Beguiled follows young Miriam as she struggles to follow her dreams through a turbulent time in history. What was the initial idea behind this story and how did that transform as you were writing the novel?
Initially, I had the idea to write a story of the kind of life my mother, born in 1910, might have had, if she’d had the gumption. Which she did not, so the story of Miriam Levine, 1st generation Russian-Jewish girl, is entirely fictional. There are a few biographical markers, e.g., Miriam’s Pop was active in the leftist-unionist organization called the Workmen’s Circle. My maternal grandfather was as well. Similarly, he was a cultured fellow, albeit not formally educated, and introduced my mother to cultural events from a young age. The character Miriam developed her aspirations to go on stage from the experiences her Pop exposed her to from a young age.
The story transformed itself immediately from anything biographical to an exciting adventure of Miriam and her girlfriends as they make their way through a difficult time in history punctuated by WWI, the “Spanish” flu, women’s getting the vote, the Roaring 20s, the relationship between young people and their immigrant parents, and the status of women.
Miriam is a well developed character that I grew attached to. How did you capture the thoughts and emotions of a young woman in the 1900’s?
Research, research, and more research helped me to describe a girl of the early 1900s. I read many books about the times, including novels of women of that period.
Perhaps more importantly, I’ve been a psychotherapist and life coach all my adult life, so am accustomed to hearing people’s stories and helping them to make sense of their lives. So, the emotions of a woman of this period seemed little different to me from my clients’ stories. Yes, women have approached the glass ceiling and many are in marriages that are fundamentally equal or mutually enhancing, but with the outing of many in the MeToo movement, it’s clear that women’s place has not appreciably changed vis a vis powerful men.
I liked how the politics and drama of the time was not front and center, but served as a backdrop to Miriam’s story. Did you do any research for this story to keep things accurate?
As stated above, I pored over many historical books of this period, as well as historical novels about the early 1900s. Having been in graduate school for a PhD back in the 1980s, I learned how to do research and to enjoy it. I was not, however, a big history buff, so my becoming absorbed in this research was a surprise to me. One funny thing: in one of my last drafts, I realized that NO character ever was described as smoking. So, I had to go back and add smoking Lucky Strikes, Camels, pipes, and cigars to many scenes.
WWI was certainly in the background only in Beguiled. Miriam and her friends barely seemed to register that there was a world war going on in Europe, until Miriam arrives home and discovers that her father’s Workmen’s Circle is having an important emergency meeting to discuss US entry into the War. Then a young German boy barges in to say that his family was beaten bloody right in their neighborhood, an unthinkable thing in their multi-ethnic close community.
Many people have suggested I write a sequel to Beguiled, but that would take me into the Depression of the 1930s and I don’t know if I want to go there, particularly since our country seems liable to get there itself.
What is the next book that you are working on and when will it be available?
Beguiled was just released on May 1st 2018, so I’m devoting some time to publicizing it before embarking on my next story. But, I’ve had the idea of locating an appealing news story of a woman who lived in another era. I enjoy researching historical fiction and being an archaeologist in searching out details of a bygone period. In order to find this appealing person, I’ll need to immerse myself in the Boston Public Library’s newspapers from the last century or even before. There are also archives of women’s letters housed at the Schlesinger Library at Harvard, where I’ve done research before. I look forward to being able to do this, once my initial marketing campaign is over.
Beguiled is about every person who ever had dreams that were interrupted by cultural mores, by discrimination, or by their own shortcomings. Miriam Levine, born in 1900, dreamed of going on stage, until an almost fatal mis-step forced her to postpone her “real life.” A serendipitous offer compelled her to confront her inner demons and society’s expectations. As Glinda, the Good Witch of the South in the Wizard of Oz, she recites at age 16: “You’ve always had the power, my dear, you just had to learn it for yourself.”
The story is inspirational for young people and their parents who dearly wish to access the American dream. The historical context of the decades before the Great Depression, the role of immigrants and women’s suffrage parallels tough political dilemmas that the US faces today.
Will Miriam have the gumption to follow her dreams? Will those dreams yield her the happiness she seeks? Or will she find that her childhood fantasies “beguile” her to seek ‘fool’s gold?’
