Student Questions

Q & A with George J Elbaum

  1. What inspired you to write your book after all these years and then made you start speaking publicly?  For over 60 years I kept a safe emotional distance from the Holocaust and very seldom talked about it.  I saw how my mother frequently relived her Holocaust memories and how these agonized her, and I didn’t want that for myself.  Then late 2009 I saw the documentary movie “Paper Clips” where one of the scenes shows aged Holocaust survivors from New York  visiting a middle school in a small Tennessee town and telling their stories.  While the stories were not new to me at all, seeing the students and teachers crying had a huge and unexpected impact on me, as it made me realize suddenly that there is value in telling these stories to those whose minds are open and who can accept that these horrible events really  happened, as told by those who lived through them and survived them.  After the movie ended my wife asked me, as she had done many times before, whether I would reconsider my previous refusals and document my memories.  After a brief thought I surprised her and myself when I answered: “I’ll do it.”  The next day I started, a few months later I finished and published my book, then a few weeks later I was invited to speak at the Holocaust Remembrance Day in Boston on April 11, 2010 (which was very difficult for me to do), but when I finished speaking several attendees urged me to  continue telling my story.
  2. What made you return to Poland after more than 60 years absence?  In September 2012 I spoke at the Charles Wright Academy in Tacoma, WA, at their annual Global Summit, as I had every year since 2010.  One of the international student groups was from Poland, and I was asked if I had been back to Poland and/or was I planning to do so.  I had been asked this question after my talks at many other schools, and my answer in each case was always the same: that I do not revisit the past, physically or mentally, a habit which I might have learned for emotional survival during the Holocaust (thus “Neither Yesterdays Nor Tomorrows”: yesterdays were too painful, tomorrows were too uncertain), and therefore I do not plan to return to Poland.  This time, however, Polish teacher Anna Szewczyk privately asked if, despite my negative answer, would I consider coming to Poland to speak at an international student event in their school in May 2013.  I thanked her for the invitation but I still declined as it would be revisiting the past.  She understood my feeling, but nevertheless asked gently if we could maintain contact by email, and I agreed.  Several weeks later she emailed me that she hoped it was not an intrusion on my privacy, but she had found on the web an archived 1939 Warsaw phone book, and in it a page with my father’s name, profession, address and phone number, and was attaching that page to her email.  When I opened the attachment and saw my father’s name in a mundane phone book page, it suddenly made him much more a real person than he had ever been for me, and I choked up!  After staring at his name a few minutes, I answered Anna’s email that I would come to Poland and speak at their event.  
  3. What were your feelings when you first returned to Poland?  Prior to our trip I checked GoogleMaps for photos of the street where I lived in 1949, immediately before leaving Warsaw, found the apartment building where I lived, and I visualized walking from it to the school which I attended at that time, just as I did when I was there in the 5th grade.  Along that street was and still is a beautiful park, perhaps the most beautiful in Warsaw, and it was a beautiful June day when my wife Mimi & I took that walk the day after arriving in Warsaw.  As we strolled through it, enjoying the lush greenery and glistening pond and Chopin’s statue, I was very glad that I was there at that moment, but also glad that I was visiting rather than having lived there for the previous 60+ years.  In a twist of Robert Frost’s poem, “The Road Not Taken,” I was very glad for the road taken!
  4. Do you have any regrets?   No serious regrets of anything I have done, and the reason is that throughout my life I’ve closely followed the Golden Rule (“Do onto others as you would have them do onto you”).  As a matter of fact, I remember distinctly how, 49 years ago immediately before my son was born and I was in his mother’s hospital room, a thought passed through my mind: someday I may be in a hospital bed when I am dying and my to-be-born son will be standing by the bed as I am doing now, and I hope that my only regrets will be for what I have not done rather than what I have done.  I still feel that way now.  However, when I told my wife about this question which no one had asked in any of my previous 150+ talks, she reminded me that in my book “Neither Yesterdays Nor Tomorrows” (pg 40-41) I describe one regret of something I didn’t do when I was 8 years old, a year after the war ended: I didn’t give my then-best-friend a bite of the very first banana that I was just given as a present. 😊
  5. How did the Holocaust affect your faith?  During the war when I was 3-to-6 years old I didn’t know that I was Jewish and lived with Polish Catholic families who taught me to pray with their children, but I prayed mechanically and simply did what I was told to do – just as did their young children.  Though I learned after the war that I was Jewish, in communist Poland all religions were suppressed so I had no religious training at all. Once we came to the US we lived a very secular life so I did not develop a religious identity or belief in god per se.  However, my mother raised me believing in the Golden Rule, i.e. treating others as I would want them to treat me.  I feel that it is the core of all religions, and I definitely live by it.      
  6. Do you know what happened to any of the Polish families who hid you during the war?  I don’t, because I didn’t know their names – I remembered only Leon’s name, and that was his first name.  Besides, when I was still a child, contacting them didn’t even occur to me.  My mom also didn’t contact them because when she defected from the Polish government service while in France in 1949 and came to America, her letters to a still-Communist Poland might have endangered their recipients.
  7. Does the current political situation in the U.S. resemble in some ways that of Hitler’s Germany of the 1930s?  Yes, in too many ways: Trump’s attacking & demonizing the media by calling it “the enemy of the people” and declaring any public criticism as “fake news”; his attacking & denigrating the US judiciary by calling a judge who blocked his immigration embargo for being unconstitutional as a “so-called judge”;  his twisting or ignoring facts and outright lies; his name-calling and bullying; his appeal to the divisive and blame-seeking aspects of human nature, the “us vs. them”  syndrome, including racism and anti-Islamism and anti-immigrant edicts.  After all, we are a country of immigrants, so Trump’s anti-immigrant posture is actually un-American!  Most authoritarian governments take the same path and result in dictatorships.  Finally, the personal characteristics that Trump displays are also what most of us were taught by our parents not to be!  
  8. What can we as individuals do to fight indifference, hatred and racism that’s evident today? Speak out, whenever you are in a situation where you can speak out, do so!  It might feel a bit intimidating, maybe even frightening, but speak out!  If enough of us do it, we will be heard and will change the path our country is taking.
  9. What is the one thing you want us to get from your visit today? How about two things: keep an open mind and follow the Golden Rule, and don’t let anyone discourage you from doing something with your life that you are passionate about, providing that you are willing to work very hard to achieve it.
  10. How can we help and support people with PTSD? I am not a psychologist so I don’t know what works and what doesn’t, but my only advice would be to seek professional help.  However, I’ve read that many people with PTSD are reluctant, perhaps embarrassed, to seek professional help, and if you know anyone in that situation, please, please encourage them to seek professional help.
  11. How do you feel about the way schools teach the Holocaust today? Some schools I’ve visited have done an excellent job, giving it proper attention and time and having the students create art projects to express their take-away from it, but some do not, and it all depends on the interest and enthusiasm of the teacher.
  12. How did your mother deal with her memories?  Because the trauma of the Holocaust never left her, she would talk about it to me on the slightest provocation, often repeating the same story time and again, so I learned to avoid getting into such conversations.  Realizing that her Holocaust experiences and memories would continue to torment her, I encouraged her to write a book about it, thinking that it would help, but she could not do it.  Then, after she died shortly before turning 91, I found among her papers 2 or 3 hand-written pages where she started to write, but never continued.  It seems she could talk about it to me but could not bring herself to write it.  
  13. Do you ever feel guilty about surviving?  No, not at all, and I’ve never understood this so-called “survivors’ guilt.”  Perhaps it’s because I was too young to understand completely what was happening, but having survived not at anyone else’s sacrifice, I cannot understand this guilt.
  14. Did you experience any anti-Semitism when you came to America?  I’m aware that anti-Semitism does exist in the U.S. but I personally experienced it only once in school in North Carolina, shortly after coming to the U.S.  A big kid who was a bully started it (though I didn’t fully understand it at the time because my English wasn’t good enough yet), but a teacher quickly stopped it.  It might have happen again at other times or places, but I don’t remember it or perhaps I wasn’t sufficiently sensitive to it or on the look-out for it.
  15. When you first came to America what were the cultural mistakes you made?  The one that comes to mind immediately was at that time very embarrassing and now very funny.  I was 11 years old,  we went to live in small North Carolina town (1,000 population) and when the local school opened in early January my mother put me into 6th grade as I’d been in 5th grade in Warsaw the previous year.  I didn’t speak a word of English, no one in the school spoke Polish, but my mother thought (correctly) that I would learn to speak English faster under those circumstances.  Shortly after starting school the kids were teaching me baseball, which I didn’t know as there was no baseball in Poland in 1950.  The first time or two at bat I apparently hit the ball, but very soon I struck out and the kids told me to get off home plate.  However, somehow I thought that it took 5 strikes, not 3, so I protested saying “I want 5” and showing 5 on my hand.  The kids replied that there were 3, but I kept saying “I want 5”, and after a couple of these back-and-forth 5 vs. 3 a couple larger boys came up to me, picked me up by my armpits and dumped me into some grass.  Very, very embarrassing!
  16. How did your experience and memories of the Holocaust shape your life? The title of my book “Neither Yesterdays Nor Tomorrows” probably answers that best.  The reason for “Neither Yesterdays” is that some of the families who kept me, and thus saved me, were nevertheless not always nice to me, so my wartime yesterdays were not very pleasant and I learned instinctively not to think about my past and to quickly forget it.  The reason for “Nor Tomorrows”  is that my tomorrows were very uncertain- I never knew when or even whether I would see my mother again. I therefore learned not to look to the past nor to the future, but rather to focus on and live in the present, to survive it (then) and to make the best of it (now). That attitude has remained with me and has served me well.
  17. How did you “see” America before you came here?  I was 10 years old and together with most other kids in Warsaw our vision of America was represented by the big, beautiful, shiny cars of the American embassy across the street where I lived, and the wonderful foodstuff packages that my mother’s cousin would sent us from New York, so America was for truly the land of milk & honey & big cars & and all that was wonderful – it was truly “the shining city on the hill.”
  18. Do you have flashbacks?  Not at all.  I instinctively forget bad events of my past.
  19. Was it difficult to recount your memories when writing your book?  Writing it was actually not that difficult, perhaps writing is active and I’m good at focusing on what I’m doing.  However, the first time I read my draft to edit it, I got a big lump in my throat much of the time, probably because reading is more passive so I could reflect on what I was reading.
  20. Having written a book, what advice would you give to a hopeful writer?  That question is totally unexpected, especially as I don’t consider myself a “writer,” so I don’t really feel qualified to give any advice.  However, since you’ve asked, I think what allowed me to write my first book with relative ease is that I wrote it totally through the eyes & feelings of the child that I was at that time, not the adult I am today.  It was as if the child was writing it.  Saying this reminds me of the term “method acting,” which I understand to be putting, immersing ones’ self into the character that an actor is asked to act.  So whatever you write, perhaps you should try “method writing.”
  21. Aside from that nurse at MIT, have you met any other Holocaust deniers?  Yes, and I do not understand the psychology of people who can continue to deny (or accept) things or events despite tons of evidence to the contrary.  However, I’ve learned from experience that personal testimony or anything else will not change their minds.  A perfect example of this was a man with whom I would hang glide in Southern California, then moved to Europe and would email me videos or photos on hang gliding.  Later his emails became political, reactionary and conspiracy-fearing, and then Holocaust-denying.  He did not know of my Holocaust background because I didn’t talk about it, and initially I countered his claims that the Holocaust didn’t happen with facts that were easily verified in Wikipedia, etc.  When he ignored all my replies and instead continued to send me different but equally far-fetched claims, I finally emailed him that I and my mother survived the Holocaust in Warsaw but the other 10 family members perished at the hands of the Nazis.  For a week or two he did not reply, and then he emailed me that he did not know my background, regretted that my family “suffered” (he couldn’t bring himself to write “were killed”), but included some additional “facts” to show that the Holocaust didn’t really happen, and besides, “it was Poland that started the war”.  I was shocked, but realizing that he would not accept any input whatsoever that countered his views, including from me as a first-hand witness whom he knew, I terminated all communication with him. 
  22. Have you met or are now in contact with other survivors?  Only one, because I have not sought it particularly. When we first came to the US, we were the only immigrants in the small towns in North Carolina and Oregon where we first lived, then in college and subsequently working in the aerospace industry I did not encounter immigrants who might have been Holocaust survivors. However, several years ago I happen to meet a Holocaust survivor at a business luncheon in San Francisco and we struck up a friendship, so now we meet frequently. He is a few years older than I, so he understood much better than I did about what was happening, so his memories are more extensive than mine and his story is more intense.  I’ve tried to interest him in writing his story but so far without luck.  Apparently he cannot bring himself to do it.
