2014-11-12 / Voice at the Shore

Shore native writes book about local’s Holocaust experience

By ELLEN WEISMAN STRENGER
Voice shore correspondent


STEVE WINKELSTEIN STEVE WINKELSTEIN “Brisko: A True Tale of Holocaust Survival,” tells the story of a dog who helped keep a little girl and her family safe from the Nazis. Written by 29- year-old Steve Winkelstein, a Margate native who now lives in Boulder, CO, the book and its accompanying curriculum offers middle school students a way to relate to children affected by the Holocaust and to apply the lessons of the Holocaust to their own lives.

“This kind of book, and the activities that go along with it, open up the gate for discussions on bullying,” explained Winkelstein. “The mission here is to share [a survivor’s] story and teach kids about the Holocaust, but also to show what happens when you start to pick people out for being different.”

In the book, a young girl named Libe and her parents hide out from the Nazis in a local farmer’s barn for 18 months. The farmer’s dog, Brisko, becomes Libe’s friend and protector, barking in warning whenever the Nazis come to search the farm. Although Libe never even gets to touch the dog, watching Brisko through a crack in the side of the barn gives the girl hope and strength.

The 142-page story is based on the real-life experience of an 86-year-old Holocaust survivor named Laura, who lives half the year in Margate and the other half in Florida.

How and why Steve connected with Laura is a story in itself. Several years ago, Gail Rosenthal, director of Stockton’s Holocaust Resource Center, met Winkelstein when she happened to bring her granddaughter to one of his book signings. (Brisko is Winkelstein’s 6th book; many of those previously published are children’s books centering on local icons such as Lucy the Elephant.)

While chatting with Rosenthal, Winkelstein told her he’d wanted to write a children’s book about the Holocaust ever since his visit to Yad Vashem on a Taglit-Birthright Israel trip in 2009. “The museum has a children’s memorial with lit candles representing all the children who died during the Holocaust. When I walked though there, I knew that I had to write a Holocaust book for kids,” said Winkelstein.

A year after his chance meeting with Rosenthal, Winkelstein got a call from her. That’s when she gave him the idea of doing a children’s book about Laura’s story. She also gave him Laura’s contact information. Soon after, Winkelstein met with Laura in Florida, where he spent several days recording her story. “She reminded me of my grandmother,” he recalled. “She was a Jewish Bubby.”

Afterwards, when Winkelstein sat down to write the book, “Her story came out so powerfully that the book kind of wrote itself,” he said.

Giving Laura the finished product was “a truly special moment,” recalled Winkelstein. “I was in New Jersey and got to hand her a copy of the book. It was amazing. After she read it she called me and was crying on the phone. She said it was beautiful.”

The young author’s ultimate goal is to have 5th and 6th graders connect with his book and the Holocaust. Having a dog, Brisko, at the center of the book helps make the story easier for middle school students to relate to, he noted.

Winkelstein’s brother, Doug, an Egg Harbor Township middle school teacher, helped write the curriculum for Brisko. The two brothers also hope to create an iPad version of the book, which would allow students to comment on the book and react to the comments of others. This would open up another way for students to connect with the book and each other, said Steve. “The real draw of doing this is having a community based around the book, so kids who are reading the book can interact and work on projects together.”

The more kids interact and discuss the book with each other, the more they will be able to internalize the critically important lessons of the Holocaust. “It’s important to get this generation to think differently about humanity, about what it means to be a good person,” stressed Winkelstein. “If we can get this through to kids in middle school, I feel like this book will have been a success.”

To order copies of “Brisko: A True Tale of Holocaust Survival,” go to www.amazon.com. .

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