Thursday, April 19, 2012

Ilie Wacs and Deborah Strobin, AN UNCOMMON JOURNEY & Eyal Press, BEAUTIFUL SOULS

Painting by Ilie Wacs
It's Holocaust Remembrance Day (U.S.) -- a good day to think about what it takes to rescue the persecuted. Eyal Press' book, Beautiful Souls, is the best exploration of that I've ever read. It explained to me why my father, an unpolitical bon vivant, chose to shelter a Jewish refugee in his Amsterdam apartment for 3 years, build hiding places for others, and bring Jews into hiding from Amsterdam to eastern Holland


On this week's Writer's Voice, I speak with Eyal Press and with two siblings who fled Nazi Europe to find refuge in China, Ilie Wacs and Deborah Strobin. Their book is Uncommon Journey. 




Ilie Wacs & Deborah Strobin

Memoirs abound that recount the experiences of Jews who managed to stay alive during the brutal years of Nazi rule. There are also books, like The Diary of Anne Frank or the novels of Irene Nemirovsky, that were published after their authors had already perished in the camps.

But brother and sister Ilie Wacs and Deborah Strobin have a more unusual story to tell. They and their parents fled Nazi Europe to a very foreign and far place — Shanghai, China. The story of the Shanghai Jewish refugees is one that had barely been told — until the publication of their memoir, An Uncommon Journey.

The family left Europe at the very last minute, sailing out of Genoa, Italy the day before WWII was declared. When they arrived in Shanghai, they underwent hardships and triumphs that left an indelible mark on their lives.

Their memoir alternates the narratives of each sibling — providing a fascinating contrast between their accounts, not least because Ilie was eight years older than his sister. He was 12 when they left Europe — she was only three.
Ilie Wacs is an artist and former fashion designer; his sister Deborah Strobin is a philanthropist.

Eyal Press

Eyal Press
Why is it that some people risk their jobs, reputations or even lives to stand up to evil while most of their peers remain silent or even become perpetrators themselves?

That’s the question journalist Eyal Press asks in his remarkable book, Beautiful Souls.

Press explores the stories of four remarkable individuals: a Swiss police commander who allowed Jews fleeing Germany entry into Switzerland, against orders; a Serb who rescued Croats during the Bosnian War; an elite Israeli soldier who became a refusnik -- refusing to serve in the Occupied Territories; and a financial advisor who blew the whistle on her employer’s Ponzi scheme.

His thoughtful examination of their stories sheds new light on what motivates those “beautiful souls” who, as the book’s subtitle says, say no, break ranks and heed the voice of conscience in dark times.

Read Louisa Thomas' excellent review of Beautiful Souls in The New York Times.


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