  23. When you visited Warsaw did you go to the address of your pre-war home?  No, because that address and that street no longer exist.  We lived within the Ghetto, which was leveled on Hitler’s orders after the Ghetto uprising.
  24. Considering all the anger and hate and prejudice that’s coming to the surface recently in our country and the world, what can we do as individuals?  That’s a very important question.  While I am very much an optimist on a person-to-person level, which is why I am giving these talks, history shows that society and human nature change very, very slowly, only at the speed of evolution.  I feel that all of us live within metaphorical “bubbles” in which we have some control and in which we individually can practice the Golden Rule: the smallest is the bubble of our immediate family.  As individuals we can only hope to influence those with whom we can communicate, as family, as friends, as neighbors, as members of a social or political or religious group, etc.  It’s our sphere of influence, which can be as small as we choose or as large as our personal ability and energy plus current technology allow.  Yes, we can make the world a better place, but realistically it starts with one or two or a few people at a time.  I started speaking 7 years ago, have done it over 150 times, so if I have influenced one person each time to be more tolerant, more humane, and be “for things, not against things,” I’ve grown my “bubble” and made a difference.  
  25. How do we balance freedom of speech with the spread of hate, like the recent KKK marches?   Finding and maintaining that balance is not simple, but I strongly feel that my freedom of speech must not infringe on your freedom from harm, so a speech that incites or supports harm to others should not be protected by the First Amendment.
  26. Do you believe a higher power or another force like karma helped you survive, or was it all just luck?  No, I don’t believe that it was a higher power or force that helped me survive, but if someday I am proven wrong, I won’t object 😊
  27. Did the Polish families with whom you lived during the war resent you?  How did they treat you?  I now know that each family with whom I lived was taking a serious risk by hiding me, a Jewish child, from the Nazis, and I also now realize that they were not doing it for the pittance that my mom could pay them but because they thought it was the right thing to do.  However, the “they” was probably not unanimous, and some in the family might have resented that decision, which is why some members in a family treated me well (such as Leon) but others didn’t (his wife).
  28. Is it difficult for you to do these talks, revisiting your Holocaust experience in front of strangers?  First, when I speak to young students I don’t view them as “strangers.”  Next, and most importantly, the feedback I get from them via their letters after my talks is very, very gratifying – it tells me that I am making a difference.  However, during each talk there’s at least one moment when I feel a lump in my throat, a slight jab of pain.  Their feedback is more than worth it. 
  29. How did you and your mother escape from the ghetto? I don’t remember, but my mom told me after the war that I was put into and carried out in a large knapsack – I was 4 years old but very small.
  30. What do you remember about your father?  Nothing, since I was only 1 year old when he left for the war front and never returned.
  31. What happened to your grandmother?  Before my mother smuggled herself and me out of the ghetto she arranged and paid for my grandmother to go into a “bunker.”  This was the name used for the hidden apartments which were quickly built in basements of ghetto buildings by entrepreneurs who then sold places in them for high sums of money.  The builders would stock these “bunker” apartments with food for a year or two (expecting that the war would be over by then), and after the places were sold and the occupants inside, the builders would seal the entryway to hide it from Nazi soldiers who searched ghetto buildings for occupants to ship them to concentration camps.  Bunkers were meant to be places of safety and survival, and my mother felt that my grandmother would be safe in a bunker.  However, the Polish man from outside the ghetto who delivered the food for the bunker waited till he was paid and then sold the bunker’s location to the Nazis, and all the occupants were killed.  My mother learned this only after the war.
  32. How did your mom find the Polish families with whom you lived?  Until recently I would answer this question with “I don’t know because I never asked.  That’s one of several questions that occurred to me while writing my book and that I never asked my mom, even as an adult.”  However, Facing History’s Jack Weinstein changed that when he did some research and learned that there were “safe houses” established by the Polish or Jewish underground which had list of Poles willing to hide Jewish kids and kept track of where which child was kept, so my mother probably was in contact with these organizations.  However, if a Polish family moved the child they were hiding to another family without notifying the underground, that child’s contact might have been lost.
  33. Do you remember all of the last names you were given during the war?  No, only the first one, Sliwoski, and the last one, Kochanowski, but not those in between.
  34. Do you think another genocide will happen in our lifetime?  Yes, I do.  While I am very much an optimist on a personal level, I don’t think that humanity as a whole has learned or changed since the Holocaust, and that is why genocides have continued to happen, in Cambodia, in Bosnia, in Rwanda, in Sudan, and they probably will continue to happen again and again. Human nature changes only at the speed of evolution, so the 6000 years of civilization is but a blink of an eye on the evolutionary scale.  Post-Holocaust genocides show us that group hatreds, be they based on ethnic or religious or political differences, lie just below the surface of civilized behavior, and power-hungry demagogues can bring these out into the open relatively easily.
  35. Are we doomed to continue making the same mistakes?  Yes.  The 6000 years of recorded history shows that human character hardly changed during this period, and each generation learns very little from the previous one about our relationships with our fellow man.  While we can invent airplanes and computers and nuclear bombs, basic human character changes only on the evolutionary timescale.  That’s why, even after all the horrors of the Holocaust, genocides continue to happen, as in Cambodia, Rwanda, Darfur, former Yugoslavia, etc.  Consider Russia: in WWII the Nazis killed 20 million Russians, so almost every Russian family living today has memories of their kin killed by the Nazis, and yet there are young Russian neo-Nazis.  How does one explain it?! 
  36.  If human nature doesn’t change, how can a single person’s actions eradicate war and genocide?  We cannot eradicate war and genocide because these have been a part of the entire human history, but with effort we can hopefully decrease them, albeit slowly.  I am very much an optimist but only vis-a-vis individuals, not groups, because human nature and instincts change only at the speed of evolution.  That’s why we continue to have genocides, throughout history till today.  Nevertheless, fairness and justice are still worthwhile goals, and their practice on a personal level will hopefully increase in society over time.  
  37. Which tragic historical event most shaped the present?   Thinking deeply about this for the very first time, I’m focusing not only on the present but also on the potential future, and I feel that dropping the atomic bombs in WWII is that historical event.  While the physical or even psychological effect on the present is not so great, the potential danger hanging over the future of humanity is huge, especially considering today’s saber-rattling and posturing of leaders of nuclear nations.  Thus, I can only hope that humanity can somehow manage to save itself from itself, in spite of our power of self-destruction.
  38. Were there any moments when you lost hope?  Perhaps, but I don’t remember such moments because I truly forget the bad things in the past, even so to this day.  However, in writing my book a specific event came to my memory when my mom was moving me from one family to another, perhaps for the first or second time.  I was four, and I threw a crying fit on the street, perhaps because I feared that the next place might be even worse than the previous one.  It was approaching curfew, and a passing beggar saw my mother trying to calm me down with little effect, so he approached me and said that he’ll put me in his bag and take me away if I don’t obey my mother.  Truly scared, I immediately quieted down.  This tells me that moving from one family to another must have been very traumatic for me.
  39. Did you see prejudice in America when you first came here?  Yes, and I was very surprised by it.  We first lived in North Carolina in a very small town, only 1,000 population.  A highway ran through the middle of it, with only whites on one side and only blacks on the other, and there was definite prejudice in the attitude of the whites.  In my book I describe an incident when in one of the nearby larger towns I took a city bus and sat in the back.  When the bus driver noticed it he apparently tried to tell me to move up to the front, but I didn’t understand as my English was still very limited.  When the driver realized it he came to me, picked me up by my armpits (I was 11 but very small) and carried me to the front.
  40. Did you ever feel angry towards your mom for leaving you with other families so many times during the Holocaust, or question her why she did it?  I probably did, and I also probably repressed any memory of it, since my tendency has been (and still is) to repress or forget bad events.  
  41. When you lived with the Polish families did you interact much with other kids?  I interacted only with the kids who were in the household where I lived because I was never allowed to go outside, both for my safety and for the family’s who kept me.  Only when we left Warsaw for the farm in August 1944 was I allowed to play outside.
  42. Do you still speak Polish or French?  No, only English an Russian.  I have forgotten Polish almost entirely, perhaps because my childhood in war-time Poland was not very happy and I tend to forget bad things from my past.  (I think that I learned the forgetting instinctively for emotional survival, and that’s the “Neither Yesterdays….” in the title of my book.)  However, during my visits to Poland in 2013, 2014 and 2017 I realized that much Polish was still somewhere in my head, but far, far back, and hearing it spoken I started to recognize many words and phrases.  Thus I think that spending time in Poland would bring Polish back to me, move it from the back of my head to the front.  On the other hand, I am fluent in Russian, having learned it during my 25 years of “commuting” from California to Moscow on business.  I’ve even been told that I speak Russian with a Polish accent!  When I lived in Paris as a child for most of 1949 I picked up enough “street” French so that whenever I got lost I could always ask for directions in French and understood them to get me home successfully,  but I forgot most of it after coming to the U.S. because I didn’t use it. 
  43. Have you read Night by Elie Wiesel?  What did you think of it?  Was it luck or destiny or something else that saved him?    I read it and found it very powerful.  Regarding what saved him, I think it was all of these, as he was a teenager at the time and fully understood what was happening.  I was only 4-to-6 years old and didn’t understand the danger, so it was only luck that saved me.
  44. How and when did you learn that you were Jewish?   After the war had ended and I turned 7 years old, a couple of us were playing in the courtyard when one boy called someone a “dirty Jew.” Being liberal even at that age, I replied that there are good Jews and bad Jews, just as there are good Poles and bad Poles. He didn’t agree, so we argued and came to blows. My mother either saw it or heard about it, and later that day she told me that we were Jewish. That was very traumatic for me and I cried – I was willing to defend Jews but I didn’t want the burden of being one because by then I knew how they were treated by the Nazis during the war.  I obviously got over it.
  45. Did your mother see or sense the rising dangers as the build-up to the Holocaust began?  I don’t think so, from what I know about her actions (or lack thereof) right after the Nazi invasion.  While one can see, in retrospect, the rising signs of danger, I don’t see how any normal, sane person could have seen or sensed the extremes of the Holocaust, which became its reality.  After all, nothing like the Holocaust had ever happened in the history of the world, especially as perpetrated by the best educated, and thus presumably the most civilized, country in Europe, which Germany was at that time.  That possibility would surely seem too remote to cause a rational person to pull up all roots, taking their family (those that would agree) from their established life & livelihood & culture & place where they’ve lived for generations, and move to some unknown, far-off country. 
  46. Was it known in the Warsaw ghetto where its people were being sent and for what purpose?  As a child, I obviously did not know, but I presume that initially they didn’t – there was no historical basis for anyone outside the Nazi inner circle to know it or believe it.  As information (and even witnesses) began to return to the ghetto about the concentration camps, many people refused to believe it.  After all, who wants to believe that in a week or a month one will be put on a train and sent to death in a gas chamber for no reason other than being Jewish.  My mother realized this sooner than most people and thus managed to smuggle herself & me out of the ghetto.  It was only near the end, in early 1943, that no one in the ghetto could deny the information that most people being shipped out by the Nazis were going to their death.  That’s why the ghetto uprising happened: those that could fight decided that they would rather die fighting than die in the gas chambers. 
  47. Did you ever learn your father’s fate?  As a reserve officer in the Polish army, he was called to active duty during the war’s first few days, sent to the Eastern front, and never returned.  After the war my mother learned and told me that he was killed when the Nazis attacked Poland’s eastern border with Russia.  However, in the 1980s when I was flying frequently between California and Moscow on business, I learned about a man in his 80’s living in Warsaw who knew my father very well.  I could have easily stopped in Warsaw on one of my flight to or from Moscow to meet him and learn more about my father, but I decided not to – it would change nothing, I felt.
  48. Did you know why your mother was placing you with a series of families when you were a child during the war?  I probably didn’t as initially I was too young to understand, but I do not remember the specifics.  I learned, perhaps instinctively for my own emotional survival, to forget the bad things that occurred to me or around me during the war, and certainly moving from one family of strangers to another was painful.  