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The Literary Titan Book Awards are awarded to books that have astounded and amazed us with unique writing styles, vivid worlds, complex characters, and original ideas. These books deserve extraordinary praise and we are proud to acknowledge the hard work, dedication, and imagination of these talented authors.
Gold Award Winners
Silver Award Winners
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In Xaghra’s Revenge the past and present collide when paranormal forces seek revenge and force one couple to relive the past. What was the inspiration for this thrilling book?
Malta is a popular destination for us Brits. It’s foreign, hot and sunny but the locals speak English! What’s not to like? 12 years ago I attended a multimedia presentation in Malta about its history. I gripped my seat to stop falling off when I learnt that in 1551 pirates savagely abducted the entire population of the nearby island of Gozo. Most became galley slaves, labouring slaves in Libya and the young women in harems in Constantinople. Those poor souls need revenge. I gave it to them in Xaghra’s Revenge. The other inspiration is a pile of old rocks in the Gozo town of Xaghra. The Ggantija Temple is one of the oldest buildings in the world. Older than the pyramids and Stonehenge. When I hugged them I felt a buzz. They told me to include them in that historical novel so I did.
Reece and Zita are interesting characters that continue to develop as the story progresses. What were the driving ideals behind the characters development?
I needed contemporary characters that were descended one from the pirates and one from the abducted. Oh what fun I had with them. A mumbling fart like Reece, who knew he had no luck with women and yet this great looker was interested. Thrown together by ancient spirits they were destined to be together, but of course like real life, nothing goes smoothly. Reece grows up quickly when one crisis after another trips him up, but he develops a backbone and maturity. Zita gains experience but her womanly ways always were sophisticated and she is able to support the fakwit Reece on and off until she realizes she’s in love with him for real.
The story is rich in historical detail. What research did you do for this novel to get the setting just right?
I’m a sucker for research in whatever stories I write. I stayed at the Preluna Hotel in Malta and traipsed all over both Malta and it’s little island, Gozo. Over the limestone surface and below in people’s cellars, which often had caves complete with stalactites and stalagmites. Hours I’d spent in the Melitensia and other libraries in Malta, up to my elbows in ancient deeds, records and emptied coffee cartons. So grateful was I that I donated a copy of Xaghra’s Revenge to the library and the librarian shook my hand only last week in gratitude. All the geography in the novel is accurate. Yes, I crawled into Calypso’s Cave on Gozo, really hugged the Ggantija massive stones and stood inside an Ottoman galley – that one is in a North Cyprus museum at Kyrenia Castle. A few yards away I nearly fell over a stone grave and too my shock saw it belonged to Sinan Pasha, the Jewish Ottoman Commander at both the abduction of Gozo and the siege of Malta in 1565. During the writing I returned many times though only the once to Tarhuna, Libya, in order to smell the aromas, see the wildflowers, and meet the real people.
What is the next book that you are working on and when will it be available?
I run a short story critique group. It forces me to write at least six shorts a year in between novels. The publisher of my ARIA Trilogy (scifi / medical mystery based on the unique premise of infectious amnesia) commissioned me to put together a collection of surreal shorts. I’ve called it INCREMENTAL because they all have an element of something getting smaller, or bigger. For example a noise the world hears one day getting louder by a decibel every day. A pothole appears in a Madrid suburb and doubles every day – without stopping. Do you know it would only take 46 days to swallow the planet, but it still doesn’t stop. There’s historical fiction in there too. It’s being published by LL-Publications later this year.
Xaghra’s Revenge follows the fate of a sixteenth century abducted family, and of two contemporary lovers thrown together by the ancients. Reece and Zita are unaware that one descends from the pirates, the other from the abducted family. While ancient Gozo spirits seek revenge, so do the Ottoman Corsairs, who intend to roll back history, and this time win the siege of Malta.
The history is real. The places are authentic. The tension and excitement are palpable.
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When the Cossacks invade their village, young Avrum and his brother Hershel manage to hide and survive the attacks which kill more than 80 members of their small Polish community. Trying to gather their wits about them and come to terms with the deaths of both parents, the two boys decide to make their way to the synagogue in Lvov. The road to Lvov is paved with one horror after another, and a harrowing experience at the home of a decrepit old woman leads to the brothers’ ultimate separation. Avrum, the tragic main character in Arnold Holtzman’s To The End of Days, spends the better part of his young life making his way to America to build a life for himself and, hoping beyond hope, to reunite with Hershel.
