The Journey of a Lifetime: WHERE We #SpeakUP

This post is part of the blog tour curated by the Association of University Presses in celebration of University Press Week. To see the rest of the posts in the tour, click here.

This year blog tour posts will examine ways that university presses Speak UP or give voice to the scholarship and ideas that shape conversations around the world, using some common interrogatives.

Today’s post is written by Purdue University Press author Larry Hanover.

It’s been six years since the publication of Rebuilt from Broken Glass: A German Jewish Life Remade in America by Purdue University Press. It’s been the journey of a lifetime for 97-year-old Holocaust survivor Fred Behrend and me (his coauthor). We owe no small thanks to Purdue for taking a chance on us.

Our 2017 kickoff event was at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington. Ever since, a widening array of museums, libraries, bookstores, and others have played an integral role in providing a platform to amplify our message. And, it turned out, that early foundation made the production of a documentary possible. It also allowed for an event that will probably serve as a bookend for our six-year journey: a November 9 screening sponsored by the City of Philadelphia at its Free Library central branch to mark the 85th anniversary of Kristallnacht (the Night of Broken Glass), which is the focal point of our story and resonates today amid the atrocities that occurred in Israel from Hamas’ October 7 attacks.

Let me give you the heart of the story of Rebuilt from Broken Glass. When Fred was a boy in Germany, a Nazi decree forced Jews from public school. In Cologne, 65 miles away from his hometown of Lüdenscheid, was a Jewish-run secular school. The Baum family agreed to let Fred live with them so he could attend the school with their two children, Margot and Henry.

On Nov. 9–10, 1938, which became known as Kristallnacht, Nazis burned synagogues and Jewish-run businesses across Germany. Fred would never forget witnessing the flames and anguish. The 12-year-old had to leave the Baum family and come home to Lüdenscheid. Little did he know that his father had become one of 30,000 Jews sent to concentration camps on that fateful day. His father was released weeks later on the condition that the family flee Germany and never return. He would later turn the tables as an American GI, teaching democracy to Nazi POWs before they were sent back to help run Germany’s cities and towns.

This was the story we told at the U.S. Holocaust Museum, synagogues, community organizations, and schools in Connecticut, New York, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey, who partnered with us to help Fred’s story of “Never Again” to be heard widely.

Little did I realize that, even though the book was complete, Fred’s story wasn’t. On Nov. 9, 2018—the 80th anniversary of Kristallnacht—Fred was speaking at a Jewish day school about that fateful day and his time with the Baums when the principal mysteriously left the room. Ten minutes later, he reappeared holding a cell phone. On the line was … Henry Baum. That moment, and a later face-to-face reunion in Florida for the two survivors, turned into the acclaimed documentary, also called Rebuilt from Broken Glass (available on YouTube).

At this point, our partners in the region embraced us anew with even greater enthusiasm. Fred has now appeared in stories on all four major network affiliates in Philadelphia, and articles on him have been published from coast to coast, and even in Germany and Israel. On International Holocaust Remembrance Day last January, the Weitzman Museum of American Jewish History hosted us for a screening—Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney joined Fred and me in giving remarks.

Sadly, Fred’s message is still needed far, far too much. The heartbreak of murder and hostage-taking in Israel redirected our Nov. 9 event in Philly in directions we never anticipated.

Fred has been blessed with a long life and relatively good health, and I’ve been blessed to join him in the journey, but there isn’t much time left for the world to hear Holocaust survivors’ first-person accounts. Clearly, their message will diminish when they are gone. Fortunately, in Fred’s case, Rebuilt from Broken Glass has given us the platform to make his story forever accessible to those willing to listen.

You can get 30% off Rebuilt from Broken Glass: A German Jewish Life Remade in America or any other Purdue University Press book by ordering from our website and using the code PURDUE30 at checkout.