In Judy Stone’s new book “Resilience: One Family’s Story of Hope and Triumph Over Evil,” she describes her Hungarian family’s history throughout the Holocaust. Stone, an infectious diseases physician, interviewed her family and researched history to uncover what happened, and put together pieces of a large puzzle.
“Most books focus on Jews as passive victims. I think that’s a real injustice,” said Stone, 67, who lives in Cumberland. “I wanted to emphasize their resilience, and going on to live successful lives.”
“Kindness in the camp [was] forbidden resistance. The people who shared food, the people who shielded my mother or others from being beaten, the people who helped others at selection … All of those things were acts of resistance. That’s the story we don’t hear about,” she said.
When Stone perceives a marked absence of kindness toward immigrants in discourse and policy today in the U.S., it concerns her, she said.
“Certainly no one should compare to the Holocaust casually. The only place I make that comparison is how we’re treating migrants at the border,” said Stone. “The parallels are there: the press is now ‘fake news.’ We have parallels to Europe: they would not accept Jewish immigrants, so a thousand were sent back and killed. People are forgetting, and now don’t know, that seeking asylum is legal under international law. When I saw the kids in cages sleeping on blankets, that was a turning point for me to be political in my speeches. When I saw those kids, what flashed through my mind was my mother talking about sleeping on the floor in Auschwitz, eating sardines. And these kids not being able to eat much either? They’re doing the same damn things to those refugees now.”
Stone spoke with the JT about the challenges of incorporating family recollections in a book, what she hopes readers will take away from her family’s saga, and more.
How often did you find yourself comparing what your own experience would have been, had you been there with your family?
I would have been killed. If I placed myself in, I wouldn’t have had their strength.
It’s very hard – I don’t know, I’m losing some of the de-attachment I had. In order to survive during this book, I had to, as best as I could, step back and try to be a journalist, not a daughter.
Last week there were swastikas at Smith, where my daughter went to college. I’m getting more fearful. I have chosen to speak out about being Jewish, which I don’t advertise in this small community, but I worry about making my children the target. That’s really new.
Throughout the book, you express the difficulty of matching timelines and narratives because of the ability of chaos to corrupt memory. What impact, if any, do you think this has on the way we perceive history?
I think that it fuels some of the Holocaust deniers. That’s my biggest concern. They’re not stories; they’re over 100 hours of interviews. I think that some of the discrepancies may put doubt in people’s minds.
You describe Ancsi as the calmest survivor, who is able to maintain normalcy. How?
Ancsi and Kati focused on kindness the most. Kati, the one who is still alive, emphasized that helped them survive. That’s what’s relevant in our times, with the immigrant crisis — to not be a bystander, stand up and focus on kindness. There were people who gave them food, the friend who offered Kati her ID card, the pictures in the book were there because that woman saved those pictures. Anci’s message was that if you treat people like dogs, they’ll behave like dogs. If you treat them with kindness they will respond. […} In classrooms, how teachers will treat students will come back. If you expect somebody to be bad or stupid, they will be. If it’s kindness, that will be reinforced.
Why do you think survivors, at least in your family, intensely consume media about the era, while their children are averse to it?
It’s common for children of survivors to not know their families’ stories. Parents did not want to traumatize the children, for them to go on and have “normal” lives.
Before this book, I never read much about the Holocaust; I sure never watched, and sure never went to the Holocaust Museum. It traumatizes me to see what my family went through. I can’t do that. I had to for this book, but I think the kids don’t want to see their parents or loved ones identified with that. Kati said, “It’s always with us.” They’re comparing [their experiences]. My mother was outraged with Schindler’s List; she said that was like kindergarten. That was nothing.
What elements of this history did you find most relevant to your own experiences?
In one sense, one of the things was raising my children in the community where there were hardly any Jews. Dealing with school systems that did not want to acknowledge cultural diversity was tough. Not wanting to call out things I was seeing but not wanting to bring the wrath of anti-Semites.
You reflect yourself that the journey of this book is also an effort to keep your family connected. What’s your family’s reaction to the book?
There’s a whole spectrum of reactions. There are people who are furious with me, because my perceptions of their loved one don’t match theirs — we heard different explanations for why something happened. (The reactions) range from unhappiness to great pride and a lot of appreciation.
This [book] is important for our family and our kids and education. The profits are going to Holocaust education, to teach and stop hate mongering.
Kati in fact was my favorite character in the book. Where is she today?
She reinvented herself, and that’s what I admire myself. She reinvented herself in her 80s and began teaching Holocaust education. We grew very close, then she came to visit when my mother was in the hospital — I saw this other side of her, and saw how kind she was despite all the trauma she had been through.
She has become a role model, something to aspire to. With her teaching and her volunteering, she still bakes and still lives by herself. She broke her arm a few months ago, but managed to drag herself into the house and change her clothes before going the hospital. I don’t know how my mother also lived alone for decades, almost blind and on oxygen, but still cooking for us. Unbelievable, the strength of these women.