Holtzman has the striking ability to appeal to all of the reader’s senses through his writing. The scene in which Avrum and Hershel are fighting for their lives at the cottage of the old woman is particularly gripping. I was utterly repulsed by the vivid descriptions of the vile woman and the filth in which she lived. As horrific as the circumstances were, I was unable to tear myself away from this disturbing string of events. The same can be said for each stage in Avrum’s life. As he moves across the country and eventually on to North America, each new circumstance brings rich details, vivid images of despair, and poignant scenes of his struggle as an immigrant.
The various settings described throughout Avrum’s journey are exceptionally well-written. At every turn, I felt myself immersed in the sights and sounds of early 1900’s America and the Jewish culture. Holtzman leaves nothing to the imagination which, in turn, leaves the reader more time to focus on the plot surrounding Avrum and the subplot focusing on Fanny.
Avrum captured my heart from the moment he and Hershel faced the fate of their mother. His heart-wrenching grief and his determination to find his brother dominate his life for years, and are the driving force behind everything he does from finding work and wrestling when offered the opportunity to pursuing every lead no matter how futile it may seem. Avrum’s strength is unmatched.
Bella is not a character I enjoyed–but I wasn’t supposed to feel warm toward her. Holtzman has done a phenomenal job creating a selfish, arrogant, and needy female match for unlucky Avrum. Though she doesn’t make her true intentions known until much later in her relationship with Avrum, I admit I was suspicious of her from the beginning. She is one of those characters who is far too concerned with making herself understood and appreciated. The author has succeeded phenomenally in creating a character worthy and deserving of the reader’s loathing.
Intermingled with the characteristics of historical fiction is a pleasing amount of mystery. Avrum encounters numerous clues to Hershel’s fate throughout the years, but the author skillfully weaves a web of subplots while redirecting the reader’s attention. Even to the final pages, I was yet unsure of poor Hershel’s fate. Kudos to Holtzman–this is how I prefer my fiction.
Fans of historical fiction will appreciate the insanely detailed descriptions of the havoc wreaked by the Cossacks and the accuracy regarding the Jewish culture. Avrum and Hershel represent everything that was wrong with this period in world history and everything that can go incredibly right when a man remains unfailingly loyal to his family.
Pages: 410 | ASIN: 1977981844
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A coming-of-age tale set in 1975 New York during Tom Wolfe’s “Me Decade”, Stainer follows the misadventures of a naïve Jewish Columbia University student named Benjamin Steiner, who, on the night of his 21st birthday, meets not only the sweet girl of his dreams, a lovely young lady named Rebecca Glaser, but also an unprincipled drug-loving rogue from Princeton called P. T. Deighland. As the days pass, Ben’s immature inability to resist temptation and an overwhelming need to be “cool” gradually cause him to fall under Deighland’s malign influence until, at an impossibly glitzy Princeton party, he encounters and becomes spellbound by a ravishing but predatory high-fashion model named Anthea Montague.
When Rebecca returns from an unexpected overseas trip, Benjamin’s unreasoning jealousy over her friendship with another boy casts a shadow on their budding relationship. A series of rashly imprudent decisions abetted by Deighland and the model leave Ben feeling guilty and angry. At an ill-fated summer barbeque, he wrongly explodes at Rebecca and soon plunges headlong into a reckless self-destructive downward spiral, culminating in a horrific confrontation with Anthea Montague that brings his life crashing down in ruins.
Against the background of a vanished period in American history, Stainer offers a bittersweet nostalgic trip back to a less complex world, during a time of incautious excesses that, while deceptively fun and carefree, in due course forced many unwary youngsters like Benjamin Steiner to learn some necessary – but terribly painful – lessons about growing up.
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STAINER follows Ben Steiner, a Jewish Columbia undergrad who is a decent person but wishes to be “in” with the “in crowd.” What was the initial idea behind this story and how did that transform as you were writing the novel?
