A Salute to Local Authors

May 6, 2020 in Library Corner

By Robin Jacobson.

We proudly present three new memoirs by DC-area authors Judith Heumann, Esther Safran Foer, and Ron Hoffer. Each book speaks to the Jewish and human experience and offers, in different ways, an example of fortitude and hope especially welcome at this time.

Being Heumann: An Unrepentant Memoir of a Disability Activist by Judith Heumann (with Kristen Joiner)

At 18 months old, Judith Heumann contracted polio. The illness left her unable to walk, with limited use of her hands and arms. Her doctor recommended that she be placed in an institution. This was typical advice in 1949, but Judy’s parents flatly rejected it. In Nazi Germany, the place they had fled, institutionalized disabled children disappeared, eliminated through lethal injections or starvation. Ilse and Werner kept Judy with the family in Brooklyn, lovingly raising her with her brothers.

At kindergarten registration, Judy faced her first institutional barrier. The principal refused to let Judy enter the school, calling the little girl in her wheelchair a “fire hazard.” But starting in fourth grade, Judy did attend school, then college and graduate school, launching a life of breaking barriers that kept disabled people from participating fully in society. The first wheelchair-using teacher in a New York City school, Judy was key to the success of a national movement that led to the Americans with Disabilities Act. Later, she served in the Clinton and Obama administrations, and as the World Bank’s first Advisor on Disability and Development.

I Want You to Know We’re Still Here: A Post-Holocaust Memoir by Esther Safran Foer

Throughout Esther Safran Foer’s childhood, her parents’ past was a closed subject, rarely discussed. She knew little of their wartime lives in Europe. They came to the United States in 1949, bringing three-year-old Esther. Her father’s family history was a particular puzzle because he died when Esther was only eight. Yet even if not talked about, the ghosts of relatives lost in the Holocaust hovered in the house.

Esther was in her early 40s when her mother chanced to mention that Esther’s father’s first wife and daughter had been murdered by the Nazis. Stunned by this revelation, Esther became determined to learn more, particularly about the half-sister she never knew she had and the Ukrainian family that had hidden her father during the war. She searched databases, made connections through her son Jonathan’s 2002 novel, Everything Is Illuminated (loosely based on what was then known of the family’s history), picked up clues in Brazil and Israel, and eventually traveled to Ukraine with her son Frank. There, with the help of a colorful cast of characters, they found some of the answers they sought.

From the Bronx to Berlin and Beyond by Ron Hoffer

In the heady era after the Berlin Wall fell, Ron Hoffer, a specialist in water and environmental management for the EPA, made many trips to post-Soviet Europe to advise and assist emerging democracies on environmental challenges. Sometimes this involved looking beyond officials’ rosy reports to seek out the brave scientists who for years recorded actual pollution data. With his 35mm camera, Ron captured images of the people and places he encountered, some of which appear in this lovely, highly artistic photo memoir.

Ron became interested in his own Eastern European roots, despite discouragement from older family members. In strong, salty language, one aunt made clear that her parents had been only too glad to leave the old country. Nonetheless, Ron located the Ukrainian village his grandfather left in 1907. A stop in the village’s ruined Jewish cemetery turned unexpectedly emotional as Ron realized that beneath him rested generations of relatives.