New York, NY, March 31, 2011 … Abraham Foxman was too young to recall much of what happened to him during the Holocaust years. Perhaps aware of this, his father, Joseph, wrote down his traumatic memories of that time in painstaking Yiddish, so that his family might someday have a record of his survival in the midst of devastation and mass murder.
Now, nearly 60 years since they were written, the Foxman memoirs have been posthumously translated into English, annotated, and published for the first time.
"In the Shadow of Death," by Joseph Foxman (Yad Vashem, 2011)becomes the latest entry in the canon of Holocaust survivor testimony, offering a fresh look at the remarkable survival story of the Foxman family and their son, Abraham, who would become the national director of the Anti-Defamation League (ADL). Published by Yad Vashem and the Holocaust Survivors' Memoirs Project, the book, released this month, includes a Foreword by Abraham Foxman and an introduction by noted Israeli historian Leah Aharonov.
"There are many universal questions that arise out of the evil of the Holocaust; there are no easy answers and perhaps will never be," Mr. Foxman writes in the Foreword. "But our children and our children's children need to understand how it happened, why it happened, so that they can carry on the imperative of Never Again."
Joseph Foxman's memoirs recall his fateful decision to give up his only son into the hands of the boy's Polish Catholic nanny, who had the infant baptized in order to keep him hidden and protected from the Nazis. That decision saved the boy's life, and may have contributed to his parents' ability to survive the war years.
In his memoirs, the elder Foxman recalls how he stayed one step ahead of the Nazis while trying to keep in contact with his extended family. It chronicles his narrow escapes from death, run-ins with the Gestapo, his witness to the liquidation of the Vilna ghetto in 1943, and his efforts to keep his only son protected in hiding.
"Ten times I stood in the shadow of death, and each time I was saved it was purely by accident," Foxman relates in his memoirs, adding, "It is incumbent upon every individual who survived the Hitler cataclysm to record and to immortalize his or her Holocaust experiences."
Unbeknownst to his family and friends, Foxman kept his manuscript hidden away for many years and never spoke of it. It was discovered years later by the family after his death.
"My father and my mother protected me in my youth from hearing about the tough decisions and hard sacrifices they had made during the war years," Mr. Foxman writes. "Imagine my surprise when, years later, I came across these papers as I was going through his personal effects. I had no idea that these memoirs existed. My mother and father had never spoken of them."
The Holocaust Survivors' Memoirs Project is an initiative of Nobel Peace Prize laureate Elie Wiesel.