Since I wrote the book forty years ago, I must confess that I cannot precisely recollect what the initial idea was. I just sat down and started scribbling (longhand, on legal yellow sheets) and eventually the novel emerged. However, as I explain in my Author’s Preface, the manuscript was an overwritten mess. I was a complete amateur, and made every mistake in the book… (okay, that was a truly cringe-worthy pun.) But now that I think of it, I did have a vague notion that I wanted to somehow skewer an acquaintance of mine, and decided that the cleverest way to accomplish that would be to turn them into a rotten character in a book. Which I did… and no, I won’t tell you which character, but suffice it to say that nowadays my intended skeweree is rich, fulfilled, aging much better than I am, and utterly unaware of my –or my novel’s– existence. Which, all things considered, is exactly as it should be.
Of course, at a distance of four decades, I am now able to perceive things in the novel that weren’t apparent to me at the time I wrote it; by which I mean that there’s more than a trace of autobiographical heartbreak in the story. And I think we’ll leave it at that.
Ben goes through some strikingly personal conflicts throughout the book and his character is meticulously developed. How did you capture the thoughts and emotions of a 70’s Jewish teen?
Easy… I was a 70’s Jewish teen. Well, not technically… even though I was already in my mid-twenties when I wrote STAINER, my mindset remained that of an irresponsible teenage scamp, and I simply wrote prose in the same the way I spoke/ thought/lived; in other words, from the viewpoint of extremely arrested adolescence (ahem.) Luckily for me, it turned out that I had a knack for accurately capturing the mood and lingo of the times in my writing… who knew?
Ben meets P.T. Deighland, a wiseass from Princeton, who is clearly up to no good. What were the driving ideals behind the characters relationship throughout the story?
“Driving ideals”? Hmm… I have no clue, other than to suspect that the relationship between ‘bad-boy’ P.T. and ‘good-boy’ Ben somewhat reflected the two sides of my own slightly schizophrenic persona; which, in those days, remained more-or-less in a constant state of conflict. To all outward appearances I was definitely a good boy, but like many such young fellows, secretly wished that I had the nerve and coolness to behave like one of the bad boys. Because, after all, the bad boys always got the girls… didn’t they? But, like Ben, my efforts to attain bad-boy status were ultimately doomed to failure, and came at a heavy cost.
What is the next book that you are working on and when will it be available?
I have a new novel under way, and it’s as different from STAINER as STAINER is from SHE’S MY DAD. I can only write stand-alone novels; the mere thought of doing sequels or a series is a stupefying bore. For me, once a story is wrapped up, that’s the end of it, and then I’m off to build a new world, with new characters, new problems, new everything. It’s the only way I can stay interested enough to keep going.
As to when the new book will be available, who knows? All I can say is, stay tuned… I do believe it’s a pretty good yarn.
New York City, 1975: Decent-hearted but spoiled Jewish college kid Ben Steiner is naively possessed by an overwhelming desire to be cool. At a springtime party on the night of his twenty-first birthday, he meets two people: Rebecca Glaser, the longed-for sweet girl of his dreams, and P.T. Deighland, a beguilingly knavish wiseacre from Princeton. Seduced by Deighland’s bold irreverence while simultaneously succumbing to his own temptations, Ben makes a cascading series of unfortunate choices which not only threaten his budding relationship with Rebecca, but expose him to ruin at the hands of a ravishing but ruthless fashion model named Anthea Montague.
Against the background of a vanished period in American history, STAINER offers a bittersweet nostalgic trip back to a less complex world, during a time of incautious excesses that, while deceptively fun and carefree, in due course forced many unwary youngsters like Benjamin Steiner to learn some necessary –albeit painful– lessons about growing up.
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Stainer by Iolanthe Woulff truly lives up to being a novel of the “Me Decade”. Set in 1975, we follow Ben Steiner, a Jewish Columbia undergrad who at his core is a decent person but wishes to be “in” with the “in crowd.” On the night of his twenty-first birthday he attends a party that will change his life forever. He meets P.T. Deighland, a wiseass from Princeton, who is clearly up to no good, and Rebecca Glaser who he falls for immediately. His new-found friendship with Deighland and his own youthful temptations lead him to make escalating bad choices that may not only harm his budding romance with Rebecca, but expose this alternate life to the rest of the Jewish community. It is a classic journey of self-discovery, but one with a lightness of humor that keeps it from becoming too dismal.