  49. If you could speak to your mother now, to ask her one question, what would it be?  My questions would have been about her life and actions during the Holocaust years, but in retrospect I probably wouldn’t ask them because it would open for her a stream of painful memories in recounting those years.  Thinking about it now, I would instead show her that in the thousands of letters I’ve received from students after my talks she is seen as an amazingly strong, resourceful and heroic woman.  Knowing that would have pleased her very much.
  50. Do you have children and how much did you tell them about your childhood during the Holocaust?  I have a son, Jordan, who is now 48, and I did tell him many of my childhood experiences but not all nor with any continuity. That’s why in my book it says: “I wrote this for my son Jordan because it’s his heritage.” Then, when I was invited to speak the very first time in Boston on the Holocaust Remembrance Day, I told Jordan (who lives in Seattle with his family) and he asked if they could all fly in for the event. Needless to say, I was very pleased that he wanted to be there.
  51.  How did you meet your wife?  It was in early 70s and we were both working in an aerospace-industry think-tank where I headed a systems engineering department and she was an editor in the publications department.  One spring I had a very important report to submit to a Navy customer on very short notice, and publications did a good job on it quickly, so I wanted to somehow thank them.  Fresh strawberries just appeared on the market (unlike now, when they’re available year-around), so I bought a large batch, took them to publications and passed them around.  When only a few strawberries were left in the basket  I asked who would like another one, and only she raised her hand.  I liked that, asked her to go to lunch with me on my motorcycle, and that’s how it all started.  However, a car hit us on the way back to the office, so afterwards she wouldn’t ride with me on my motorcycle, but she did marry me. 
  52. Since you speak mostly to students, do they tell you about parallels between your story and their own histories of dislocation and trauma?  Definitely, but only in the privacy of their letters to me after my talks.  In the 7 years since I started speaking in schools I’ve received several thousand letters from students, perhaps 30+ from small classes and 200+ from large ones, and in these letters students describe their experience with psychological trauma, family violence, and those who emigrated to the U.S. write about barely escaping while part of the family was murdered by drug gangs or guerrillas or militias.      
  53. What is your personal view of the purpose of life?  That is a huge question, and the answer depends not only on the person being asked but also on when in that person’s life it is asked.  When I was your age in school, time and possibilities and youthful idealism were unlimited, so I hoped to make significant contributions to society in areas that interested me: science, social justice, etc.  I also thought that love and friendships were a necessary part of our life’s goals, and thus its purpose.  With the passage of years and decades in our lives, and with it the realization that our time and opportunities and possibilities and energy are narrowing, our focus also narrows to those relationships and activities that are most important to us, that bring us happiness and gratification.  We become greedier with our time and energy, saving these for our close family and a narrowing circle of friends, and if we are comfortable in our retirement from paid work, for those activities that bring us genuine satisfaction and, perhaps, an awareness that we are making a difference.  That is exactly why I am here with you today.     
  54. Having survived a traumatic childhood and still remember much of it, how do you manage to deal with it?  What advice can you give to kids who have trauma or troubles in their own lives?  (The question about advice was asked of me in private.)  Because the circumstances are so different in every case, the only advice I can give is what I did to survive emotionally, what sustained me from childhood through my teen-age years: it was my total focus on surviving the moment, and also having a long-term goal, an important goal that I wanted to achieve.  (In my case, the goal was to become an aeronautical engineer.)  As a result, I learned instinctively to block out the pains of the past, the yesterdays, as well as the uncertainty of the future, the tomorrows.  It worked for me, so it could work for others.
  55. How did you feel having to move from one family of strangers to another, over and over again?  At first it was frightening and overwhelming, as I describe in my book’s chapter “A Beggar with a Burlap Bag,” but after a few times it became normal.  We can adapt to changes if we have to, and I had no choice but to adapt.
  56. In your book you write about the farm boys who took baby birds out of a nest and threw them down against the ground, one at a time, so their dogs could grab them and eat them.  Why do you think some people can be that cruel?   Sadly, there is a cruel streak in human nature.  While we may proclaim our “humanity” as a higher virtue, and individually some of us follow the Golden Rule (Treat others as you would want them to treat you), when in groups such as tribes or nations we view people as “us or them”, and to “them” we can be as cruel and bestial as our closest relative, the chimpanzee, who in packs attack chimps from other packs and tear them apart and eat them.  Unfortunately, the 8000+ years of our civilization had not changed our basic nature much beyond that of our closest relative.  The Holocaust was further proof of that: it was committed by the best educated country in the world at that time.
  57. How do you like Warsaw today?  My wife & I came here in May 2013 and 2014 to speak in high schools, so now (May 2017) is my 3rd time back since leaving 68 years ago, and 3rd time ever for my wife.  While my wife didn’t know what to expect on her first visit, I still had the image of 1949 Warsaw in my memory, and we were both very pleasantly surprised.  What we found was a very clean, lively and very livable and enjoyable city, and in each additional visit our opinion has not changed.  When we visit a city as tourists we walk a lot to get a feeling for it, it’s “flavor,” and in Warsaw (which welcomed us with perfect weather on each visit 🙂 we liked the clean streets, green parks, orderly traffic (both autos and pedestrians), well-maintained buildings, cozy cafes and excellent restaurants, good availability of cultural venues, and very friendly people.  We will definitely come again, with pleasure.
  58. Do you feel you’re Polish or American now?  Very much an American, starting sometime in high school.  However, since America is a country of immigrants, feeling American is not difficult – my wife, my son, and almost all of my friends were born in America, and I don’t feel any different about it than they do.
  59. What does the idea of memory mean to you?  How can we help preserve the memory of the Holocaust?  For most of my life “memory” meant to me simply my personal memories, all that I remembered.  Then, seeing the movie “Paper Clips,” I had the epiphany that my memory of the Holocaust has value to more than just myself but also to others, to a public or collective memory, so I wrote my book “Neither Yesterdays Nor Tomorrows.”  While writing it, I realized that I had even blocked some painful memories from my childhood, probably for self-protection.  Then I started speaking publicly to students about my Holocaust childhood, passing my personal memories to them, and hopefully they will pass it onward to still others, to a collective memory.  It is this collective memory that can keep the memory of the Holocaust alive for generations and may reduce the chance, even by a small measure, of that history repeating itself.  That hope is the reason that I continue speaking to students, more than 100 times during the last 7 years, even though each time some pain returns.         
  60. What is your earliest memory?  Waking up on my 3rd birthday (1941) and seeing next to my bed a red tricycle which my mother managed to get somehow – I jumped on it in my pajamas and rode it around our apartment in the Warsaw Ghetto.
  61. Have you ever felt angry at the world?  No, and I think it’s because of my inherent optimism, my feeling that it will all turn out OK.  I have never sought to blame others for my own situation but rather to focus on how to fix whatever needs fixing.
  62. Given the recent rise of anti-Semitism, how can we as the next generation help to dispel the myth that the Holocaust did not happen?  From experience, I feel that the best you can do is to say that you met a Holocaust survivor who lost 10 out of 12 members of his family to the Holocaust, who had no reason to lie about it as just talking about it was still painful after 70+ years, which was convincing to you.  However, for adults whose mind is closed and don’t want to believe the Holocaust happened, nothing you can do or say will change their mind.  I used to hang-glide with a man who knew nothing about my history because I never talked about it and the subject of the Holocaust never came up.  Eventually he started it by forwarding to me Holocaust-denial literature, and I tried to counter each of his “facts” with real facts from Wikipedia, which he totally ignored but would respond with other “facts.”  When I finally faced him with my background, he replied that the Nazis didn’t do it because “Hitler abhorred violence,” that it was the Poles who started the war and did the killing.  At that point I broke off all communications.   
  63. What was the hardest thing with which you had to deal through the Holocaust?  I really don’t remember anything specific, but perhaps that’s because, to this day, I seem to forget bad things – not good things but only the bad ones.  It really happens.  Perhaps it’s something I learned instinctively for emotional survival during the Holocaust.
  64. How did the Holocaust effect your relationship with non-Jews?  It didn’t – my persona didn’t change when, after the war, I learned that I was Jewish, and thus my relationships didn’t either.  My religion, or lack thereof, does not define me, so I don’t focus on the other person’s religion.
  65. Did you ever lose hope and feel like giving up?  I was just a young child so I probably didn’t focus on the situation for very long and didn’t fully understand it.  Most importantly, however, is that I was lucky enough to be born an unabashed optimist and don’t dwell on the negative while feeling that it will turn out OK.  While in an unexpectedly uncontrollable hang glider I was once heading straight for a hill full of big boulders and I still remember calmly thinking: “Let’s see if I can hit between the boulders.”  I truly feel that such basic attitude (or its opposite) is inborn, and it probably saved me emotionally during the Holocaust.
  66. Do you feel resentment toward Germans today? No, because there are very few Germans still alive today who were adults during WWII and thus could have committed the atrocities attributed to the Nazis, and the children and grandchildren cannot be blamed for their parents or grandparents actions.  I met many Germans after the war and know that most younger ones regret their country’s Nazi past and the Holocaust, as do many older Germans.  I’ve skied with young Germans and had a German friend in graduate school, and I considered them as I would any other West European.   
  67. Have you ever met or confronted a Nazi?  In the early ’60s one of my office-mates in the aerospace industry was a German rocket engineer who worked on the V-1 and V-2 rockets in Peenemunde during WWII.  He claimed that neither he nor anyone in his family were Nazis, but that is very unlikely considering the secret facility where he worked.  While we seldom spoke of the war, one day he said that its biggest atrocity was the Allied huge bombing raid on Dresden which caused a fire storm and killed many thousands of civilians.  In his mind, that was worse than the millions that were murdered by the Nazis in the Holocaust, and that told me that deep-down he did not have regret  for their wartime atrocities.  Upon hearing this, I immediately went to my management and requested a change of offices, for me or for him.
  68. Have you seen any movies about the Holocaust or saw scenes that were close to your own experience?   Yes, but I still would rather not and usually don’t.  In the movie “The Pianist” there is a scene showing a factory in the ghetto that made Nazi army uniforms where my mother worked, and she hid me there several times among the stacks of uniforms.
  69. How did you manage to survive the war, move from one family to another, then come to America and change cultures, then high school, then get into MIT?  I survived the war by luck only.  Coming to America was all my mom’s doing.  In fact, I truly feel that my life has been shaped by three major strokes of luck: surviving the war, coming to America, and meeting my wife Mimi.  We’ve been married for 44 years and each year is better than the previous.  High school, especially the first year, was very difficult for me because I had a heavy Polish accent and started stuttering badly – I could never speak to an audience such as this one or even to one person without stuttering – so I was very embarrassed often and thus quite shy.  However, I am an incorrigible optimist – I was born that way – and am willing to work hard for something that I feel is important, like education, so I always studied hard, which apparently got me into MIT.   
  70. Do you think there’s more racism in other countries than there used to be? I don’t think there’s more or less, but rather it’s just more evident, more on-the-surface, because of the flood of immigrants escaping the turmoil of the Middle East.  I think that an “us vs. them” racism exists across most of the human race, but it’s under-the-surface most of the time, and it comes out in time of stress.  For example, in former Yugoslavia the Serbs & Croats & Bosnians lived in peace for decades as neighbors, controlled by the strong dictatorship of Marshall Tito, but when he died they started murdering each other in “ethnic cleansing.”
  71. As a Holocaust survivor, what message would you like to leave about genocide today?  That is a very “blue-sky” question because the cause of genocides is human nature which, I feel, can change only at the speed of evolution.  Thus I can reply only with a “blue-sky” answer: if we all try to live by the Golden Rule, to treat others as we would like to be treated, we can resist the destructive aspects of human nature.
  72. How did your mother survive?  By luck, strength, and wits – these are the basics.  Some specifics, such a situation when a Gestapo officer eyed her suspiciously while she was grocery shopping, are described in my book.
  73. Do you think it would have been better to go through the Holocaust as a child or an adult?  I’m glad I was only a child and didn’t understand much of what was going on, whereas my mother went through it as an adult, with full awareness of the danger and the horrors, and the responsibility for me and her mother.  Because of this, she was emotionally scarred and tormented by the Holocaust for the rest of her life.  She died in Los Angeles at almost 91 years of age. 
  74. Do you have any regrets?  Not for anything I’ve done, because I truly live my life by the Golden Rule.  However, I do have regrets for what I did not do, for situations and opportunities that I let fly by, as probably everyone else has also.
  75. What is your greatest fear?  Death – I love my life.
  76. If you could do or undo anything from the past, what would it be?  I don’t like to play “What if” games as these don’t accomplish anything, but in that vein I would have it that the Holocaust had never happened.
