2016-09-28 / Voice at the Shore

Holocaust survivor-authors speak at Atlantic County libraries for fall series

By ELLEN WEISMAN STRENGER
Voice shore editor


Holocaust survivor and local author Betty Grebenschikoff with Atlantic County Library System associate Michael Stirm, who said he was “star-struck when he first met her” because of his deep admiration for her book. Holocaust survivor and local author Betty Grebenschikoff with Atlantic County Library System associate Michael Stirm, who said he was “star-struck when he first met her” because of his deep admiration for her book. Betty Grebenschikoff, who was a small child in Berlin just before the Holocaust, recalled when the gentile kids she always used to play with started calling her a “‘dirty rotten Jew.’”

“I asked my mother what I’d done wrong,” she told a group of 35 mostly non-Jewish people who had read her book, “Once My Name Was Sara,” and came to hear her speak at the Atlantic County Library in Mays Landing on September 13. She also told the group how her terrified family sat silently on the floor of their apartment, in the dark, on Kristallnacht, in fear that their neighbors would turn them over to the Gestapo. When it was over, she and all the other Jewish people in her area were forced to come out of their homes with their toothbrushes to scrub the dirty bloodstained streets while people stood by and jeered.

Grebenschikoff’s talk was part of a series of events being offered during September, October, and November by the Atlantic County Library System (ACLS) in cooperation with Stockton University’s Sara and Sam Schoffer Holocaust Resource Center. The series is titled “Pathways to History: Remembering Rescue and Resistance During World War II.”

“I think the Holocaust theme is very pertinent right now, with the current refugee issues and racial tension. You do something like this so [something like the Holocaust] will never happen again,” said ACLS library associate Michael Stirm, who planned the current Pathways to History ACLS Reader series. It includes lectures and exhibits at numerous library branches as well as several related films being screened at the Egg Harbor Township Community Center.

Upcoming programs will feature other Holocaust survivorauthors as well as Stockton faculty. Local Holocaust survivor Rosalie Simon, author of “My Endless War…and My Shattered Dreams,” will speak at the ACLS Galloway Township Branch (306 Jimmie Leeds Road), on Thursday, October 13, at 6:30; Stockton professor John White will talk on Tuesday, October 25, at 6:30 p.m. at the Egg Harbor Township Branch (1 Swift Avenue) about the 1961 Milgram Experiments, conducted in 1961 after Adolph Eichmann’s Nazi war crime trial, in order to measure people’s compliance levels when instructed to perform acts violating their consciences; “Always Remember, Never Forget,” a discussion on veterans who liberated the concentration camps led by Stockton Professor Douglas Cervi, will be held at the Mays Landing Branch (40 Farragut Avenue) on Wednesday, November 9, at 3:30 p.m.; and Holocaust survivor Ruth Kessler, author of “The Blue Vase: A Memoir of a Vienna Kindertransport Child,” will speak at the Somers Point Branch (801 Shore Road) on Tuesday, November 15, at 6 p.m. Grebenschikoff, the series’ featured author, has spoken at several libraries about her experiences as a refugee in Shanghai during World War II as well as her experiences after the war, when the communists forced her and her husband to flee Shanghai for Australia, where she lived until she was finally able to reunite with her parents and sister in the United States in 1953.

The day she arrived in America “was one of the best days in my life,” said Grebenschikoff, who describes herself as “a very proud, loyal American citizen.” To this day, she remembers how a stranger came up to her bedraggled family and asked: “‘Are you new in this country?’” When they said they were, he welcomed them to America and bought each of them a coke. “I’ve never forgotten that one act of kindness. It really makes such a difference. And I didn’t even like Coke, and neither did my kids!”

ACLS’s Michael Stirm, who chose Grebenschikoff as the series author, has been her devoted fan ever since reading her book two years ago prior to a library talk. “I was star-struck when I first met her and I still get a little nervous around her—she is such an impressive woman,” he said.

For a complete list of events, including exhibits, visit atlanticlibrary.org. s

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