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This 16-year-old turned her grandmother’s Holocaust survival story into a novel



(New York Jewish Week) — In May of 1937, 7-year-old Inge Eisinger lived in a luxurious Vienna apartment with a pantry stocked with favorite foods and a staff to keep her company. Though she had a strained relationship with her mother and an absent father, Inge, who was mostly raised by her maternal grandmother Anna, was living a charmed life. 

This is the scene that opens “Running for Shelter,” a young adult novel about the Holocaust written by a young adult herself: 16-year-old Suzette Sheft, who is a junior at the Horace Mann School in the Bronx. In the novel, Sheft retells her grandmother’s story of surviving the Holocaust.

Published by Amsterdam Publishers, which specializes in Holocaust memoirs, the book is a delicate and powerful reminder of the importance of recording one’s family history. It’s a lesson Sheft learned too early in life: Her father died of pancreatic cancer when Sheft was just 13 and she soon realized she was forgetting all the stories he told her about his childhood. 

“I fantasized about rewinding time, so I could go back and record my favorite stories about his childhood,” Sheft writes in an author’s note. “I wished I had taken the time to write these stories down when I had the chance, because his death allowed me to understand the vitality of preserving the stories of our loved ones before it is too late.”

In memory of her father, Sheft recorded the story of his mother, her grandmother Monique Sheft, who was once the Viennese school girl Inge Eisinger. 

In pre-war Austria, Eisinger had been living a completely assimilated life — so much so that her parents never even told her that she was Jewish. Following the Nazi takeover of Austria, her mother managed to whisk the two of them away to Switzerland, then Paris, but soon abandoned her. After a twisting and tragic story, Eisinger eventually reunited with her grandmother and moved to a village in Central France to wait out the war, changing her name to the more French “Monique.”

Sheft’s novel ends in 1946, when the two are on the boat to New York after the war and Eisinger’s grandmother reveals to her that she and her family are actually Jewish.

In spite of this — or perhaps because of it — Sheft, who lives in Manhattan with her mom, her twin brother and two dogs, is very committed to her Jewish identity. “Although my grandmother never really practiced Judaism, my dad was very involved in the Jewish world,” she said. “He was very passionate about Jewish causes and just Judaism, in general. So I felt very connected to the Jewish world because of him.”

The New York Jewish Week talked with Sheft about what the book means to her, why its subject matter is important and what she learned in the process of putting it together.

This interview has been lightly edited for length and clarity.

New York Jewish Week: What was the process of writing the book; how did the idea begin and how did you collect your grandmother’s story?

Suzette Sheft: I had heard a lot of my grandmother’s stories from my dad. I always had an interest in the Holocaust — I would go to Holocaust museums in every city I visited, and I almost exclusively read books about World War II and the Holocaust growing up. So I kind of knew in the back of my head that I wanted to do something like this, but [my father’s death] sparked and ignited the necessity of doing it as soon as possible. 

As for the process, a few summers ago I spent a week with my grandmother, interviewing her every day about her escape from Austria to France. At first she shared physical elements of her life, like her apartment and her family dynamics and her school life, but then she began to talk to me about the time leading up to the war — the years before the Germans invaded Austria. As she spoke, I recorded everything she said in bullet point form and I would periodically stop and ask for more detail. The next day, at the beginning of the conversation, I would recap what we had talked about, and then allow her to elaborate or clarify the story. 

Later, I wanted to widen my perspective and uncover other stories and details that she may have forgotten, so I watched an interview she did with the USC Shoah Foundation. This was really helpful because there were some details that she had forgotten or that she had left out. 

Even though the book is about your grandmother’s life, you wrote it as fiction. How much of the story came from your grandmother’s details, and how much did you have to research or create on your own?

Every event that happens is true, and everything actually happened to her, but there are some small details that I embellished. For me, it was really helpful because, while I love creativity and writing, I sometimes struggle to pick an idea. So the fact that she had all these little stories, and I could expand from those, was something I loved while writing this. I had to use fiction when describing the atmosphere of certain places and also to write the dialogue because I can’t know exactly what they said or how they said it.

Do you have a favorite story your grandma told you that you made sure to get in the book?

Inge goes to a boarding school [in France] with her host family and there the children play a game where they pick someone to be the “torturer,” who is usually whoever they think the ugliest person is. My grandma had red hair and green eyes, and I guess she wasn’t the traditional standard of beauty. They picked her to be the torturer and she would have to pull people’s hair and scratch them. There would also be a queen, who was usually the prettiest girl with blond hair and blue eyes, and she would be protected. I thought it was interesting because to me it was the children’s way of understanding what was going on in the world around them. It’s a bit complicated, but when she told me this story I was completely shocked. It was really fascinating. 

For people your age, why do you think Holocaust education is still relevant and important?

Some people my age don’t know anything about the Holocaust. I recently came across a statistic that talked about how little Gen Z knew about the Holocaust. There’s also been a spike in antisemitism and a decrease in awareness of history. For example, with Kanye West, who has a lot of followers, saying antisemitic remarks, a lot of people are going to just go along with what he says. There’s also just been a lot of hate crimes towards Jewish people, especially during COVID

Lastly, the number of living Holocaust survivors is diminishing by the day. Gen Z is the last generation probably that is ever going to have the ability and the opportunity to speak with Holocaust survivors before they’re all gone. It’s important that we share this book now and then we educate people now before it’s too late.