  77. How do you feel about the current ban on immigrants?  Trump’s anti-immigrant stand is part of his fear-mongering, his “us vs. them” intolerance.  I can understand how this could play in most other countries, but America is a country of immigrants!  Trump’s grandfather was an immigrant, and almost any of his supporters surely have an immigrant grandparent or grand-grandparent.  His ranting about immigrants being criminals ignores the fact that they have a lower crime rate than non-immigrants.  
  78. Do you think that genocide of Muslims in America is a possibility?  No, I don’t.  I feel that even isolating Muslims in detention camps, as America did to the Japanese during WWII, cannot happen now because of pressure from Muslim countries with whom we are friends, such as Saudi Arabia, Indonesia, etc.  Anti-Semitism in Germany could grow into the Holocaust because German Jews had no country to which they could emigrate en masse or to speak strongly for them, while American Muslims can count on the world’s many Muslim countries for support.
  79. How was it for you and your mom when you first arrived in America?  I was 11 years old so I don’t remember what my mom told me about her first impressions (she arrived here a few months before I did), but on arriving in New York I was very impressed with so many tall buildings and so many big, beautiful cars.  My only memorable disappointment was Coca Cola – in Poland, kids thought that everything American was great, and since Coca Cola was so popular it must also be great, but with my first sip I thought it was strange-tasting and not so great at all.  
  80. How did the Nazis determine who went where: whether to a ghetto, a labor camp, or a death camp?  Since I did not know, my only thought was that it was pure luck, but Jack Weinstein (Facing History) was with me and he knew so he answered the question.  While luck had much to do with it, if a particular labor camp had need for particular skills, those with such skills would be sent there.  Those without skills or too old or too young would be sent to death camps once the Nazis began emptying the existing ghettos.
  81. How did you feel about the Polish Catholic families with whom you lived during the war?  My feelings about them were mostly neutral at best, partly because I did not want to be with them but with my mother, and partly because I was not treated particularly well – I remember having to carry heavy buckets of coal and potatoes stored in the basement up several flights of stairs.   I did not bond with any of them, and my only difficulty in leaving any family was the change, the fear that the next family would treat me worse than the one I was leaving (see “A Beggar with a Burlap Bag” chapter in my book).  That’s probably why I instinctively learned to forget the painful past, thus the “Neither Yesterdays…..” in my book’s title.
  82. Do you still speak Polish?  No, I’ve forgotten it, as I’ve not used it after learning English.  Perhaps my forgetting it is related to my childhood in Poland being not very happy, and that I quickly forget bad things in my past.  The title of my book, “Neither Yesterdays Nor Tomorrows,” explains it more specifically: during the war most of my past was painful while the future was very uncertain – for example, I never knew when or whether I would see my mom again – so I learned instinctively to forget bad memories, to focus on today, and not to look to the future.  I really do forget bad things from the past, and even though I know that planning ahead is beneficial, especially in business, I nevertheless focus on today, not tomorrow.  
  83. You speak of doing the right thing, of speaking up to bullying, etc.  What social justice issues do you support?  My main efforts now are supporting higher education, which I feel is the best, long-term antidote to ignorance, prejudice, and injustice, as well as economic deprivation.  I do this by sponsoring scholarships in several universities.  I also feel that my talks in high schools, such as this one, support social justice. 
  84. Why do some people have so much difficulty accepting the truth?  My personal theory is that people who have emotionally invested heavily in an idea, be it religious or political or cultural, cannot abandon it in spite of facts to the contrary.  This is reflected in the saying that “we decide with emotion and justify it with reason.”   An acquaintance, much older than I, believed in the ideals of communism and, living in pre- and post-WWII America, held onto those ideals in spite of social pressure and professional sacrifice.  After I started “commuting” to Moscow on business in 1973 (200 visits in the next 24 years) I told him that communism in Russia is, in real life, nothing like his ideal, and perhaps he should travel there to see it for himself.  He refused to believe me but also refused to go to Russia.  Soon he shifted his admiration to China’s communism, but also did not visit there.  I’ve always felt that, in his old age, he could not allow truth to take away the ideal in which he believed for so long and for which he sacrificed so much.   
  85. Are you traumatized by loud noises?  No.
  86. What is your opinion on Neo-Nazis?  I obviously think of them as a lunatic fringe, but these are mostly young men expressing their anger at society with no direct experience or feeling for what Nazism did to Europe and to Germany.  While there are very few Neo-Nazis in America, I’m amazed that there are quite a few in Russia, the country that suffered the most casualties at the hands of the Nazis.  Almost every Russian family lost someone to the Nazis in WWII, so how can a young, alienated Russian turn to Neo-Nazism and face a grandparent who remembers WWII and whose kin was murdered by Nazis?! 
  87. When you spoke in schools in Poland, did those teenagers react differently to you than American teenagers?  Not at all, except for one very significant occurrence.  First, because I no longer speak Polish, I asked the organizers of my talks in Poland to invite only students who are fluent in English.  I also shipped my books to the Polish schools for all participating students and teachers, who would line up after each talk for me to autograph the books, and I used this opportunity to ask a few questions, such as “How do you spell your name?” and a follow-up, to determine if their English was good, and it almost always was.  After leaving Poland I received an email from a teacher at the first Warsaw high school where I spoke that the day before my arrival one of the students told her that he did not want to go to my talk because I was Jewish and he hated Jews.  The teacher asked him whether he ever met a Jew (only a few thousand Jews live in Poland now) and why he hated Jews, and he answered that he had never met one but his grandfather hated Jews so he does also.  The student also didn’t know why the grandfather hated Jews, so in that situation the teacher wisely allowed him to miss my talk.  However, when the 200 other students & teachers lined up to have their books autographed, the teacher noticed that this student was in line, holding my book, along with the others.  The teacher was surprised that the student changed his mind and came after all,  and eventually when I was signing his book the teacher noted that the student and I exchanged some words and were laughing together.  Seeing this, the teacher wrote me that this student will not raise his children to be anti-Semitic.  Knowing this, and that there were probably other like-minded students who simply didn’t make it known to their teacher and whose books I also signed while exchanging a few words,  made me feel that the whole trip to Poland was worth it.   
  88. What kept you moving forward during the hard times?  Focusing on the present and forgetting/blocking the past.
  89. Did you describe any of your mom’s wartime experiences in your book?  Yes, there’s a chapter about some of them, including one when she was in a store buying food and noticed a Gestapo officer staring at her suspiciously.  Though trembling inside, she calmly paid for the food and walked out of the store and past the officer without looking at him.  It saved her.
  90. When you were living with Polish Catholic families were you forced to practice Catholicism?  As a 4-year old when we escaped the Ghetto and my mom first placed me with a Polish family I was too young to know what is a  Catholic or a Jew, or that there’s a difference, and at that age you simply do what you’re told.  Being Catholic meant to me to kneel and recite several prayers, nothing more.   It was quite simple for a child, and religious faith was not involved.  After the war, 2 1/2 years later, in Poland under communism all religions were discouraged, so my mom focused me on the Golden Rule, and to this day I live my life by it.  
  91. Where did you learn English?  In North Carolina, in 6th and 7th grades.  What is most surprising is that everyone there spoke with a heavy Southern accent, and I learned English from them but did not pick up their accent.  My explanation to myself is that my Polish accent was so strong so it kept the Southern accent back.
  92.  Does any particular moment during the war years stands out as the happiest?  It was probably seeing my mother in early January 1945, 6 months without any contact with her.  I didn’t know when I would see her again, or even whether, if I had allowed myself to think about it.  My second happiest moment was probably the “sugar cube miracle,” a week or two later, when the Russian tank commander gave me a sugar cube.  🙂 
  93. Do you believe in forgiveness?  Would you be able to forgive people who killed your family? (Asked by a teacher from Colombia!)  I don’t know, and I don’t think anyone can really know how one would react in a situation so serious until one experiences it.  (It’s like our reaction in an accident: I certainly didn’t know how I would react when flying through the air in a motorcycle accident until it happened.)  However, I hope that I could do it so it wouldn’t poison my own life, but I don’t know it for sure.  I had read that a similar question was asked of the Dalai Lama about his view of the Chinese, and he replied that after all that they took from him, he would not also give them his peace of mind.  That’s my answer regarding personal forgiveness, but regarding national forgiveness of widespread killings such as done under the Apartheid government in South Africa, it takes a great leader such as Nelson Mandela to institute their Truth and Reconciliation Commission and make it work on a national level.
  94. How are you so lucky?  What do you think about luck?  I feel that there’s such a thing as random luck, such as (per newspaper item a few months ago) a man walking on a sidewalk just when a big branch broke off an old tree and killed him, or (per my book) Leon calling me just in time so I threw away a live grenade which landed in a ditch.  It just happens!  However, there are also situations, good and bad, where our reaction to them effects the outcome, such as being alert and jumping out of the way of an out-of-control auto, or hearing about an opportunity and deciding “I could do that, I’ll try it,” so in such cases we make our own luck.   
  95. Because your mother stayed so emotionally involved with the Holocaust, did she become involved with any Holocaust-related groups in America?  Did you discuss it with her?  My mother was very much involved with it emotionally but did not join any groups whatsoever and kept mostly to herself.  She had very few friends and felt most comfortable socially when she was in control.  Regarding the Holocaust, with me she would talk about it at any possible opportunity, often repeating the same story time and again, so I learned to avoid getting into such conversations.  I realized that her Holocaust experiences and memories continued to torment her, so I often encouraged her to write a book about it, thinking that it would help, but she could not do it.  Actually, after she died I found among her papers a couple of hand-written pages where she started to write, but never continued.  She was a very smart and strong woman, a young attorney before the war, and during the war when there was always danger and serious problems to solve, she would focus on these and how to overcome them.  This focus and her strength and intelligence are the reasons why she and I survived.  However, the horror of losing most of her family and the constant stress of survival took its toll on her and scarred her emotionally.  After the war, especially after coming to the US where her single-minded focus on survival was no longer necessary, she had difficulties adjusting to a normal life.  She lived in Los Angeles for many years, was a very successful businesswoman, and died in 2004 shortly before her 91st birthday, but she was never really at peace with herself.
  96. When did you tell your wife about your childhood?  My wife was born and raised in Los Angeles of Danish background, so obviously totally different from mine.  We’ve been married for 44 years, and over that time I’ve surely told her most of the various episodes of my childhood, though not with any intended continuity.  Once I started writing my book my wife would help me edit it and then review & edit the final draft.  However, the fuller & more heartfelt answer is on the “thank you” page of my book, immediately before the table of contents.
  97. Comment from the audience: thank you for recognizing that your story has value and thank you for speaking publicly.  While I still choke once or twice during each talk, I find the feedback from the students to be very gratifying.  During the past 6 years I’ve spoken in more than one hundred venues and received several thousand letters from students who attended my talks.  In the privacy of their letters, these students are much more sensitive and family-conscious and able to relate my story to their own lives than their reputation as teenagers would have us believe.  It renews my faith in the future of this country.
  98. Do you feel that you’ve lived a good life?  Yes, I do, because I’ve always followed the Golden Rule and don’t regret anything I have done.  However, there are things I wish that I had done, as does probably everyone else.
  99. Have you had feelings of depression and, if so, how did you deal with it?  No, not  that I can remember.  First, I am an avowed optimist and have learned, probably instinctively, to forget bad things in my past.  That’s what is behind the title of my book: I learned to forget the pains of yesterdays, such as bad treatments when I lived with strangers away from my mother, and also not to look to the future which was very uncertain, as I never knew when or even whether I would see my mother again.
  100. What would you want us to take away from your experience?  First, don’t let anyone discourage you from striving to do what you want in life.  I feel that anyone who discourages others from reaching to accomplish their goals was probably discouraged himself and has allowed himself to be discouraged.  Second, lead your life by what you know to be fair and just and tolerant, by the golden rule: be toward others as you would want them to be toward you, and stand up for what you know is right.
  101. How does it feel to hear a presidential candidate declare that he would build a wall to stop immigrants?  If he had been president when Hitler invaded Poland, America would not have entered World War II, and without the U.S. involvement the Allies would probably have lost, Hitler would have won, the world under Nazism would be a terrible place to live, and I would probably not have survived childhood. 
  102. What does the Holocaust mean to you?  The image it brings to my mind is of a  photo taken by a Nazi photographer during the war: it shows a woman standing in an open field, cowering while cradling her small baby, and behind her is a Nazi soldier aiming his rifle at her head, about to execute her.  How could a sane man do that!!!
