget. and they were interviewed by steven spielberg survivors of the shoah. what i wanted to bring out is several things. how it changed the epigenetics of our lives. how my sisters and i, it changed us as people. it changed our perception of other people. it changed how we feel about guilt and food and everything. and i remember asking dr. dennis charney years ago, he's chief psychiatrist at mt. sinai. how did my parents survive? she saw her mother's head
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chopped, saw her father hung. and not only did they survive, they flourished. and dr. charny said they have the resilience gene and you have inherited the resilience gene. and david you kept on saying how did these people survive? everybody has a resilience gene and it shows you, yesterday, we celebrated the 20th anniversary of 9/11, and how people move on. that's human nature. and that is what i wanted to point out. >> well thank you for sharing that. and i think that's right. and i think in the lizowski and rabinowitz and langerman family, toby's married name, they all asked a little what would miriam do. i think that moment is something
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that lives on in them in addition to the resilience gene, right, just they managed to flourish after the war as well. and i think that is part of it for them. >> rebecca, we've got a question by email who asks what was it like researching this book as opposed to writing war dogs and how were the two different? >> researching war dogs brought me outside of my head and outside of my writing office a lot more. spent a lot of time on military bases, which was at first a little unnerving and then it was really interesting and exciting. in some ways it was similar because, of course, you're still talking about war. it is from a very different perspective and point of view. i was interviewing and working
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with soldiers and marines. but the trauma is not completely different. i mean, what they experienced lives on in them in the same way. but also their memories too sort of fade over time and certain things are more -- are closer than others. it is more immediate, or it need to be pulled back out of them and those are difficult conversations to have. yeah, i -- i think also, too, it is just -- it was a lot of history. it was a lot of reading, it wasn't as much contact with people. and it is just a much -- a much bigger topic. and i had a much longer period of time to do it. that is one of the things that's
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interesting. you might ask the same questions over and over again. but you are never going to have the same conversation. and i feel so fortunate that i had that much time with ruth and toby and rabbi lizowski and their children and ted winestone because it just provided -- you know, with ruth we would look at pictures, and it would spark memories she hadn't shared with me before, and we had been doing this for two years already. and that was wonderful. and with toby i said this before it was like a little like planting a seed. we'd have a conversation and three days later she'd call and say, i just can't believe i remembered this thing or i remembered this person's name. so it was interesting, both really valuable. both very meaningful to me personally. but very different research. >> hi, two questions for you. first how did you combine this story and decide you were going to write this? and do you have a memory that sticks out the most during speaking to ruth or toby that has stuck with you the most? >> well, to answer your first question, this was sort of a story that i had grown up with.
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when i was young, ever since i was 5 years old my parents were members of the synagogue where philip lizowski was a rabbi and ruth was his wife. so it was at least for my family a very familial community and we were with them a lot and the story was always there. so having finally answered the question, what do i want to do next, i wanted a story i cared about. and so i thought this might be a wonderful thing to write about. if only i can find enough story. you know, to mix in with their memories of what they remembered. and then in terms of what sticks out? so much does, so many conversations. one of my favorite moments was
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with ruth. i spent a lot of time in their house, which of course is not very far from the house that i grew up in. and ruth, for anyone who knows her and there are people in this audience who know her very well, she's just a joyful, happy, vibrant, vivacious person. she's always ready to experience things. she and rabbi have traveled the world many times over. they want to engage people. they want to go places. they want to go. they want to be. they want to live. they want to, you know, celebrate. and ruth was remembering, you know, i was asking her about what was it like to be, you know, a jewish refugee or somebody who had just come to the united states and was in school with american kids. and it was tough on them both. i don't think that they were very warmly recepted by the american jewish kids in their school. very warmly reseptembered by the
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and she was a little less accepted i think. she made friends with other foreign kids. and there was a talent show in her junior high school and sang this song which was half in english and half in italian and we found, i said we can find the music for that. i can pull it up. she was always very amazed at google skills. she thought it was pretty incredible. and we found the song and then she sang it for me. she just, it was a wonderful memory and she just sang the whole thing and that was something i was very grateful to have experienced with her. >> we'll talk one more question from the livestream. michael asks how can holocaust educators best teach using this book? >> well, i think the things to teach and as david brought up throughout our conversation is to show the lives before and to show yes of course the talk about what happened to them in the holocaust, and then to show how they recovered. and i think, you know, that they kept their marriage in tact. they kept their family in tact. they kept their humanity in
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tact, their appetite for joy and for happiness in tact. it was a pretty hard thing to do. but they did it. and i think that is a really important lesson. not so much as numbers although the numbers are important. you want to know what happened and how many people but i think we want to know the people. and i think that's more important. we need to know the stories. >> rebecca and david. thank you so much for being with us today. >> thank you. thank you, everybody. >> really proud to join in the celebration of this book launch. remarkable well-researched, well-written book. important book. we hope you found the conversation interesting today. and will go purchase a copy of "into the forest." in the lobby and get it signed by the author. those of you joining us on the livestream can order the book at the link in the livestream chat. hope you also take the lessons of this conversation out with you as we navigate our ever complicated and challenging world. thanks.
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