Anthony S. Pitch is the author of the new book Our Crime Was Being Jewish: Hundreds of Holocaust Survivors Tell Their Stories. His other books include The Burning of Washington: The British Invasion of 1814 and "They Have Killed Papa Dead!" He has worked for the Associated Press and U.S. News & World Report, and he lives in the Washington, D.C., area.
Q: You write that anti-Semitism in France was a reason why you decided to embark on this project. How did you decide on oral histories as your approach?
A: I looked at videos of that clown of a comedian in France and wondered how anyone could be so ignorant of history, and so full of hatred for Jews, that he could actually ridicule the Holocaust and increase his huge following.
The best answer would be to let the survivors reply to him. And their interviews were so many, and so profound, that only an imbecile would dare challenge them.
Q: How did you research the book, and how did you pick the selections to include?
A: I researched hundreds of interviews at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C., and at the University of Southern California Shoah Foundation - Institute for Visual History and Education at Los Angeles, leaving out those who English was not good enough for inclusion.
I also decided to extract testimony given at the International Military Tribunal in Nuremberg, the Eichmann trial in Jerusalem, hearings before the U.S. House of Representatives, and a handful of memoirs of survivors.
Q: You write that there’s no particular order to the stories, and no index. What was the reason for this?
A: The selection was based on giving a wide range of atrocities, dehumanization, and indignities suffered by Jews in the infamous concentration camps of World War II. Anyone who reads this book will get an instant feel for the horrors inflicted on camp inmates.
Nothing has been censored, even though some readers might find it too painful to follow. But I always bore in mind what a survivor told an outsider, who found books and movies on the Holocaust too sad to read or see. Chiding her, the female survivor said, “If we could live it, you can watch it.”
There is no chronological order to the stories as a reflection of the survivors’ shattered and fragmented lives. Similarly, there is no index because many who would have been included were silenced by murder.
Q: What impact do you hope the book has, and are there particular audiences you hope will read it?
A: I hope the book can answer anti-Semites and their unspeakable diatribes against Jews, coming out of countries scattered around the world. As one survivor warned, “Unless we know about it, and tell it to others, it’s bound to happen again.”
In their torment during captivity, the Jews wanted to survive and recall it, for a world too naive to believe them. They had to survive, if only to speak of the atrocities.
I hope that this book reaches all ages, for those who know little or nothing of the Holocaust; for those growing up ignorant of their triumphant heritage of endurance; for those who don’t know that anti-Semitism taken to the extreme leads inevitably to the contents of this book; and for those not indoctrinated by the poison of Holocaust deniers.
It is a book that should be in the bookcase of every Jew who is proud of this everlasting resilience. The survivors here show how Jews have always defied the odds.
Q: What are you working on now?
A: In the spring of 2016 a New York publisher will bring out my book titled Lynched - They Got Away With Murder. It is the true, unsolved case of the lynching of four African-Americans in Georgia in 1946.
I have about 10,000 declassified documents from the FBI and the National Archives under the Freedom of Information Act, and have been working on this book for the past four years.
--Interview with Deborah Kalb. Anthony S. Pitch will be participating in the Bethesda Literary Festival, which runs from April 17-19, 2015.