The post This 16-year-old turned her grandmother’s Holocaust survival story into a novel appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

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Phyllis Pollock died at home Sunday September 3, 2023 in Winnipeg, after a courageous lifetime battle with cancer.
Phyllis was a mother of four: Gary (Laura), daughter Randi, Steven (deceased in 2010) (Karen), and Robert. Phyllis also had two grandchildren: Lauren and Quinn.
Born in Fort Frances, Ontario on February 7, 1939, Phyllis was an only child to Ruby and Alex Lerman. After graduating high school, Phyllis moved to Winnipeg where she married and later divorced Danny Pollock, the father of her children. She moved to Beverly Hills in 1971, where she raised her children.
Phyllis had a busy social life and lucrative real estate career that spanned over 50 years, including new home sales with CoastCo. Phyllis was the original sales agent for three buildings in Santa Monica, oceanfront: Sea Colony I, Sea Colony II, and Sea Colony. She was known as the Sea Colony Queen. She worked side by side with her daughter Randi for about 25 years – handling over 600 transactions, including sales and leases within the three phases of Sea Colony alone.
Phyllis had more energy than most people half her age. She loved entertaining, working in the real estate field, meeting new and interesting people everyday no matter where she went, and thrived on making new lifelong friends. Phyllis eventually moved to the Sea Colony in Santa Monica where she lived for many years before moving to Palm Desert, then Winnipeg.
After battling breast cancer four times in approximately 20 years, she developed metastatic Stage 4 lung cancer. Her long-time domestic partner of 27 years, Joseph Wilder, K.C., was the love of her life. They were never far apart. They traveled the world and went on many adventures during their relationship. During her treatment, Phyllis would say how much she missed work and seeing her clients. Joey demonstrated amazing strength, love, care, and compassion for Phyllis as her condition progressed. He was her rock and was by her side 24/7, making sure she had the best possible care. Joey’s son David was always there to support Phyllis and to make her smile. Joey’s other children, Sheri, Kenny, Joshua and wife Davina, were also a part of her life. His kids would Facetime Phyllis and include her during any of their important functions. Phyllis loved Joey’s children as if they were her own.
Thank you to all of her friends and family who were there to support her during these difficult times. Phyllis is now, finally, pain free and in a better place. She was loved dearly and will be greatly missed. Interment took place in Los Angeles.

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Local News

Gwen Centre Creative Living Centre celebrates 35th anniversary



By BERNIE BELLAN Over 100 individuals gathered at the Gwen Secter Centre on Tuesday evening, July 18 – under the big top that serves as the venue for the summer series of outdoor concerts that is now in its third year at the centre.
The occasion was the celebration of the Gwen Secter Centre’s 35th anniversary. It was also an opportunity to honour the memory of Sophie Shinewald, who passed away at the age of 106 in 2019, but who, as recently as 2018, was still a regular attendee at the Gwen Secter Centre.
As Gwen Secter Executive Director Becky Chisick noted in her remarks to the audience, Sophie had been volunteering at the Gwen Secter Centre for years – answering the phone among other duties. Becky remarked that Sophie’s son, Ed Shinewald, had the phone number for the Gwen Secter Centre stored in his phone as “Mum’s work.”

Raquel Dancho (left), Member of Parliament for Kildonan-St.Paul, and Nikki Spigelman, President, Gwen Secter Centre

Remarks were also delivered by Raquel Dancho, Member of Parliament for Kildonan-St. Paul, who was the only representative of any level of government in attendance. (How times have changed: I remember well the steadfast support the former Member of the Legislature for St. John’s, Gord Mackintosh, showed the Gwen Secter Centre when it was perilously close to being closed down. And, of course, for years, the area in which the Gwen Secter Centre is situated was represented by the late Saul Cherniack.)
Sophie Shinewald’s granddaughter, Alix (who flew in from Chicago), represented the Shinewald family at the event. (Her brother, Benjamin, who lives in Ottawa, wasn’t able to attend, but he sent a pre-recorded audio message that was played for the audience.)
Musical entertainment for the evening was provided by a group of talented singers, led by Julia Kroft. Following the concert, attendees headed inside to partake of a sumptuous assortment of pastries, all prepared by the Gwen Secter culinary staff. (And, despite my asking whether I could take a doggy bag home, I was turned down.)

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Palestinian gunmen kill 4 Israelis in West Bank gas station



This is a developing story.

(JTA) — Palestinian gunmen killed four people and wounded four in a terror attack at a gas station near the West Bank settlement of Eli, the Israeli army reported.

An Israeli civilian returning fire at the scene of the attack on Tuesday killed one of the attackers, who emerged from a vehicle, and two others fled.

Kan, Israel’s public broadcaster, said one of those wounded was in serious condition. The gunmen, while in the vehicle, shot at a guard post at the entry to the settlement, and then continued to the gas station which is also the site of a snack bar. A nearby yeshiva went into lockdown.

Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant announced plans to convene a briefing with top security officials within hours of the attack. Kan reported that there were celebrations of the killing in major West Bank cities and in the Gaza Strip, initiated by terrorist groups Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad. Hamas said the shooting attack Tuesday was triggered by the Jenin raid.

The shooting comes as tensions intensify in the West Bank. A day earlier, Israeli troops raiding the city of Jenin to arrest accused terrorists killed five people.

The Biden administration spoke out over the weekend against Israel’s plans to build 4,000 new housing units for Jewish settlers in the West Bank. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also finalized plans to  transfer West Bank building decisions to Bezalel Smotrich, the extremist who is the finance minister. Smotrich has said he wants to limit Palestinian building and expand settlement building.

Kan reported that the dead terrorist was a resident of a village, Urif, close to Huwara, the Palestinian town where terrorists killed two Israeli brothers driving through in February. Settlers retaliated by raiding the village and burning cars and buildings.

The post Palestinian gunmen kill 4 Israelis in West Bank gas station appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

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