I think we can agree that all families have stories………some might be tall tales that one might question, others might be more subtle and understated.Some stories may show pride in ancestral heritage and others might be silenced by shame, misunderstanding or the inability to speak the unspeakable. Children in these families are often kept in the dark so they listen in on whispered conversations, sometimes in foreign tongues, seeking to make sense of the unsaid and creating meaning and understanding for themselves as they navigate the family landscape.
My guest this week on KOWS Wise Woman Storytime, Frieda Ferrick grew up in such a family – where the past was unspoken and the stories eventually unwoven, although perhaps never completely revealed.
A child of Holocaust survivors, Frieda slowly wove the threads of her parents earlier years together. It’s taken her years to piece her father and mothers story together and she still is exploring its impact on the people closest to her, the ones she never knew, the generations to follow and herself.
In this week’s show, Frieda reflects on her most recently completed book. Following Stories My Family Could Not Tell and Stories I Must Tell You, her third book in this trilogy offers us all a path to finding connection, optimism, and bravery during this and other turbulent times. Stories of Love, Hope and Courage has never been more relevant and important.
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.
I was really surprised to realize that my November 19, 2015 Wise Woman Storytime show was only my 8th time on the air. I actually joined the “herd” (there’s a lot of KOW humor), in August when I was trained. Usually each DJ gets one training session, but not me. With my only prior radio experience being turning the radio on and off AND setting the stations in my car to my favorite ones, I requested a couple more sessions. When the time came for my first show on September 18th, one of the members of the Steering Committee most graciously showed up and guided me through. Thank you Donald!
I LOVE the whole experience of doing the show. It’s been fun and yes, challenging to learn how to work the boards. It’s an orchestration of moving the levers up and down, phasing music in and out, making sure the show is being recorded and that the sound is adjusted correctly. I learn by my mistakes. They are great teachers. And the lessons keep coming. I’m grateful that I’ve let go of my need to be perfect. THAT is a wonderful gift for this recovering perfectionist.
The BEST PART of the show though, is meeting the incredible elderwomen who good-naturedly and so generously agree to join me on Wise Women Storytime to share their stories. Before any show airs, I have already had several conversations with my guest. My main goal is to know what the story is about so that I may be better prepared. I look for music that matches the theme of the story. I do my own research on the topic and I formulate what I hope are interesting and thoughtful questions that I may or may not use. It just depends on what emerges for me as I listen live.
My guest this past week was Elaine Leeder. Elaine is a professor/teacher, psychotherapist, consultant, author and advocate for social justice who has had a long and distinguished career. The many awards and honors she has received give testimony to her many achievements. While she considers the raising of her daughter Abigail to be her greatest achievement, I would venture to say that her 59 year challenge of overcoming what is known as the intergenerational transmission of trauma, is yet another major accomplishment to add to the already long list.
Elaine’s father, Zalman Sneierson was a refugee of the Holocaust. While he left Lithuania shortly before the outbreak of war, the rest of his family wasn’t so fortunate. Elaine’s parents never told their children what happened to their Lithuanian relatives. Elaine’s story begins when she was 11 years old. At that time she began to manifest the family horrors in frightening and terrifying episodes that lasted most of her life. This set the stage for the emotional, personal and professional trajectory of her life.
This is a deeply personal journey that ultimately brings Elaine face to face with the atrocities perpetuated against most Jews of Lithuania and specifically to her family in the small town of Kupiskis. Most importantly, it’s a story about Elaine’s triumph of the human spirit and her courageous path to finding inner peace through hard work, facing her fears and ultimately letting go.
Elaine’s story was somewhat abbreviated for the radio show. You are invited to contact Elaine at firstname.lastname@example.org for a complimentary copy of her story.
It’s November 20, 2014 and I am jazzed about my 5th show, Wise Woman Storytime on KOWS 107.3FM. Finally, I feel like I have mastered – okay – maybe mastered is a bit hyperbolic – but I really feel confident about working the boards, fading the music in and out, and getting the show recorded right from the beginning. (If you are unfamiliar with my previous radio adventures, orchestrating the myriad of electronic levers necessary for each show resulted in my not getting a couple of my shows recorded from the beginning). Today I feel confident that I can manage it all – even the phone system so I can take live calls while on the air.
And so here I am…….feeling confident, prepared and ready to have the best show ever. I have a great guest with a meaningful and important story. I am excited with my musical selections. I researched music that complemented today’s story and I included a brief overview of the historical significance of the people, the orchestra and what makes this music so special.
But, alas, sometimes there are glitches…..you know, mechanical failures that just happen. Cars don’t start, computers get viruses and household appliances stop working. Things break down, errors occur that all the planning in the world just can’t stop from happening. And wouldn’t you know, 36 minutes into the show an error sign appeared in the window of the recording device. The CD player stopped recording. Had I been more skilled, I would have immediately removed the CD and put in a new one instead of pressing the play button, which never did restart the recording Had I been more experienced, I would have backed up the show with one of those online sites that records shows……But I didn’t do this……I just didn’t know.
So it is with a very sad heart that I must tell you that the last 18 minutes of the show was not recorded. And while I cannot recreate the conversation, emotional tenor, poetry and music that aired, I am going to do my very best to fill in the gaps and give you some of the flavor of the story and the woman telling it.
My guest this week is Frieda Ferrick. Through poetry and prose, Frieda tells her story of coming to America and growing up as the youngest daughter of Holocaust survivors. Children of Holocaust survivors live in a world with a contradictory reality. There are unspoken messages and expectations that get passed down; questions needing answers yet knowing instinctively not to ask; horrific secrets to be uncovered, yet not wanting to upset one’s parents; and overprotective children who never want to create more stress and upset to their family.
Frieda describes herself and her sister Chana as “junior detectives piecing together our parents’ history one segment at a time.”
Max and Sophie Lazar suffered the indignities and abuses of the Nazi occupiers. They were rounded up and forced to live with other Jews in the cordoned off and overcrowded quarters in Lodz, Poland for years before being shipped off to concentration camps. Both Max and Sophie lost parents, siblings, cousins and in Max’s case, his first wife and children. They met in Europe after the war and immigrated to the United States in the early 1950’s with their two young children, Frieda and Chana.
Frieda grew up in a close knit group of Polish Jewish Holocaust survivors who became the Lazar’s extended family. Although surrounded by love, the absence of grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins left Frieda with a feeling that something was missing from her life. Books and make believe games were a source of sustenance throughout her early years.
At age 16, in the 11th grade, Frieda was encouraged to share her writings and she has been writing ever since. Her book, Stories My Family Could Not Tell is coming out this December. It is a compilation of Holocaust and family of origin poems, philosophical musings and prayers for peace,
Frieda’s story is an important one. It is a story of historical magnitude…..a story of survival amidst one of the world’s most darkest hours. It is a story of courage and resilience and perseverance to go on and to create out of the ashes of destruction and despair. It is a story about people – ordinary people who live extraordinary lives.
To Max and Sophie Lazar who lost so much and created more…….who started new lives in a foreign country learning the language and raising a family:
To Sophie shy and reticent to talk about her past, who stood up and spoke out (check out her interview) when Holocaust deniers were making outrageous claims that the Holocaust never happened:
To Bronislaw Huberman who helped 1,000 Jewish musicians escape from Nazi occupied Europe and brought them to Palestine to perform in his newly created Palestine Symphony Orchestra, now The Israeli Philharmonic..
To Frieda Ferrick, for sharing her deeply personal story of growing up the child of Holocaust survivors, her philosophical musings, her poems for peace and her deep love for her husband, sons and grandsons.
And to all of you who live your lives doing what is right and just…….