The Australian Jewish News — Friday, August 9, 2002

 

Child survivor pens a Holocaust story

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Bernard Otterman: the only child survivor of Radom's labour camp.

Danya Levy

ASKED how long his debut book The Golem of Auschwitz took to write, 65-year-old New York author Bernard Otterman doesn't hesitate. "Sixty-five years," he says.

"I have read all my life," he told the Australian Jewish News while in Sydney recently to promote his book. "A reader sometimes feels they want to give something back and becomes a writer."

After a career as an engineer, Mr Otterman began writing after retiring from full-time work in 1993. While his first attempts were in the realm of poetry, his storytelling soon led him into short-story writing.

The Golem of Auschwitz is a collection of fictional short stories in two parts: "Then" takes place during the Holocaust, and "Now" compris­es tales about survivors and their descendants, dealing with the legacy of the Holocaust.

Born in Lodz, Poland, Mr Otterman has dedicated his first book to his parents.

"I was two in 1939 and seven when we were liberated by the Russians in 1945. I spent the entire war in Poland or labour camps with my parents. It's a miracle that we all survived."

The Otterman family moved to New York in 1951.

Although too young to remember the start of the war, Mr Otterman — who holds the dubious title of Radom labour camp's only child survivor — has clear memories from the age of five.

While many Jewish families wouldn't accept what was happening around them, the Ottermans' realism saved them. "It didn't make sense to the average Jew that Hitler would kill them for no reason other than they were Jewish. But my parents believed the rumours and always tried to take evasive action to avoid the worst."

The Golem of Auschwitz contains author's notes to explain Jewish, German and Polish terms. "A golem, for example, is a Jewish concept of a Frankenstein-type myth created for good. The original golem was created by a Prague rabbi in the 17th century to protect the Jews from a pogrom — or spontaneous massacre."

The book is published bilingually — with English and Russian on facing pages.

"The publisher felt there was a significant market with the number of Russian-speaking Jews and non-Jews in the New York area," Mr Otter-man said.

"I spent the entire war in
Poland or labour camps
with my parents.

It's a miracle that
we all survived."

Bernard Otterman

The book has been sent to libraries and universities to assist Russian-language students.

The Golem of Auschwitz is also being translated into Chinese. "A Chinese acquain­tance in New York read the book and thought the Chinese would like to read it because they had their own holocaust with the Japanese. It would act as remembrance of their own experience."

As a work of fiction, Mr Otterman's main concern was that Holocaust survivors would not approve of the book. "When it came out, I spoke to the National Association of Jewish Holocaust Survivors in New York. A lot of survivors bought it, and I've had a good response from them."

 

The Golem of Auschwitz is available from the Sydney Jewish Museum or on the internet at www.amazon.com