THE BOOK OF LIFE - All the Horrors of War (Books in the Time of Coronavirus)
6:40PM Apr 20, 2020
[Music, Intro] This is the Book of Life, a show about Jewish kidlit, mostly. I'm Heidi Rabinowitz. Welcome to our special series, Books in the Time of Coronavirus. We'll hear from authors who had to cancel their spring 2020 promotional events due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Today we hear from author Bernice Lerner about her adult nonfiction title, All the Horrors of War: A Jewish Girl, a British Doctor and the Liberation of Bergen-Belsen. And I want to give a big shout out to Dianne Siekmann for becoming a monthly Book of Life supporter on Patreon.com/BookofLife. Dianne donated at the level where she gets to pick the episode where I give her a shout out. Dianne, I hope you enjoy hearing from Bernice, and thanks again.
Hello, my name is Bernice Lerner. I'm the author of All the Horrors of War: A Jewish Girl, A British Doctor and the Liberation of Bergen-Belsen. My book is being published in April 2020 by Johns Hopkins University Press. I am from Cambridge, Massachusetts, and I was going to promote my book at Hebrew College, where I most recently served as Dean of Adult Learning, the Harvard Bookstore, various synagogues and at Liberation 75, a major conference in Toronto. My mother, a Holocaust survivor and one of the book's protagonists, was scheduled to speak to many school and community groups. My book is a dual biography. It tells a story of my mother, Rachel Genuth, who was deported with her family to Auschwitz at age 14, and Hugh Llewelyn Glyn Hughes, a high ranking medical officer in the British Second Army. Focusing on the last year of the war, it follows Hughes and Rachel as they navigate their respective forms of hell, until confronting the worst. After a death march Rachel is deposited in Bergen-Belsen and Hughes, following the second army's breach of the fortress of Germany, assumes control of the ghastly camp after a negotiated surrender. Through these individuals' dramatic journeys, warime events are made accessible to a wide audience. The book is meant for students in high school and college and for adults who enjoy narrative nonfiction. I was inspired to write this book when I learned about Glyn Hughes. I have endeavored to find out the details of my mother's rescue. She had fallen unconscious and could not recall how she was saved. The man most prominently associated with Bergen-Belsen's liberation was Glyn Hughes, who turned out to be a little-known Oskar Schindler type figure. A brilliant medical organizer, Hughes also had tremendous empathy for the dehumanized human beings he encountered in Bergen-Belsen. Survivors named the makeshift hospital for 14,000 deathly ill inmates, the Glyn Hughes Hospital, and he came to be called the father of the Jewish survivors of Bergen-Belsen. On my book tour, I was planning to tell audiences some surprising facts. For example, the liberation of Bergen-Belsen, the largest of the Nazi concentration camps in the spring of 1945, was also the most documented event of that time. Alfred Hitchcock was consulted on the filming. Another astonishing fact, Bergen-Belsen was turned over to the Allies three weeks before the war's end, an unprecedented development owed in part to the actions of Heinrich Himmler's masseuse. And one other consequential detail: Can you guess an item that made the greatest difference in survivors' morale after their basic needs, food, water and shelter, were met? Can you guess? Lipstick, the cosmetic made the woman feel human again, feel female. My book can be purchased online through Johns Hopkins University Press, which is now offering a 30% discount and free shipping. Finally, I would like to mention that, day by day, I am reminded of parallels between the liberation of Bergen-Belsen and the war against COVID-19. Of course, this seems like a stretch but there were three serious epidemics, typhus, tuberculosis and dysentery, raging at the notorious concentration camp. Unprepared rescuers had to work quickly to try to save as many lives as possible. With the novel Coronavirus we've learned how fast the world can change, how hospitals are scrambling to obtain scarce resources, how medical schools have accelerated the graduation of students so they can be brought in to help patients. Glyn Hughes and his men contended with scarce resources, they needed to consult experts, improvise and recruit not yet graduated medical students. Perhaps the most heart wrenching parallel is that of the decision to triage, to focus on those who have the greatest chance of survival, rather than provide care to each individual. We are almost at that point in several communities in the United States, and we've seen it in other countries. With regard to Tikkun Olam, I would like to invite everyone listening to consider that each person they encounter is a sacred human being. Though he had to make excruciating decisions, Glyn Hughes was able to see the sacredness of those who are emaciated and debased. We need exemplars of compassion. We ought to laud those heroes in our time. Thank you for listening. I wish you and yours safety and good health. You can find out more about me and All the Horrors of War at www.BerniceLerner.com.
[Music, Outro] If you write or illustrate Jewish books, and your new book's spring 2020 promotional events have been canceled due to the pandemic, I invite you to take part in the Book of Life special series Books in the Time of Coronavirus. Visit tinyurl.com/booksCOVID for instructions or get in touch with me at 561-206-2473 or BookofLifepodcast@gmail.com. Listeners, you know the drill: check out BookofLifepodcast.com for links to every way to reach me, every way to support the show, every way to get more information, and to hear every Book of Life Episode since 2005, since you've probably got extra time on your hands right now. Thanks as always to the Freilachmakers Klezmer String Band for our background music. Please stay healthy. And everybody please wash your hands.