  103. Do you feel that some soldiers were forced to kill while others did it because they wanted to do it?  Some of each, probably, and the soldier executing the woman in the photo (question above) must have enjoyed killing.  
  104. What can we say to people who make light of the Holocaust, such as that it happened so long ago, or those who claim flat-out that the Holocaust ever happened?  First, I feel that making light and the “so long ago” statements are just a cover-up for not wanting to admit openly that they don’t believe the Holocaust happened.  However, I don’t think any argument to the contrary would have any effect on adults who don’t want to believe something.  My own experience is that Holocaust deniers ignore documented fact and photos and witnesses because they don’t want their minds changed, period!  Some years ago I knew a man for several years but he knew nothing about my childhood as I never spoke of it, and after he moved away he started trying to convince me by email  that the Holocaust did not happen.  At first I tried to refute his arguments with well-documented facts, referring him to Wikipedia, etc, but he always ignored these replies and continued to email me more trivial arguments.  After several such futile efforts I finally emailed him: “I knew a family in Warsaw that had 12 members before the war of which only 2 survived, my mother and I, so don’t tell me the Holocaust didn’t happen.”  After one week of email silence he replied “I’m sorry that your family suffered” (note: not that they were killed but that they “suffered“) but it could not have been done by the Nazis “because Hitler abhorred violence,” and he followed these statements with more trivial arguments why there was no Holocaust.  At that point I put an end to our communications.  So, is there anything whatsoever that we can do?  Yes, and I am doing it right now: talking to you who are old enough to understand what I lived through and survived, yet young enough to have an open mind to decide what the truth is, and hopefully to chose tolerance and fairness as you lead your lives rather than prejudice and hatred. 
  105. Were you ever close to a situation of being sent to a concentration camp or to death?  Yes, in fact most of the time starting from the Nazi invasion till the war’s end, but I was too young or too naive to realize it, and that saved me several times.  There even were times when I was very close (a few seconds), as when I played with and threw the live grenade not knowing what it was, a bit further away  (time-wise) when the Nazi soldier was standing over me and decided to move on rather than checking if I was Jewish, but through most of the war I was in danger of being caught and sent to a gas chamber, as was anyone Jewish. 
  106. Have you ever visited any concentration camps?  No, and I have no intention of ever doing it.  
  107. How might it have been different if you had gone through it as an adult?  Most probably I wouldn’t be here today!  My childish ignorance of what was happening probably saved me several times, as in the situation described in my book’s chapter “The Soup and the Machine Gun.”
  108. How did the Holocaust shape you life today?  That’s probably best summerized by the title of my book, “Neither Yesterdays Nor Tomorrows.”  During the war I learned instinctively to focus on the present, on what has to be done now, because the past was mostly painful and the future was very uncertain – I never knew when I would see my mom, or even whether I would see her.  Even now I continue to live my life much the same way, with focus very much on today.
  109.  How did you learn what happened to the rest of your family?  My mother learned how some (but not all) of them perished, at least in general, and told me what she knew.  For example, she told me that Nazi soldiers came for my father shortly after they occupied Poland, but since he was gone (with the Polish army sent to the Eastern front), they took my grandfather and never heard from him again.  My grandmother’s fate she learned after the war.  As for the rest of the family, either my mother didn’t know or I have forgotten what she told me.
  110. Have you seen the movie “Schindler’s List” and do you think it depicts the Holocaust realistically?  Yes, I did see it and I was very moved by it, but much of it takes place in a concentration camp while I was lucky enough never to be in one.  However,  photos taken by American troops when liberating these camps and stories told by camp survivors convince me that “Schindler’s List” is a realistic depiction. 
  111. What do you think is the greatest danger to the Jewish people now?  In the short term, I think it’s probably the Islamist militancy and their sympathizers in the Western world on both extremes of the political spectrum.  In the long term, it’s persistence of the millennia-old antisemitism, the convenient hatred used throughout Western history.    
  112. Do you blame Hitler for the Holocaust?  Yes,  he led his nation and most of it followed.
  113. Did you have an identity crisis moving from one family to another and changing your last name several times?   Initially it was traumatic moving from one family to another (per the chapter in my book “A Beggar with a Burlap Bag”) but I got used to it, and I also got used to having to change my last name several times, a new one each time that my mother bought a new set of ID papers for herself and told me what my new name was if asked.  However, I learned instinctively that changing my last name didn’t change who I was and how I felt.  Besides, I still kept my first name.
  114. Do you have any siblings?  No, and I’m probably lucky in that respect, because if there had been 2 or more of us it’s highly unlikely that my mother could have saved all or any of us.
  115. Since Polish Catholic families risked their lives to hide you during the war, what do you think you would do in their shoes?  I strongly believe that we can’t really know how we would react in an emergency or a life-and-death situation until it happens, so my first answer is “I don’t know.”  I do know about my reactions in accidents as I’ve had these, both in hang gliding  and in motorcycling.  However, the closest I’ve come to the wartime-similar situation was when I was 7 years-old, a few months after the war ended, when another boy in our building’s courtyard called someone “a dirty Jew.”  I didn’t know that I was Jewish, but I replied that there were good Jews and bad Jews, just as there were good Poles and bad Poles.  He stuck to his words and I to mine, and we got into a fist fight about it.  I was willing to fight for that principle.  My mother happened to see it or hear about it and decided that it was the right time to tell me that I was Jewish, and when she did I started crying – I was willing to defend the Jews but I didn’t want to be one as I didn’t want the burden of their fate in Poland.
  116. Did writing the book help in healing or change your mind about anything?  No, but it triggered more memories from the war years.  It also made me fully conscious of the reasons why I have led my life, even in adulthood, according to the title that I chose for my book, “Neither Yesterdays Nor Tomorrows”: I focus on the present and don’t look back because the families who hid me and saved me were not always kind to me, and I don’t look forward because my childhood’s tomorrows were very uncertain, never knowing when or even whether I would see my mother again.
  117. Now that you’re telling your story, do you feel relieved?  No, probably because I never felt that I was repressing it.  However, I’m glad that I am doing it now because the feedback from students & teachers has been very gratifying.
  118. Do you consider yourself Jewish?  Yes, I do, even though I do not practice Judaism.  I was raised as a Catholic until the end of WWII, then when I was 7 I learned that I was born Jewish, and afterwards in communist Poland and in America I had no further religious education.  Nevertheless, I feel and consider myself Jewish.
  119. Do you see parallels in the prejudice against Muslims that is happening today?  Definitely, it is the suspicion of or hatred for those who are different, because they are “them” and not “us.”
  120. If you could go back in time, what would you do differently?  If the situation was the same, i.e. I was a little child with no control of anything, I don’t think I would do anything differently.
  121. Did you learn about the Holocaust when you came to America?  No, I learned about it shortly after the war ended in 1945, and I obviously knew about it that summer when my mother told me that I was Jewish.
  122. Can you tell us more about the post-war pogroms in Poland, and why they happened?  I knew nothing about them when I lived in Poland because the government suppressed all information about them as it didn’t reflect well on the country.  I learned about the pogroms only in 2010 when writing my book: I sought to learn why my mother was sending me to Palestine in 1947.  However, Jack Weinstein knows much more about the post-war pogroms than I do, so he can answer this question. 
  123. Can you relate to Anne Frank’s story of hiding?  Yes, I definitely can, but she was several years older than I was, so she fully understood her situation and had the talent to write about it so poignantly.  Another difference is that while in hiding she was with her family, while I was with always with strangers and would only see my mom during her infrequent visits.  
  124. How did if feel to be living with the Polish Catholic families?  At the time it was difficult because they were strangers and I missed my mother, and also because sometimes I wasn’t treated particularly well – for example, I had to carry heavy buckets of coal or potatoes from the basement up many flights of stairs; also, small toys that my mom would bring me on her visits would be taken away from me after she left and given to their children.  However, I learned to accept it after a while, perhaps consciously though not subconsciously.   Now I know that these families saved my life by hiding me, even risking their lives by doing it, and now that I know this I cannot complain about the treatment.
  125. What did you do after MIT?  After college (MIT, 8 years and 4 degrees) I worked as an aerospace engineer and later a manager, then switched to foreign trade and for 25 years I commuted between California and Moscow representing US companies in the Soviet Union.  When that government fell apart, I founded and managed Reebok’s operations in Russia for 3 years.  By then, I  was tired of travelling all the time, and I switched to commercial real estate investment and development in California and Washington.
  126. How old were you when you realized the gravity of the Holocaust, and what was your reaction when you learned what was happening during the war?  It was only after the war when I was 7 yrs old.  I did not know this during the war, and that’s good because, as a small child, there’s nothing I could have done about it except be frightened.  On the other hand, after the war I also learned about the concentration camps and the fate of Jews, so when my mother told me that I was Jewish after she learned that I had defended Jews in an argument, I started crying – I was willing to defend Jews but I didn’t want to be one, probably because I knew of their suffering.
  127. How did it feel to be separated from  your mother as whe was taking you from one family to another?  It became “normal” life for me after a while, but only after a while.  I don’t even remember how my mom explained to me, a 4-year-old, why she was leaving me with strangers the first time after she smuggled us out of the ghetto, but I do remember my fear-driven tantrum when she moved me from one household to another a few months later, as described in the chapter “A Beggar with a Burlap Bag” of my book.
  128. During hard times, what kept you moving forward?  Focusing on the present and forgetting/blocking the past.
  129. Was it hard for you to leave Poland?  No, I was 10 years old and with my mother, so it was an exciting adventure.
  130. What would you say is the moral of your story?  What moral can you draw from it now?  I didn’t think about any moral when writing my book because I wrote it through the eyes of the young child who was living these events and these moments.  I describe  them as that child saw them, from his viewpoint and from his memory, not as an adult many years later, so I didn’t philosophize.  I’ve never been asked your question, and if I try to answer the second part about “now”, I think that if there is a moral it is survival, and that to survive emotionally I focused on the moment, forgetting the painful past and not reaching for the uncertain future.  Thus “Neither Yesterdays Nor Tomorrows.”   
  131. How would you describe your childhood in one word?  Tumultuous.  Difficult.
  132. Did you ever witness anyone being killed?  If I wasn’t there at the very moment, I certainly saw dead bodies lying on the street, as when my mother and I walked into Warsaw shortly after its liberation from the Nazis.
  133. Were you often scared?  I’m sure that I was scared when my mother left me with strangers the very first time, and even later when she moved me from one family to another, as described in the chapter “A Beggar with a Burlap Bag” in my book.  However, for emotional self-preservation I have forgotten most of those moments.  
  134. Do you ever have dreams about your time during the Holocaust?  I either don’t dream or don’t remember dreaming and therefore don’t relive those moments, which is probably another means of emotional self-preservation.  However, I still remember one dream that repeated itself on two subsequent nights a few days before the Warsaw Uprising in August 1944, and this dream that clearly pictured the destruction of the Uprising (as described in my book).
  135. How was writing your second book different from writing the first one?  Even though the first book describes my Holocaust childhood, which was often painful, actually writing the book was not, and I think that’s because I was very focused on the writing, which is active and quite absorbing.  On the other hand, the first time I read my draft to edit it, my heart was in my throat much of the time, and that’s probably because reading is more passive and more reflexive, so I would relive the events more while reading about them.  The second book, however, starts with my first public talk in April 2010 at the Boston Holocaust Memorial and describes my subsequent 70-some talks in American and Polish high schools, so it was not emotionally taxing at all.
  136. What did you do while in the shed?  Keep quiet.
  137. Why do you think the German airplane you saw while in the shed caught your interest?  Because it seemed totally free, flying in the blue sky, and I wanted to feel like that.
  138. What did you feel when you were eating soup and the German soldier was next to you?  Were you scared?  I wasn’t scared as I didn’t realize that I was in danger, and I was probably thinking that the soup was good, and I was hungry! 
  139. How should the resurgence of Nazism & anti-Semitism be addressed?  I wish that not only I could answer it but, most importantly, that the leaders of key countries could answer it.  Looking at recent history is puzzling & depressing: the Nazis massacred Russians yet Nazism is resurgent in Russia; it’s also resurgent in democratic and socially-liberal France, etc.  Prejudice emerges in societies when economic or other problems arise and people seeek convenient scapegoats.  Societies and eras have their scapegoats, usually some minority, and the Jews have been a convenient scapegoat for centuries.
