For some time, friends and readers of Lake Placid News and Virginia Gazette have urged me to gather in a book a collection of my columns that dealt with survival during the Holocaust. They suggested that the book describe our life under Communist rule in Czechoslovakia, as well the story of our harrowing escape from there.
Initially, I hesitated. Reformatting the columns into a book format seemed formidable. I wondered whether events of the past would resonate with readers. But several members of the academic community at the College of William & Mary argued that as a survivor of the Holocaust, my generation is the last one who can say, "I was an eyewitness."
I was reminded that my stories reveal a distinctive aspect of the Holocaust. They offer a narrative about events that took place outside the world of concentration and extermination camps. A narrative about survival among deadly enemies while hiding in plain sight.
Frank Shatz, on the cover of his new book
“Reports from a Distant Place”
What persuaded me was an offer from The Educational Publisher, a Columbus, Ohio-based, publisher, which took on the design of the book, reformatting the text, printing, marketing. They asked me only to write a Foreword and Epilogue.
I wrote in the foreword:
"For some 40 years, following the Second World War, I have not talked about how I survived the Holocaust or about the horrors I witnessed. I willed myself to forget the past and find meaning only in the present and the future. Then, three realizations made me reconsider my attitude toward shunning the past.
"First, I came to realize that in America many held the view that Jews in Nazi-occupied European countries went to their death like sheep to the slaughterhouse. That wasn't the case. Those who could have gone into hiding, escaped, or joined the anti-Nazi underground, The, vast majority, however, didn't have this choice. They lived in a sea of enemies, with nowhere to turn for help. I was an eyewitness to this, and I felt an obligation to bear witness.
"I realized also that to most people, particularly to the younger generation, the word Holocaust conveys the image of a monolithic monstrosity. It conjures an image, of concentration camps where multitudes of people - men, women, and children - were condemned to starve to death. Or extermination camps with their gas chambers and crematoriums, death factories run for the sole purpose of killing people.
But to me, the word Holocaust was a mosaic that encompasses hundreds of memories, all of them related to survival during the Holocaust but outside of the concentration camps. I felt a need to demonstrate the complexity of life under a murderous regime and system and show how it affected people on the run.
"Lastly, the strongest incentive to speak out was the appearance of Holocaust deniers. They came out from the woodwork, and their poisonous message had an effect on people with limited knowledge of history.
"I realized that I was among the dwindling number of people who experienced the Holocaust firsthand. After us there will be films, books and museums, but no one who can say, "I was there." I felt duty-bond to speak out. In newspaper columns, interviews, at colleges and public forums, I have recalled case histories that depicted the reality of life, on the edge,
"But questions about my life, after the Holocaust, kept coming An article in The Virginia Gazette, reflecting on my stories, noted: 'Realizing that the Communists installed a system every bit as repressive as that of the Nazis, and recognizing the warning sing, Frank and his wife, Jaroslava, began to take those small steps of mental defiance that eventually led to active participation in the anti-Communist underground."
The telling of the stories of survival during the Holocaust, about living dangerously under the Communists, and coming to America is the substance of my book.
More: "Reports from a Distant Place," (Price $12.95) is available on Amazon.com, www.EduPublisher.com and at The Bookstore Plus in Lake Placid.
Frank Shatz lives in Williamsburg, Va. and Lake Placid. His column was reprinted with permission from The Virginia Gazette.