Woulff does a wonderful job with blending the scenery of 70’s New York City with the strikingly personal conflict of Ben Steiner. The cultural tropes of the Jewish community come into full play and provide the initial conflict of the individual strikes out away from the old traditions of his culture. The fact that Ben lives in a converted residence hall with other Jewish scholars from Columbia. He thirsts for the experience outside of his roots that has been denied to him all these years, and turning twenty-one he feels that he is empowered to do so.
In some ways, this novel is very much the spiritual successor of Catcher in the Rye, but considering it is about the 1970s, it feels much more relevant to our present age. I found the pacing to be a bit of a slow burn, since it weaves this inner journey that Ben must make in order to reach the final beats of the narrative. Woulff provides a story with rich character development, which is impressive for a book that is trying to tackle not only personal conflict, but societal conflict and the social statements at large. Ben suffers from the divide his life takes after the party, where he hides pieces of his life from his Jewish friends.
The book is particularly polished, which is enjoyable and Woulff’s attention to detail and the interiority of her characters to be particularly good. It is also such a wonderful tale of how we can sometimes self-sabotage ourselves and not be able to see the “good” that is often right in front of us.
Stainer presents itself as a coming of age work and one that I think all ages should be able to enjoy. YA readers may take a particular pleasure in reading this novel.
Pages: 345 | ASIN: B071G8KFX1
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Part of the Family examines the experiences of the children who came to England from the Kindertransport during the Holocaust. I believe you delivered a compassionate view of this dark time in history. Why was this an important book for you to write?
Before this book, there was one document that attempted to set out in detail the Christadelphian involvement in the Kindertransport––and that was Dr. Chana Kotzin’s thesis that evaluated the reaction of a handful of Christian groups to the Jewish refugees in the 1930s. She was able to go through a lot of the correspondence that took place and really examine the refugee committee side of the Christadelphian involvement––but she was not able to look into the individual stories themselves and how the children lived when they eventually did come to a family. When I attended the Belfer Conference in 2015 at the United States Holocaust Memorial and Museum, the instructors emphasized 10 methodological principles when teaching about the Holocaust, and one of those standards very much resonated with me: translate statistics into individual people. History is not simply about statistics and generalities, but is rather about the lives of individual people. We constantly hear about the six million, and yet so often, the number loses its meaning, not simply because it is such a huge number, but because it is not focused on the individual. When the six million Jews who perished in the Holocaust is mentioned, it should be remembered that these people were fathers, mothers, brothers, sisters, sons, and daughters. When we realize the individuality of the people that we are learning about, it makes them much more relatable and the lessons from their experiences become much more relevant and powerful for us. This was huge for me, and being a writer, lecturer, and teacher, I very much feel a responsibility to tell their stories. A number of the stories told in this book have not been recorded in any way before. As I interviewed the “children,” one of the major things that stood out to me was that they constantly used the phrase “I was part of the family.” Over and over, they emphasized to me that they felt loved and cherished. There were certainly exceptions, as there always will be––but I was amazed at the things that I heard from them. One man, whose story will hopefully be included in volume 2, when I asked him what he would say to the family that had housed him, if he could say one final thing to them, without hesitation, said “I love you.” Though he had not seen them for decades, he still felt that feeling very acutely and strongly––he had become part of the family. Thus, I began to ask myself why these people had such experiences–and the answer came out very clearly, as you mentioned in your review. The Christadelphian families did this and cared for these children because they felt a kinship and a love for the Jewish people. Their beliefs brought them to action––and for me, that was a very powerful statement about the importance of beliefs. In today’s world, it feels as though beliefs are often downplayed and that many are trying to put our the statement that doctrines and beliefs don’t matter––as long as someone is good. While I certainly stand for the idea of tolerance, I think that in attempting to all get along, we cannot lose the lesson that beliefs really do make an impact, and that they can influence us for good or for ill. Therefore, I hope that this book will not only inspire others to help one another, but will also encourage all of us to look at our own beliefs and ask ourselves what kind of influence our beliefs have on our own actions.
The Christadelphians were a small christian group who helped many children during this time. Do you think their compassion and determination were reflective of their religion or their personal moral character?