  140. After all that you went through in the war, for what are you most grateful?  Surviving the war, coming to America (and San Francisco), and meeting my wife of 40+ years.
  141. Did you ever wear the yellow Jewish star?  No, probably because while still in the Ghetto I was only 3 or 4 and didn’t have to do so, and after we escaped from there, I lived with Polish Catholic families and didn’t know I was Jewish.
  142. How could the Nazis know who was Jewish?  The Nazi soldier described in my book’s “The Soup and the Machine Gun” chapter could have made me drop my pants to see that I was circumsized, because only Jewish males were circumsized in Poland at that time while Catholics were not.  There were also official government records in Poland and other European countries that identified Jews on documents such as passports, residence records, etc.  Finally, all ethnic groups have some physical characteristics typical to most (though not all) of its members, such as tone or color of skin, hair and eyes, facial features, even accent or speaking manner which could be noticed without looking at documents.  Thus there were several ways the Nazis could identify, or at least suspect and check, who was Jewish.
  143. Why do you feel the Jews were persecuted?  Persecution of minorities has been a part of human history through the ages, probably because it is a part of the human character.  It is “us vs. them”.  It is feeling that we are superior to them, that they are inferior to us, and that makes us feel better.  Since Jews lost their homeland 2000 years ago and became a minority in the many countries to which they fled, Jews have been a convenient minority to persecute throughout these centuries, not always and not in all countries, but often and in many countries.  A softer version of persecution is prejudice, which exists in most countries and is exhibited by disparaging jokes about a minority: in America it is Polish jokes and also Jewish jokes, in France it is about the Belgians, in Russia it is about the Chukchi people.  It is unfortunate, but it seems that having a “them” to ridicule, to feel superior to, and to occasionally persecute is entrenched in our character, and thus it is not likely to change faster than the speed of our evolution.  (Jack Weinstein followed my answer and expanded on it.)
  144. What would you say to anyone who hid you during the war?  Thank you very much.
  145. Do you think Leon’s wife took your toys because she didn’t want to take you into their household?  That had not occured to me, and that might have been a part of the reason, but I think that mainly she didn’t have much feeling for me and just wanted her little daughter to have my toys.
  146. Did you ever expect that you and your mom would get out of Poland and to the U.S.?  No, but at that young age I probably didn’t think about it.  After all, per the title of my book I learned during the war not to think about the future.
  147. What is your reason for speaking to schools or members of the younger generation?  Why did you open up?  I opened up because seeing the movie “Paper Clips” made me realize that my story has value.  I focus my talks on the younger generation, such as yourselves, because you are old enough to understand what I lived through, what I survived, yet you are young enough to still have an open mind and decide for yourself, as you go through life, do you want to be on the side of truth and fairness and justice or the side of hatred and intolerance.  I feel that I am giving back for having survived, and giving back is very gratifying.
  148. Does it still hurt to talk about your experiences during the Holocaust? I decided to talk to students, such as yourselves, for the same reason that I decided after 60+ years of silence to write my book: because it might make a small difference for the better, for understanding rather than intolerance and prejudice. However, the memories and feelings I describe are painful, which is why at least once or twice during each talk I choke up – it’s usually when reading something from my book, though at different places each time. I’ve accepted the fact that it happens, but I still choke up.
  149. After coming to the U.S. why did you not talk about your experiences during the war for so long or want to visit Poland? Because my mother was scarred emotionally and haunted by the Holocaust till the day she died (in 2004), so I didn’t want that for myself and I kept an emotional distance from the Holocaust. Then seeing the movie “Paper Clips” made me realize the value in telling my story, especially to young people like you, and that’s when I wrote my book and started speaking in high schools. Re visiting Poland, that’s been a part of my not wanting to revisit the past (per the title of my book, “Neither Yesterdays Nor Tomorrows”). However, in September 2012 I spoke at an international student exchange event in Tacoma which included Polish students and their teachers. Afterwards, they invited me to speak at a similar event planned at their school in Poland for May 2013, and I didn’t really consider it seriously until a month later when one of the teachers surprised me by emailing me a copy of a page from the 1939 Warsaw telephone book that showed my father’s name, profession, address and phone number. Seeing this very mundane reference to his existence, to him as a person, moved me much more than I would have expected, and now I am planning to visit Poland and speak at their event.
  150. How did your family’s deaths affect your mother? What was your relationship with her?  It was definitely a complex relationship.  My mom was a very intelligent and capable woman and was very successful professionally, both in Poland after the war and in business after coming to America.  However, she had a very strong personality, and as long as I was a child and needed her our relationship was very good.  However, it became difficult when I reached adulthood and she no longer felt needed, and this resulted in several long periods when we were estranged.  It was only in 1995 while I was visiting Yad Vashem, the Holocaust museum in Israel, that I suddenly realized that she could not have survived the Holocaust without deep emotional scarring.  At that time we had been estranged for over 6 years because I had been treating her as a normal adult rather than one who is emotionally scarred.  Upon returning home I went to see her and resumed a relationship, but with this new awareness I treated her differently than beforehand, and the 9 years till she died were much, much better.
  151. At what point in your life did you realize that your mother was hiding you from the truth?  She wasn’t – she only hid me from the Nazis, not from the truth.
  152. Were you ever afraid and worry that you would not see your mom again? I presume there were many moments when I, a young child, was very scared, though I don’t remember thinking specifically that I would not see my mom again.  In retrospect, however, I must have had such thoughts in December 1944 when I had not seen my mother for 6 months.  After the war my mom told me that I started stuttering after being told that she had been killed, but I don’t remember that situation specifcally. However, that may be because I tend to forgot the bad. Apparently I learned instinctively to forget bad things in my past, so the only scary moment I remember distinctly is described in my book’s chapter entitled “A Beggar with a Burlap Bag.”
  153. Are there remnants of your past that still affect your daily life today?  The main one, I think, is that I still forget the bad things and don’t focus much on the future (Neither Yesterdays Nor Tomorrows).  The last serious remnant was my stuttering, which I by-and-large overcame in high school.
  154. Do you still get nervous talking in front of people, or is it cathartic?  Neither, I think.
  155. It is said that Jews were passive throughout the Holocaust and were led to their death like sheep to slaughter.  What is your response?  I’ve never been asked that question and have not thought about it, so I’ll think and answer you at the same time.  I think that a full answer should have two parts to it.  First part has to do with the general attitude of Jews in Europe, and especially in Eastern Europe, where anti-Semitism was particularly strong and Jews were considered and treated as second-class citizens.  They were treated like that for centuries, were used to it, accepted it, and learned “not to make waves.”  Thus, theirs was a generally passive attitude.  The specific part has to do with the Holocaust: before it unfolded, no one could imagine that such industrial-scale killing of defenseless civilians was humanly possible.  It had never happened before so no one would believe that it could happen in the modern 20th century, especially not at the hands of perhaps the best educated and civilized country in Europe.  Thus, as sheep being led to slaughter do not know it until the moment of being killed, so Jews, men, women, and children, being herded into the gas chambers (after being told that it would be for de-lousing) could not imagine that these were not public showers.  Then came the moment of horror as they realized that the showerheads did not bring water and the bars of soap were actually stones.
  156. What is your view of Zionism and of Israel’s recent actions in the Gaza?  The term Zionism is nowadays often used to criticize actions by Israel and a cover-up for anti-Semitism.  For me Zionism means the historic movement of the first half of the 20th century for the return of Jews to the land of Israel, which was eventually made possible by the UN.  What followed afterwards is, in my view, no longer Zionism.  Re Israel’s military action in the Gaza last summer, what I hear is mostly strong criticism of what was done.  What I do not hear from the critics are any alternative but specific and positive solutions.  For example, what specifically would you do and how would you defend yourself if your neighboring country was shooting rockets at your cities?  Or, if you had a child in a kindergarten near a border and learned that this same group, sworn to annihilate your country, had built a secret cross-border tunnel that exits very near to your child’s kindergarten, what specifically would you do?  To criticize actions is much easier than to suggest positive, realistic alternatives.
  157. Do you believe in destiny?  I believe that we all have a destiny, which to me means that we all have a future, but no one knows for certain what that future is.  As for myself, I am a total optimist and it has worked for me – my surviving the Holocaust is the best proof of that! 
  158. Why are the Japanese still denying their atrocities in China before and during WWII?  (Asked by a student from China!)  I do not know, and perhaps no one except the Japanese can answer that question.  In fact, last year I spoke at a university seminar “The Reception of the Holocaust in Postwar Germany” and after the Q&A I asked the students why it is that Turkey still denies the Armenian genocide, Japan still denies its atrocites in China, yet Germany, having perpetrated the greatest killing process in mankind’s history, has fully acknowledged its culpability and paid reparations to still-living victims or to their families.  We discussed this question for an hour without reaching a specific and satisfactory concensus.  
  159. Did you have good memories?  My strongest good memories I describe in my book, and these include the sugar cube I received from the Russian tank commander in January 1945.  Another one was in late summer of 1944 on the farm during potato harvest, when I turned 6 yrs old.  We would dig out the potatoes, put some into a shallow hole in the ground, cover it with dirt, build a bonfire over it to bake the potatoes, and eat them at the end of a workday.  The farmers also made vodka from sugar beets in a primitive still, and they would drink the warm vodka while eating the baked potatoes.  One time they jokingly offered some vodka to me and the farmer’s 6-year-old son, and we said “yes”, and we loved it!  However, when we wanted more they said “no” and we started crying.
  160. What were your emotions when you returned to Poland after 60+ years’ absence? Before returning to Poland last May (2013) the only place I visualized revisiting was the apartment house on al. Ujazdowskie where I lived before leaving Warsaw in 1949, and from there retracing my then-daily walk down the big, broad avenue, past beautiful Lazienki park, the Belweder presidential palace, then right turn to the grade school that I attended, and then walking back “home”.  I used Google Maps to view that street and buildings as they are now, and was surprised that one of the buildings on the block where I lived looked familiar. I purposely booked a hotel a short walk from there, and after arriving in Warsaw my wife Mimi and I went to that building. It still looked “right”, and as we lingered and chatted in front of the secured gate a woman’s voice from the sidewalk behind us asked in accented English: “May I help you?” Before I could utter a polite “No, thank you”, Mimi told her that I had lived there as a young boy. “Would you like to go inside and look around?” the woman asked graciously. We accepted and she let us in, then disappeared into one of the apartments, and as we wandered about the building and its courtyard, taking photos, we jokingly referred to her as our “fairy godmother.” Yes, the building had been somewhat remodeled, but it did feel “right.” Afterwards we took the walk to my school that I had envisioned and found, to no surprise, that it had been replaced by a block of modern apartments. Regarding my emotions, I did not experience any pangs or epiphanies, but strolling through that park in warm May sunshine, I sensed the then-and-now difference in my life and, recalling Robert Frost’s poem “The Road Not Taken” I felt deeply thankful for the road that I had taken since leaving Warsaw 64 years earlier.
  161. Before you began sharing your story, did you feel that you were holding something back? Not really. I did not talk about the Holocaust at all with most people and actually kept an emotional distance from it, because I saw how its memories continued to torture my mother till her last days, and I did not want that for myself. I still block out bad memories, either naturally or learned for my emotional survival during childhood, and some people who knew me (including a Holocaust denier with whom I would hang glide) learned about my childhood only recently, after I re-entered that world and wrote my book.
  162. How were you able to forgive people who did you wrong? As a child, how did you feel on seeing a German soldier? At the time I didn’t understand what was happening, what the Nazis were doing, and after the war almost all Germans that I met (after coming to the US) were young and born after the war, so they were never Nazis and actually felt guilty about their country’s Nazi past. On the other hand, once or twice in recent years I opened a book on the Holocaust expecting text but that page happened to have a drawing or photo of Nazi solders, and for a moment I actually felt my throat tighten.
  163. Do you recall any acts of kindness from Nazi soldiers?  No, but the only time I recall being near a Nazi soldier is described in my book’s chapeter “The Soup and the Machine Gun.”
