kosher bookworm: alan jay gerber

The legacy of a Holocaust survivor


Last week’s essay on Israel Starck’s Holocaust memoir, “A Boy Named 68818,” gave voice to his daughter’s take on the purpose and goals that she intended for this gifted piece of history. This week, Mr. Starck’s speaks. Based on my interview and notes, vetted by him, here are some of his reflections on his experiences as an author and a speaker of his Holocaust experiences.

“On many occasions I have been privileged to speak to groups and institutions — both to adults and youth, to Jews and non-Jews alike. It is particularly special when I am invited to schools such as the one I recently visited in Cedarhurst, Shulamith School for Girls. For many, this was the first time that they met and heard a Holocaust survivor speak publicly of his experiences, especially someone who is not a family member.

“Often before I would leave, I would speak with the school librarian and ask if young Sara or Atarah asked for a book to understand more about the Holocaust. … What books are offered? The librarian often turned up empty-handed except for a copy of ‘Anne Frank’ perhaps. It became clear to me that there simply is not enough material out there that gives a well-rounded perspective for them to comprehend the true nature of the horrific tragedies that I experienced when I was their age.

“As a result, I set out to put my story into words for the purpose of connecting today’s youth with Churban Europa, the Holocaust, with the goal in mind to preserve the memory of the experiences and the lessons learned from these tragic events. 

“However, it was never my intention to focus on the horror or graphic nature of what took place, or the sadistic hatefulness of the Nazis that was poured out upon the Jewish prisoners. Rather it was my goal to highlight the spiritual resistance that was displayed by these kedoshim, these holy martyrs, in the face of these cruel and impossible circumstances.

“With this book now published and circulating, it is my greatest wish to see schools and institutions adopt this memoir into the educational curriculum of the study of the Holocaust. 

“I trust and sincerely hope that my story of personal faith, emunah, hashgacha p’ratis, and true mesiras nefesh are themes that can come together to bridge all Jews of whatever denominational affiliation, with the historic reality of the Shoah experience so as to enable all Jews to embrace the reality of this dark chapter of our shared history and to thus pass it on to all future generations as a true historical mesorah.”

In reading “A Boy Named 68818” we do not experience a passive narrative. This work can be read in a matter of days or studied for months. Investing time in this book means investing in endless possibilities of learning, experiencing, being inspired, and ever to be personally affected by its heartfelt narrative in a most very meaningful way.

This is not a work for the fainthearted, nor the sentimental. It is a straight autobiography that addresses itself directly to you the reader. 

Now, go read.


With the above a prelude, recently Toby Press published an autobiography on Holocaust experiences by the late Ernst Israel Bornstein, translated by Noemie Lopian and David Arnold. Borenstein was the survivor of eight concentration camps. In a calm manner, he delivers gi a calm narrative from which the reader can learn much. A unique feature of this book is the introductory full-page letter by the current Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, the Rt. Hon. David Cameron. This letter alone makes this book worth your attention.

Another work recently published by the Jewish Publication Society, is titled, “Modern Orthodox Judaism: A Documentary History” by Zev Eleff of the Hebrew Theological College in Chicago, with a forward by Rabbi Jacob Schacter of Yeshiva University. While this 520 page work will, with G-d’s help, be the subject to review before the summer, if you see it on sale, buy it, read it, and learn much history from its primary sources. Among some of the familiar names whose writings are to be found in this work are those of, Rabbi Ralph Pelcovitz, and Rabbi Gilbert Klaperman. Also included is an interesting press release from the National Council of Young Israel in 1953, dealing with the Rosenberg Case.

And, lastly, note is made of a new work by Cedarhurst resident, Yankie Schwartz entitled, “Keeping The Spark Alive: Making Your Year-In-Israel Experience Last” [Mosaica Press, 2016], with approbations by Rabbi Yaakov Feitman, and Rabbi Yisroel Reisman. There is much wisdom and advice in the words that Yankie presents to you, as parents, as well as students who plan that precious trip of a year to our holy land.