I think that the answer is certainly both. Recently I had the privilege of interviewing a woman who had come to England from Germany––and who had actually lived with two different families after coming to England. I think her story helps to explain the way in which the Christadelphians acted both based off of their strong beliefs about the Jewish people, and also personal moral character: This woman told me that when she first came to England, she was chosen by a family and completely ignored. This was not a Christadelphian family––and the woman didn’t know what religion they were, if any. But, they brought her to their house, put her in her room, and never spoke with her. Eventually, she said, she went hysterical. She started screaming, banging on the floors, banging on the walls––because she had no interaction with anyone. Because of that experience, the Jewish refugee committee was contacted, and she was removed from that family. From there, she went to live with a Christadelphian family in Birmingham. She stated that the first day that she met them, they had a German/English dictionary and tried to talk with her.
When she got to the house, they tried to help her learn English––pointing at their dog and saying “Billy” (subsequently, she thought that all dogs were Billys…).
She stated that she felt like part of the family. I think that the dichotomy between her two experiences can show what life with Christadelphians could have been like if they had acted simply out of a belief that they should help the Jews. When the Jewish children came to England and lived with the Christadelphian families, they did not have to treat them like family members. They did not have to try to learn German. They did not have to tell them bedtime stories. They did not have to try to correspond with the child’s parents back in mainland Europe. But they did. I think that housing the children and in that sense “saving them” could have been considered enough to say “I helped the Jews.” But, the Christadelphian families, for the most part, out of their moral character, attempted not only to help the children, but to give them the best life that they could provide––just as they did with their own children. We were privileged enough to get together with a professional videographer and put together brief interviews (5 minutes each) with Mrs. Ursula Meyer and Mrs. Rella Adler. Both of them share how the treatment that they were given was as though they were daughters:
Part of the Family is not only well written but it’s also well researched. How much research did you undertake for this book and how much time did it take to put it all together?
Oddly enough, I began the research for this book last December. I was simply blown away at how well things came together. Ursula Meyer was the first person that I was able to contact, and we conducted our interview on January 19th. From there, the project just came alive. I had Christadelphian families from all over the world contacting me to tell me that a Jewish refugee had lived with them throughout the war. One of my major rules, however, is that I don’t write about someone and publish it unless I can get their approval for what I have written. And thus, hearing about all of these Jewish children that had lived with Christadelphians presented a problem––how to contact them? A number of Christadelphian families had kept in contact with the Jewish children, and so they could actually get me in touch with them, but in other cases, once the Christadelphian parents passed away, and sometimes the children, the younger generation only knew that their family had housed a refugee, but sometimes didn’t even know their name. Attempting to find the refugees and interview them about their experiences was simply amazing. I’ve called all over the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom. I’ve had conversations with people in Israel, Australia, Spain, and Sweden. Yet, perhaps one of the most exciting experiences was when I was presenting on the Christadelphians at a meeting of Kindertransport survivors, and one of the men seated at my table explained that he come to this very meeting because he had lived at Elpis Lodge, the hostel set up in Birmingham by Christadelphians! I had no idea––and here I had been having lunch with him! This book came together in a matter of months––something which still astonishes me. Yet at the same time, as things kept coming together, I found myself working at it all the time––often getting up at 4:30, just because I was so excited that another survivor had emailed me, and so I couldn’t sleep anymore.
Part of the Family is the first volume in a series. What will the next volume be about and what will the whole series encompass?
Lord willing, I hope to have the second volume finished this December, as well as an audiobook for this first volume at the end of August. The goal of the entire series is to tell the individual stories––and thus, my hope is that I can keep contacting survivors and their families to tell about their experiences when they were saved from Hitler by coming to England and living with Christadelphians. Thus, volume 2 will be more stories, and so will volume 3. I currently have about 35 testimonies that I would like to write!
In 1938 and 1939, via a movement known as the Kindertransport, thousands of Jewish children were taken from Nazi-occupied territories to safety in Great Britain. They came to a new family, a new country, and a new life. Approximately 250 of these children were sponsored by Christadelphians, a small Christian group. Often the Holocaust is considered in terms of statistics: how many perished and how many were affected, so much so that at times the individual stories are lost in the numbers. This series examines the experiences of the individuals who came to England as children, and lived with Christadelphians. Ten of these child survivors, and their families, participated in the effort to bring about this first volume. These are their stories.
Posted in Interviews
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