  164. What were your first impressions on coming to the United States and attending an American school?  The first difference was in the life in Warsaw and the small 1000-population farming community in North Carolina. Thus I faced not only a new language, new environment, new attitudes and life-styles, even new games like baseball, so I definitely felt like an outsider.  However, later in high school in Oregon I learned about & totally internalized “the American dream”: if you want to accomplish something and are willing to work hard for it, you can attain it regardless of your family background.  This was not so in Poland and that time, and this concept served me well. Another, more negative, difference that I quickly noticed and which saddens me to this day is in education: I was used to the European 6-day school week, was surprised that in the U.S. it was only 5 days, and when tobacco harvest started in North Carolina we went to school only 4 1/2 days a week so the kids could help with the harvest that extra 1/2 day.  Thus even though my last schooling in Europe was the 5th grade, I found 6th & 7th grade academics in North Carolina very easy, so I skipped 8th grade when I moved to Oregon.  European K-12 education was and still is much better and more advanced than in the US, and it pains me that we are losing our competitive advantage because of our inadequate K-12 education.
  165. How do you feel about those who have been in concentration camps? If they survived without major emotional or physical damage, I feel they are very lucky, and if they didn’t survive… (I could not finish the sentence!)
  166. It must be hard for you to travel far and to speak, as you’re doing now.  Have you thought of quitting?  No, because I get such wonderful, positive feedback from students, and as long as it continues, so will I. 
  167. Do you ever get any flashbacks? No, at least not about bad situations. However, a familiar taste sometimes brings back a similar taste from my childhood. For example, raspberry sherbet often brings a flashback of my mother treating me to my very first taste of sherbet (and ice cream) at an outdoor cafe in Warsaw when it re-opened after the war in the summer of 1945.
  168. You write that a Soviet officer gave you a cube of sugar.  It is said in Poland that they gave sugar to children to win approval.  What do you think of this?  For 25 years (1972-1997) I commuted between California and Moscow on business, and I have seen many examples which convince me that Russians as a people have a soft spot in their hearts for children.  Thus, even though it might have been (or not) a political policy, I choose to accept it as a warm Russian gesture.
  169. Do you think part of your life was wasted since you didn’t enjoy your childhood? I definitely don’t think that way.
  170. Why did your mom choose to move to the US? Because it was safe from war and a better place to live.
  171. Did your mom remarry and how long did your mom live?  She did remarry, but 10 years later her husband was killed by a car while walking on a sidewalk, and she died in July 2004, when she was almost 91.
  172.  How did you find the words to write?  I wrote with the voice of the young child who experienced these events and without an adult’s elaboration and philosophizing, which made the writing easier and faster.

  173. If you had been older, do you think you would have joined the resistance during the uprising?  I am too subjective to answer that, so let’s ask my wife Mimi.  Her answer: “Yes, he would join it, and would probably lead it.”  
  174. Did you ever visit or keep in touch with the school in the movie “Paper Clips” that inspired you so much?  After publishing my book I contacted the school’s principal (the current one, not the same person whose idea gave birth to the movie) and also the movie’s director, and sent each of them a copy of the book.  The contacts went no further.
  175. Did you know or are in contact with any other children hidden by Polish families?  No, I didn’t, nor did I seek or try to find and connect to them after the war.  That would be looking back to the past, and I don’t do that, as voiced by my book’s title.       
  176. As the last generation to hear firsthand the accounts of Holocaust survivors, what is our obligation to pass on their story?  When faced with Holocaust deniers, you should say strongly: “I met someone who lived through it!” …and to live by the Golden Rule, treating others as you would want them to treat you. 
  177. What is your most vivid memory from your childhood?  Probably the one shown on the cover of my book and described in the book’s chapter “The Shed.”
  178. With how many different families did you live during the war, and why did your mom moved you from one family to another?  I probably lived with 4 or 5 different families, and my mom would move me whenever the family informed her that I and they were in danger because someone suspected that I was Jewish. 
  179. Did you take your belongings with you each time you moved?  The only belongings I had during these moves were the clothes I wore and pajamas, nothing else.
  180. Did you ever get attacked yourself?  Did you do violence yourself?  Only one time did I get attacked and resonded with violence.  It was shortly after the war, when I was 7 years old, I found a throwing dart and a much bigger kid attacked me and tried to take it away from me.  He threw me to the ground and was on top of me, beating me and trying to take it away, while I was trying to fight back with one hand while holding tight onto the dart.  Finally I lost all restraint and started stabbing him with the dart in his back and butt till he got off me and ran away.
  181. What did you think about “Schindler’s List”?  I thought that Schindler was a very good man for saving so many Jews, but he was also very bad to his own family.
  182.  Do you speak Polish?  Not any more – I’ve not spoken it since coming to America in 1949, so I’ve forgotten it.  However, it’s probably still somewhere “in the back of my head” because when I started travelling to Russia on business every month or two in the early ’70s, I picked up  Russian quickly without any formal lessons, and that’s surely because Russian and Polish are quite similar (both are Slavic languages) and the Polish that’s still in the back of my head did it.
  183. Since your family saw anti-Semitic acts before, did they think it would escalate to the Holocaust?  Neither my family nor anyone else (except the Nazi leaders) could possibly imagine that anything on the scale of inhumanity and horror of the Holocaust could happen, especially caused by Germany which the probably the best educated country in Europe.
  184. Why did the Russian soldiers come to the farm where you lived with Leon’s family in January 1945?  The Soviet army was fighting the German army and pushing them out of Poland, so the arrival of the Soviet tank that night meant that the battle front had just passed us.  A week or two later we learned that the Soviets liberated Warsaw from the Nazis, and shortly later my mom and I returned to Warsaw. 
  185. You spoke about not asking your mother many questions, even when you were an adult.  Do you remember choosing not to ask?  No, I don’t remember choosing and I don’t remember asking.  However, I have a very selective memory: I forget bad things, bad  situations very easily, and since many of the unasked questions that arose while I was writing this book were regarding unpleasant situations, such as why did my mom leave me so often, perhaps I would ask the questions and then block it out.
  186. Did you ever try to take your toys back from Leon’s daughter?  To be truthful, I really don’t remember.  However, if I did do it, I apparently never got caught or I might remember getting a beating from Leon for it, as I remember his beating for disobeying and eating the rhubarb.
  187. Did these families know that you were Jewish?  I’m sure they did, as that was the reason my mother gave me to them to hide from the Germans.
  188. Did you have a Bar Mitzvah?  No, I did not.  In America we’ve lived a very secular life.  
  189. Do you have nightmares of things that happened to you?  No, and the only nightmare I remember from my childhood is the repeating nightmare I had immediately before the Warsaw uprising, as described in the chapter “August 1944Warsaw Uprising.”  On the other hand, I have forgotten most bad things, so I might have had many more nightmares and forgotten them.
  190. Did you ever think of leaving your hiding place?  I don’t remember having that thought specifically.  However, if I did, it would have been because I was very unhappy about something that had just happened, and I now know that I tend to forget most bad situations, so my not remembering it doesn’t mean that it didn’t happen.  Besides, where would a 4-year-old go to if he doesn’t know where he is?  My mom would take me from one unfamiliar-to-me family to another in some other part of town, and I was never allowed to go outside, so I didn’t even know where I was.
  191. What type of food & drink did you have during the Holocaust?  Mostly I remember having bread, soup, and potatoes – I was often given a pail which I would fill with potatoes stored in the basement of the apartment house (where it was cold) and would have to carry them up several flights of stairs.  The other food-moments I remember are the rhubarb at Leon’s apartment and the vodka made on the farm in the summer of 1944.
  192. Do you speak any languages other than English?  Now it’s only English and Russian.  I’ve actually forgotten Polish, just as I seem to forget bad situations, bad things, so it’s probably a phychological issue, a safety mechanism.  I learned French when I lived there in 1949 before coming to America but have forgotten it.
  193. How long did it take after the war to normalize your life?  I can’t really answer that because, as a young child, whatever life I had at the moment was “normal” to me – it’s all I knew.  Thus, as things changed after the war, I accepted each change as “normal.” 
  194. What did you do to pass the time while you were in the ghetto?  As a 4-year-old it was not difficult to occupy myself.   The only play that I specifically remember is riding my tricycle, which I got for my 3rd birthday.
  195. How do you feel about German soldiers?  The only close-up encounter I now remember is when I was 4 years old and the soldier was standing looking down at me while I was eating soup, as described in my book in the chapter “The Soup and the Machine Gun,” and I felt neutral about it.  However, a year or so ago at a middle school I was shown a children’s book on the Holocaust and I happen to open it to a page that included a loose drawing of a small group of Nazi soldiers.  This image caught me by surprise and I felt a strong chill go through me. 
  196. Do you think you would have reacted the same way now?  I think most adults would react to a situation differently from how they would react as children.  However, probably for my emotional survival, I instinctively learned not to play the “what if” game, which is why my book is called “Neither Yesterdays Nor Tomorrows” – I learned not to dwell on the past nor plan into the future. 
  197. What is your favorite hang-gliding experience?  My favorite was flying in the Sierra Nevada mountains and over Mt. Whitney, looking down at the many tiny and perpetually-frozen  lakes, their blue ice contrasting with the white snow around them.
  198. Was your mother wealthy (before the war)?  No, she came from a middle-class family who valued education, and that’s why she went to the university and was a young attorney when the war started.
  199. What was the hardest decision you ever had to make?  That’s a tough question, but it definitely was not during the Holocaust when I was a young child and very few decisions were up to me.  In retrospect, viewing my whole life, the hardest decision was to get a divorce from my son’s mother.
  200. Did you ever have any psychiatric help?  No, the closest to it was some speech therapy to cure my stuttering when I started high school.
  201. Did you play sports?  In high school and college I wrestled and also fenced, then after college it was hang gliding and skiing.
  202. Do you blame your parents or anyone for your childhood and the Holocaust?  No, I don’t – blaming does not accomplish anything positive. 
  203. Are you glad that you wrote the book?  Yes, very much so, because it led into speaking to students like you, so I feel that I am giving back for my good luck in having survived.  Giving back is very gratifying.
  204. Did your experience and that scene you describe in “The Shed” influence your career choice?  Yes, ever since then I’ve been interested in airplanes and aviation, and it resulted in my hobbies (model airplanes, hang-gliding) and my education and profession (aerospace, at least for a few years).
  205.  As a member of the audience, I’d like to share a centuries-old story about the ancient Rabbi Hillel and the Golden Rule.  A man came to Rabbi Hillel and said that he’d convert to Judaism if the Rabbi could explain Judaism while the man stood on one leg.  Rabbi Hillel then said: “What is hateful to you do not do to others.  The rest is commentary.  Now go and learn.”
  206. When you see pictures of the Warsaw Ghetto, do you recognize any people or places?  No, not at all.  I was 4 years old then, so too young to remember these details, but also most of the people living there have been killed by the Nazis and most buildings were destroyed in the ghetto uprising.
  207. Was your family observant before the war?  I think that my mom’s parents were observant Jews in the traditional sense but my mom was more modern, more “reformed” even though there was no Reformed Judaism in Poland at that time.  After we came to the U.S. she observed the major Jewish holidays, though she would tell me that she was doing it “in honor of (her) mother.”  
  208.   Did other countries know what was happening in the Holocaust?  As a young child at the time I didn’t  know anything about the world and other countries.  However, I now know that other countries, including the US, did know about some of the horrors but did little about it, primarily because it was inconvenient vis-a-vis their own interests.  It’s similar to what happens now whenever large organizations, be it government or corporate, are faced with whistleblowers who try to expose corruption or waste: their reaction is always to protect the organization, regardless of the truth or morality of the exposure. 
  209. Does watching your granddaughter grow up make you compare your childhood to hers?  No, it does not, as it’s also not productive.  For example, when my son was growing up I did not deny him things just because I didn’t have them – I knew that the times and circumstances were different.  On the other hand, I didn’t want to spoil him by making it too easy for him, so when he was in college and wanted things that were nice to have but not necessary, I would offer to pay half if he earned the other half by part-time jobs, and he always did that. 
  210. Did the Holocaust start all of a sudden or was it gradual?  It was definitely gradual, each unjust-but-livable restriction at a time, such as Jews expelled from universities or required to wear the yellow Star of David or forced into ghettos, each step “livable” so not to cause outright panic and rebellion, until the shipments to the death camps began and led to the ghetto uprising in 1943.
  211. How were you able to overcome the challenges you faced when you came to the US?  After all the difficulties and uncertainities I experienced during the war while alone and living with strangers, after coming to the U.S. I was with my mom so the challenges seemed more “normal” and managagable.
  212. Does it get easier to face your past as you tell your story more?  I’ve not noticed it getting noticably easier.  I judge that by the number of times I choke up in a presentation, and (except for the very first time) it seems to stay about the same: 2 or 3 times when I read from my book, not when I talk, and in different places in the book each time.
  213. Are you going to write any more books?  I don’t plan to, but then I didn’t plan to write the first one either.  I’m a firm believer in “never say never.”
  214. Are the Holocaust and the Armenian genocide comparable?  They definitely are because both were aimed at exterminating a people, but the Holocaust is now much better known, perhaps because it is more recent and because it is better documented.
  215. What was the longest time you didn’t see your mom? About 6 months, from the summer of 1944 till January 1945.
  216. When did you change your name to Elbaum?  In 1961, when I was already in graduate school, I changed it back to Elbaum, my father’s last name and mine when I was born.
  217. Did you always know you were Jewish?  No, my mom told me that only in 1945, after the war, and it was a painful moment which I describe in my book.
  218. Some wounds are transmitted to the next generation.  Do you think you’ve transmitted some of these to your son?  I think that I’ve been fairly successful in containing or overcoming any emotional or psychological wounds I may still have from my wartime experiences.  (One “wound” that occasionally surfaces as a reminder of those years is stuttering.)  So, overall, I can’t think of anything specific that I’ve transmitted to my son from the war years.  However, all parents want to transmit to our children those characteristics that we like in ourselves and to hide those that we don’t like, and in that effort we’re all only marginally successful.  
  219. Have your experiences shaken your faith in humanity, your trust in people?  I trust my instinct to guide me about trusting a person, and it usually steers me right, though not always.  Thus I feel comfortable about trusting individuals, though I feel differently about large groups and society in general.  Genocide still happens, even right now in places like Darfur, and history shows over and over again how demagogues can lead the masses to do terrible deeds, as Hitler did with the German people.  That, unfortunately, is part of human nature, and human nature changes very, very slowly, only at the speed of evolution.
  220. What was the most memorable simple pleasure that you remember from your childhood?  The sugar cube given to me by a Russian tank officer in January 1945, as described in the chapter “Winter 1945 – The War Ends” of my book. 
  221. Have you been to Yad Vashem?  Yes, in 1995 we were on an archeological tour that ended in Israel.  I did not plan to visit Yad Vashem but my wife wanted to do it and I agreed to go.  Being surrounded in its darkness by images of the Holocaust, I suddenly realized that my mother or any sentient adult could not have survived it without deep emotional scars, and after we returned home I changed my reactions and behavior with her, which stabilized our relationship until her death 9 years later. 
  222. What one word would describe how you felt when your mom told you that you were Jewish?  It would probably be “crushed”, and I cried.  I was 7 yrs old, and having seen the effects of anti-semitism suffered by Jews in Poland, I didn’t want to carry that burden by being Jewish, though I was willing to defend Jews.  However, after some time I accepted it.
  223. How did you question your mom’s authority when she would leave you with the different families who kept you?  Since I was 4-5 years old when she was moving me from one family to another, I cried and resisted as any 4-5 year old can, but I was too young for it to have any effect and that’s probably all for the better, as described in my book’s chapter “A Beggar with a Burlap Bag”.
  224. Did you ever want revenge against the Germans?  No, I don’t think so, I don’t remember thinking about it.  However, I do admit that there were occasions in the past when hearing German spoken unexpectedly I felt a sudden pit in my stomach, so there must be some negative feelings deep in me.
  225. Are you friends with any Germans today?  No, but there none that live near me, and there are many other nationalities  where I have no friends today.  However, in graduate school I did have a close friend and colleague who was German, but after getting his PhD he returned to Germany and we didn’t communicate afterwards.
  226. Has speaking about your wartime experiences made you feel more connected to your mother?  No, not really.  I kept an emotional distance from the Holocaust for over 60 years  because I saw what it did to my mother, how the past tormented her and kept her from enjoying the present, including her business success in America.  I didn’t want to let that happen to me, so I refused to participate with her in dwelling and reliving the past.  It is less than 6 years after my mom died that I had the epiphany which made me realize the importance of sharing my story, in writing my book and in speaking to students such as yourselves. 
  227. What does the Holocaust mean to you?  What single image comes to your mind when you hear the word?  It’s German soldiers in their long, dark green coats, with helmets and rifles slung over their shoulders.  It’s a small group of figures such as the one I describe in my book’s chapter “The Soup and the Machine Gun.”
  228. How do we know you’re telling the truth?  Because I have no reason to lie.  Since I kept silent for 60+ years, and it still pains me to recount some of it, I’m certainly not doing it for any benefit to me, except hoping that it might help others.  Afterwards, students have written me that it has helped them, sometimes in unexpected ways, and that encourages me to continue. 
  229. What’s your most vivid experience/flashback?  The airplane I saw through the roof of the shed where we were hiding in the ghetto.  That’s why the scene is on the cover of my book.
  230. What was the feeling of losing 10 family members and still have to keep on going?  My memories start at my 3rd birthday, and by then only my mother, grandmother, and I were still together.  I have no memories of the others: my father (killed on the Eastern front), aunts, uncles, the other grandparents (sent to concentration camps).  However, my mother obviously remembered them all, and what helped her to “keep on going” was probably the responsibility for saving me and her mother. 
  231. If Jews were treated so badly, why would you want your children to be Jewish?  Jews have been a minority and subject to discrimination and worse for about 2000 years, ever since the loss of their homeland in what’s now Israel.  The reason Jews maintained their group identity through those centuries is their religion: all adults, not just Jews, who believe in their religion want their children to keep that religion, in spite or discrimination and hardship and risk.  In 1620 the Pilgrims came to America, despite the risks of a wild and unknown land beyond a huge and dangerous ocean, to freely practice their religion for themselves and for their children, and for the very same reasons Jews endured comparable risks throughout their history.     
  232. Did you become immune to the violence of the Nazis, since you were born into such horridness?  Not at all.  Though I got used to seeing dead bodies (pg 27 of my book), killing of baby birds horrified me then (pgs 20-21), as does any cruelty to this day. 
  233. When you were younger (during the Holocaust) did you know what was going on in the world?  Did you know when Hitler died?  As a 3-to-6 year old in an age before television, I neither knew nor was interested in anything except the small world immediately around me.  For example, I didn’t know about Hitler until after the war.
  234. How do you feel now that you are alive and managed to survive the Holocaust?  Very, very lucky!   
  235. Why were you willing to defend Jews but were upset to learn that you were Jewish?  I was only 7 years old so I’m not sure about my motives at the time, but from today’s perspective I suppose that having known and seen the results of anti-Semitism suffered by Jews, I didn’t want that burden.  After all, it’s easier to defend someone being persecuted than to suffer the persecution.
  236. Is it important for Jews to have knowledge of their heritage?  I think it’s important for any societal group to know its heritage as it gives the group a sense of identity.  However, it’s especially important for minority groups displaced from their homeland and persecuted, as then it becomes the only tie to give the people their identity and group continuity. 
  237. I felt that your mom and you seemed quite distant in your relationship even after the Holocaust.  Is that because of what happened, and that she was unable to distance herself from the Holocaust while you were able to do just that?  My mother bore the total burden of both the responsibility of keeping herself, her mother, and me alive after all other family members had been killed, and her awareness of the horrible monstrosity that the Nazis perpetrated on her family and her world.  In addition, she was surely tormented by the comparison of her life before the war, her life as it should be, versus the hell that she now faced every day.  These burdens left deep emotional scars on her psyche, scars that did not heal with the war’s end.  For example, even decades later in America she would have a strong adverse reaction to the sound of sirens, which reminded her of bombings and of German police sweeps.  I, on the other hand, was too young to remember a “normal” life, and to fully understand the monstrosity of the current situation.  I also seem to have developed, perhaps instinctively for my emotional survival, the capacity to forget the pains of yesterdays.  Thus after coming to America, when I was already old enough to view my mom with some objectivity, I saw her reliving the past and being tormented by it.  Seeing what that did to her, I developed an emotional distance from the Holocaust, and refused to “go there” with her, even at times when she tried to talk about it because of an inner need.  This probably put a distance between her and me, as you so perceptively noticed.
  238. How did you feel when you realized that it was a grenade you tossed that exploded in the ditch?  I realized that it was a grenade only a long time after it happened, so by then it no longer had much impact.
  239. Did you realize the danger at the time, or were you terrified?   Either I didn’t realize it at the time or I’ve blocked the fear  from my memory, so I no longer remember the fear.  The closest to being terrified that I now remember is described in “A Beggar with a Burlap Bag.”
  240. How much of it was luck vs. conscious decisions?  I feel my mother’s survival was a combination of both, but for me it was almost entirely luck.
  241. How did your experiences affect how you felt about how people treated you after you came to the US?  My book’s title, “Neither Yesterdays Nor Tomorrows,” describes how I learned to live my life during the war and afterwards, even into adulthood, so I address and try to solve current issues without digging into the past or worrying about the future.  Regarding coming to the US, I did feel like a foreigner through early high school, and for that reason my book goes only until I no longer felt like that, except for the very last chapter.  
  242. From a visiting teacher – Are you optimistic?  I want to be better in giving back as a result of this week’s talks, such as yours.  I’m very optimistic by nature, perhaps blindly so if you ask my wife, but that’s about personal situations and one-on-one events.  However, I am not optimistic about real progress of society and humanity, because I think that human nature changes only at the speed of evolution, and that is very, very slow.  
  243. Till what age did you use another name?  I came to America in 1949 as Kochanowski, my Polish last name for about 5 years.  Then my last name became Whiteman when I was adopted by my mother’s husband.  I even graduated MIT in 1959 as Whiteman.  However, later that year he was hit & killed by a car while on a sidewalk with my mother, so later I changed my name to Elbaum, the name with which I was born.  
  244. Did writing the book bring back memories that you repressed?   It did bring back a few details but nothing major or especially frightening.  In fact, the actual writing was not emotionally difficult, probably because it’s an active process and I was very focused while doing it.  Reading, however, is more passive, and the first time I read the whole book to edit it my heart was frequently in my throat. 
  245. Did you know why your mother would leave you with others and how she found you on the farm many months after the Warsaw uprising?  I don’t know, and I also don’t know why I never asked her many such questions, even in the many years afterwards when I was already an adult.
  246. What was it like to go through the Holocaust as a young kid?  That question is probably best answered by my book’s title, “Neither Yesterdays Nor Tomorrows.”  I learned instinctively to live in the present, not to reflect on the past because it was mostly difficult, and also not to look forward because that was so uncertain.  For example, I never knew when I would see my mother next, and I never considered (at least I don’t remember considering) that it may be never.
  247. When you were old enough to get your own perspective, what were your feelings about the human race?  On an individual or personal level, each of us has a choice: to do what one knows is right, or what is safer, or what may bring some benefit even at someone else’s expense.  For example, during the Holocaust there were Poles who, at the risk of their own lives, helped to save Jews, such as the families who kept me, because they knew it was the right thing to do.  Yet there were other Poles, such as the man who betrayed my grandmother’s hiding place to the Nazis, who chose what brought them some benefit at the cost of others’ lives.  So on an individual level I’m an optimist because I feel that I can usually (though not always)  sense whom to trust and whom to avoid.  However, on a large group level, such as society in general, I am not so optimistic because 5000+ years of recorded history shows that human character hardly changed during this period.  While we can invent airplanes and computers and nuclear bombs, basic human character changes  only on the evolutionary timescale.  
  248. What was your reaction to the Nuremberg Trials, and do you think that individual soldiers should have been held accountable or the leaders?  As I was only 7-8 yrs old  during these trials, I did not follow them and my reaction now is as an adult: the trials correctly focused on & punished the leaders who created the Holocaust and directed it.  Thus the primary responsibility was definitely theirs.  I feel that the responsibility diminished as the rank of the officer or soldier diminished – they were carrying out orders from above – although low-rank guards in concentration camps who were culpable for reprehensible brutality must bear the responsibility for their actions.
  249. Do you think some might deny the Holocaust because they’re afraid we’re capable of doing the same?  I can’t accept that reasoning, perhaps because I cannot see myself doing anything like that.  While I can see doing violence in defending myself, and have done so in the heat of a fight, but that’s not the same as the cold-blooded murders of the Holocaust.
  250. Do you think it would be a better world if everyone forgot the bad?  Probably not, because remembering the bad things one did activates the feeling of guilt, and that sometimes prevents people from doing the same bad things again… and sometimes it doesn’t.
  251. With your experience, what one advice would you give us?  Follow the Golden Rule and keep an open mind.

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