April 2016

Why am I doing this? It is not for personal gain, there is no gain, there’s only pain. So why am I inflicting it on myself? Why am I being masochistic?

I have come to realize, albeit reluctantly, that young people – actually-  all people need to realize to what depth humans can sink, how inhuman they can become; that it is necessary to acknowledge that evil exists potentially within all humans and that one needs to guard against it. Forewarned is to be forearmed.

Watch out for the tendency of the concept of US and THEM; of making THEM, because they look different, belong to a different ethnic , religious or national group ; we could think of them therefore to be worth less than us.

If I had been born to different parents, I could be a different person. I could be a queen, I could be a child on the streets of Mumbai, living on scraps, shivering on a boat between Turkey and Greece, I could be herding reindeer or fishing for pearls. I could be anybody.

But I am who I am, yet my imagination can transport me to other places, other times, other countries. If my imagination can do it, then I can also envisage how they would feel if they were me. Then I can see that under the skin we are all the same, all made of stardust, all worthy of life to the best of our ability. We have to ensure that we do not fall into the temptation of thinking ourselves better than others, not to consider others less human, less vulnerable, less original. We must be on our guard, always.

What do I do? Beside talking to young people I do what I have always loved doing, but did not always have the time to indulge in. I write. My two published books are “The Woman without a number ” and “The Woman with Nine Lives”. But my favourite genre is the short story. I love the discipline of having to restrict language to its essentials, yet using it to paint a picture, because all my stories are pictures. My mind works completely and nearly exclusively in images. I dream in colour and can only remember things if I see them. Sounds I enjoy, but to me they are  ephemeral, a passing, fleeting pleasure, often leaving hardly a trace of their existence.

But words stay; I like to use them like paints, often drawing first an outline, as with a pen, then using colours to enrich it, yet being sparse, frugal, less is more. I want to allow the reader to have some input, to put some of their own impressions into the story, into the picture I have painted,  to let him or her take part on the creation of the story.

I have always written, since childhood. When  I had to leave home, I burned all my writing, my journals, my stories. I was going into uncertainty and, in the circumstances, it was advisable that as few traces as possible should remain of my existence. It was safer for those I left behind.

And this cutting off of the past became a recurring theme in my life. Separate lives, separate pockets of existence; there was safety in the here and now, but not in the there and then. Like a pearl necklace where there is a knot between one pearl and the next, so there is a separation between the events of my life and the individual stories that I write.

Although many of my stories are  written in the first person, they are not in any way autobiographical, although I have written my autobiography. It is just that I feel more comfortable being inside a person rather then being a dispassionate observer.

I have recently re-read some of my stories and have been surprised by their underlying sadness. Yet I am not a sad person; I enjoy life and like to take deep draughts of it; caution is not really one of my strong points, curiosity is, however.

So what do I expect from my website? If you google my name there are hundreds of hits on it, but they are about what others say or write about me, they are not me, they are the perception of me. But my website can tell you something about me – but I do not promise to tell everything!

Christmas 2015

I really don’t know where the year has gone to. I realise that as one gets older time seems to fly ever quicker – but this is ridiculous. So I have a look at my diary to give you a quick review of what I did to fill my time.

To start with I was ill at the beginning of the year, so I had to cancel some speaking appointments – nevertheless I managed to fulfil 43 of them, speaking to over 7,000 people.

January was particularly important, not least because it was the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz. So I was on BBC1’s The Big Question, on ITV’s This Morning and was interviewed by several radio channels. Bits of a film about me were shown at the National Holocaust Memorial event in London (I felt it was more important for me to talk to 300 young people at Ellesmere Port). My son came over from Norway to hold my hand in what was quite an emotional time for me.

Noteworthy locations during the year were HM Prison in Leeds, an Interfaith event at Leeds Church Institute and one at St Edmund’s Church, a TEDx talk at Bath University, Caistor Grammar School, the Headingley Festival of Ideas as well as the York one, the Regional Conference of Rotarians in Scotland, the Department of Work and Pensions in Leeds – and many schools.

Skype also proved popular, with a school in Germany, a college in Brazil and many individuals – mainly graduate or postgraduate students – all over the world. Isn’t Skype useful? It means I don’t have to travel abroad and can keep in touch also with family and friends. Twitter and Facebook are also handy, but not as personal as the person-to-person contact one can get with Skype. So thanks to whoever invented it!

In between I have been busy getting the next book written. The first one has now been reprinted eight times and is due for another reprint in January. The tentative title is ‘The Woman with 9 Lives’, since I had so many careers in Britain. But it is not only about me, but also about members of my family who are no longer alive, but whose memory deserves to be kept alive. The manuscript is now with the editor/publisher and I have been promised that it will be out before the end of January. Lots of thanks to Tracy at the HSFA, who has been my invaluable amanuensis.

And then there is my involvement with the Holocaust Survivors’ Friendship Association and the – hopefully – Holocaust Heritage and Learning Centre for the North to be set up at Heritage Quay at Huddersfield University. Something really worthwhile and needful, since there is life outside London!

So what about the future? I take it day by day – do the best I can each day – there might not be a tomorrow. I am greatly saddened by the refugee problem – I was there – done it. But I have alreaady 17 speaking engagements for 2016. Crazy?

Finally my very best wishes to you all for Christmas and 2016.