My guest this week on Wise Woman Storytime was Elaine Leeder professor of Sociology and the Dean Emerita of the School of Social Sciences at Sonoma State University.And while Elaine’s career encompasses roles as a professor, teacher, psychotherapist, consultant, author and advocate for social justice, Elaine has a deep commitment to the work she has done within the prison system and a special affection for the Lifers she has worked with who live their lives behind bars.
Today’s show is about this often unspoken topic and the invisible and all too often forgotten people we consider to be the throwaways, the misfits and the incorrigible ones.It’s a show about the prison system and the men that live, work and die there and yes, as we you will learn from her story, sometimes grow, learn and transform themselves.
Elaine’s latest book, My Life with Lifers Lessons for a Teacher: Humanity Has No Bars is a testament to the power of how education and self-help programs can be catalysts for redemption and transformation even for those who have committed horrible crimes. My Life with Lifers is actually a very uplifting and encouraging book about how even under the most dire of situations one can find peace, acceptance and freedom.There are lessons here for all of us.
George Santayana said, “Those that don’t remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”Seventy plus years ago, World War II ended and the remaining Jews still imprisoned in concentration camps were liberated. Those lucky and resilient enough to survive had the chance to get their lives back or perhaps it would be more accurate to say, start building anew . For those who lived through those times, bore witness to the aftermath, or have watched or suffered through other genocides, we must never forget what happened. We must learn the lessons so that we can mitigate the attitudes, prejudices, fears and politics that allow these atrocities to fester, gain momentum and happen.
While the Holocaust is behind us, anti-semitism and xenophobia are on the rise. We live in a world where “others” are suspect and hatred is passed down from generation to generation while some politicians feed and fuel the fires of hatred, bigotry and fear. Millions of people in Burma, Iraq, The Democratic Republic of Congo, Sudan, Yemen, Iraq, Nigeria and Syria face ongoing peril and annihilation every single day of their lives. We live in a sometimes brutal world where misunderstanding at best and hatred at worst fuels international crises, aggression and heinous acts against innocent and unsuspecting people as evidenced last week in Paris and Nigeria.
My guest this week on KOWS 107.3 FM’s Wise Woman Storytime, is Frieda Ferrick, the child of Holocaust survivors. Frieda and her sister Chana became junior detectives early in their lives seeking answers to an often unspoken, and silent presence of something dark and sinister not to be shared. Over the years, the sisters pieced together what they did not learn directly from their parents. And so the story of Max and Sophie Lazar’s past was eventually unraveled.
Frieda has published two books, the first, Stories My Family Could Not Tell tells the stories that her family would not or could not speak. More stories are told in her latest book, Stories I Must Tell You. In this book, there is an emphasis on the resiliency of human beings and how healing is always possible even though scars may remain.
Stories I Must Tell You is a compilation of soft spoken, yet brave and powerful messages of courage, hope, love and resiliency. Through poetry, prayers, musings and even a short story, we learn about the power of the human spirit to overcome the worst of traumas, and how healing is always possible. Healthy and productive lives can be had.
Stories I Must Tell You is a gentle antidote to a world that sometimes feels unsafe, scary and out of control. It offers light into a sometimes dark world.
I created Wise Woman Storytime on KOWS 107.3FM as a platform to showcase older women who through their passions, life experiences, lessons learned, attitudes and actions, make the world just that much better for themselves and for the rest of us.
My goal has been to shine the spotlight on these elderwomen for all to see; to offer their stories as a testimony to what is possible when one has a dream or passion, when one has overcome challenges and when one’s beliefs are so strongly held, that life must be lived accordingly.
I offer these stories to be sources of inspiration and introspection; to open up connections between the generations; and to restore the rightful place of reverence and respect to our elder mothers. Through these stories, I strive to inform, share history and build a better tomorrow.
The child of Holocaust survivors, Charlene Stern grew up and continues to be a student of her parents’ lives. Throughout her life, she has searched for answers to the often unspoken stories of her mother and father’s earlier years.
Ben Stern, her father, survived the Molgenicia and Warsaw Ghettos, 2 death marches, and 9 concentration camps, In the 1970‘s in his adopted city of Skokie, Illinois, 30 years after his liberation, Ben took a stand against a planned Nazi march in his hometown. When no one would back him up – not the ACLU, nor the city of Skokie or his Jewish community, Ben refused to back down.
Charlene is producing and directing a documentary film called One Ordinary Near Normal Man. Ben Stern, an ordinary, near normal man is the centerpiece. Rather than focus on the horrors and evils of the Holocaust and the betrayal and victimization of those who suffered, Charlene instead is making a film about how courage, compassion kindness, goodness and faith can be forces for creating a more humane and just world.
This is a story about the resiliency of the human spirit. There is a Ben Stern in all of us. What a better world this would be if we could all learn to love, be kind, live with integrity, and to stand up for what we believe in – even when we have to do it alone.
One Ordinary Near Normal Man is a tribute to her father’s tenacity, chutzpah unimaginable will, and commitment to stand up for what is right and good, Targeting (but not limited to) an 18 – 24 year old audience, the film intersects the life of this 93 year old man with the younger generation, offering the lessons of those before to be understood, internalized, and translated into advocacy for peace, harmony and sanity for the future.
It’s impossible for me to wrap my head around the cruelty that humans are capable of. In the past 150 years, tens of millions of men, women and children have lost their lives in genocides and mass atrocities. Millions have been separated from loved ones, tortured, raped, starved, demeaned, and lost everything after being forced from their hones and land. Think of our own Native Americans, the Armenians, the Jews of Europe, and the people of Cambodia, Rwanda, Bosnia and Darfur who have been innocent victims of political, racial, and religious hatred. And it doesn’t stop!. Right now, the people of Burma, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Sudan, Kenya, Nigeria and Syria are threatened and living in terrible peril.
Of my recent guests on KOWS 107.3FM, Wise Woman Storytime, almost half of the elderwomen have been actual survivors of the Holocaust or the children of Holocaust refugees or survivors. As a Jewish woman who grew up in New York, I am fortunate that no one in my immediate family was subjected to these atrocities. Over the years, I have studied world history, seen the movies and read the books, but nothing prepared me for the impact of these first hand accounts.
This was especially true for me when I had the privilege of meeting and reading and then hearing the story of Lillian Judd, a survivor of Auschwitz.
Born in 1923, the young Lilly enjoyed a happy life in a loving family. Life was never very easy in Uzhorod, Czechoslavakia, but the family worked hard, grew much of their food and wore the clothing their mother was skilled at making.
But life changed in 1938 and became progressively more difficult once her home country of Czechoslovakia was handed over to Germany and the Hungarian Army marched into her home town of Uzhorod. Anti-semitism raged, young boys were sent to forced labor camps, many disappeared, women had to make choices between food and warm clothing for their families and all work by Jews had to be done without a work permit. Heaven help the one who was reported to the authorities.
In 1944, the Jews were removed from their homes and forced to live in an old brick factory. The lucky ones got to live in the open stalls. Those less fortunate scrounged for materials to build a shelter for their families. After 6 weeks of little food and water, the Klein family, along with others were marched to the train station and crowded into box cars with no light, food, water or toilets. Four days later they arrived at Auschwitz.
What is amazing about Lillian’s story is how she not only survived one of the world’s most heinous atrocities, but much more so, how she has healed herself and at 91 years of age is still working tirelessly to make sure that she does everything she can to speak about the Holocaust as an opportunity to educate, inform and help stop current and future genocides.