Friday, March 7, 2014
By TOM ATWELL / Special to the Maine Sunday Telegram
Edith Herz was 12 years old in Worms, Germany, when her father told her she did not have to go to school that day. Their synagogue had burned in an infamous event that later was called Kristallnacht ("Night of Broken Glass)" -- the beginning of the Holocaust.
In the new book "Against All Odds: A Miracle of Holocaust Survival," Edith, now Edith Lucas Pagelson, tells about life as a Jewish girl in Germany, how her 8-year-old sister Suse was sent to England for safety but passage could not be found for Edith, and how her family moved to Duisburg when things got too bad in Worms.
She was transported to the Theresienstadt concentration camp in 1942, where her father died. She was then taken to Birkenau, Auschwitz and Stuthoff, surviving many times when most others died -- including one time when she and her mother were in a gas chamber when it malfunctioned.
"Against All Odds" (Custom Museum Printing, $17.95) details not only the horrors of the Nazi camps of Europe, but of Edith's survival. It tells how she met Henry Lucas, another survivor of the camps, and how they moved to New York, married and started a family.
In America, however, all did not go well. In 1973, Henry died in a ski chairlift accident in Warwick, N.Y., very similar to an accident at Sugarloaf in 2011. In 1977, her family business was destroyed during a blackout in New York.
She moved to San Diego with her new husband, and when he died, she moved to Maine to be closer to her family. She now lives at Ocean View in Falmouth.
Pagelson has spoken often about the Holocaust, and at the urging of her family, got together with Ronnie Weston, a ghost writer from Harpswell. After two years of interviews, this book was produced.
Q: Combined question: Why did you write the book, and why did you wait so long?
A: A book didn't really come up. I had done interviews and DVDs and tapes, and I thought maybe that should be enough. I had donated things to the Holocaust Museum and spoken to schools.
My children prompted me to write the book. I have now arrived at the age where I am matriarch of the family, and I wanted to write it for future generations.
Q: You mention Henry's nightmares in the closing of the book. Did you have -- in the current term -- post-traumatic stress syndrome? Did many other survivors of the Holocaust?
A: Yes, some of them did, but amazingly I didn't, and my mother didn't either.
Q: As one of the few who survived, did you feel any guilt, any need to make a difference because of all those who couldn't?
A: Not really, no. "Against All Odds" is the name of the book, and that is really it. It was just fate. Now, the people who survived who did not even go to concentration camps, they had terrible guilt feelings. They didn't even want to hear our story at that time, and that bothered me and my mother.
Q: The profits are going to the Holocaust & Human Rights Center of Maine. Tell me about that group.
A: They have a museum and center at the University of Maine at Augusta and a speakers bureau, and that is how I got to know them, speaking there a few times.
Q: And after all these years, there is still interest?
A: Very much so. When I speak at schools, they tend to have wonderful questions. I still have kids calling me and coming to visit me here.
They hear about bullying all the time, and this (persecution of the Jews by the Nazis) is bullying come full circle.
Q: Is there one main lesson your readers can take from your experiences?
A: Not really. The deniers, that is the worst thing. There are people who say it never happened, and that hurts.
If you want to survive, the one asset you have to have is optimism. If you have negative feelings, you get depressed, and that is very dangerous.
The hatred of the time is what brings everything on. I always say you can live next door to people and you don't have to like them, but you don't hate them. The good part about America is freedom, but some people abuse the freedom and their the interpretation is sometimes wrong.
When I speak to high school children, they are sometimes surprised to learn that they are the same age I was when I was sent to a concentration camp. My sister Suse was 8 years old when they sent her away to England, and they say, "How could you do that?" but it was what had to be done.
Q: I have Jewish friends who won't buy Volkswagens, Mercedes or any German products. Do you hold a grudge against the Germans, and do you buy German products?
A: At first, I did not want to go back to Germany, but then they formed some groups and rebuilt the synagogue in Worms. And when they unveiled the plaque with the list of all the people who died, they had me and my mother unveil it, because we were the only ones (Jewish people) from Worms who survived.
But then the Finegolds (daughter Ruth's family) talked to me and wanted to go, and we went back to the places where I grew up. I showed the places to them, and I felt that I at least had a purpose.
I did not go to the camps. My sister begged me to, but I said I could not do it, because now it is a park. It isn't anything like it was. In the beginning, we did not buy German products, but
When I went back to Worms, I had an uneasy feeling when I met people of a certain age, wondering what they were doing back then. But they also are dying out now.
Q: Is there anything else you would like to talk about?
A: One thing: On July 13, 1977, there was a blackout in New York. We owned this business -- our business and a camera shop next door. And they looted the camera shop, took everything, and tried to burn it. It reminded me of Kristallnacht. It hit me very hard. Why should this happen to me in America?
Q: When and where is this book going to be available for people to read?
A: Right now, it is at The Book Review in Falmouth (at the Falmouth Shopping Center on Route 100), and you can get it at the Maine Authors Publishing website (maineauthorspublishing.com).
We will go on Amazon and other sites when we can set up PayPal to pay the Holocaust & Human Rights Center directly.
Tom Atwell is a freelance writer in Cape Elizabeth. He can be contacted at 791-6362 or at: