A Hebrew-language book that won Yad Vashem’s prize for outstanding children’s Holocaust literature in 2008 is being published in English this month, in conjunction with Yom Hashoah (Holocaust Remembrance Day).
Escape in Time – known in Hebrew as Nes Shel Ahava (A Miracle of Love) – is Ronit Lowenstein-Malz’s moving young adult novel based on her late mother’s story of survival in Hungary during the Holocaust. The book is based on written memoirs.
Lowenstein-Malz, who has written nine books, worked as an educator for more than 20 years.
The author’s mother, Miri, the main character in the novel, was a young girl when she and her parents, Naftuli and Hendi Eneman, and Miri’s three older sisters left their hometown of Munkács within a short time of each other, and survived much of the war in Budapest. Naftuli’s prescience, combined with repeated cases of luck, instinct, courage and resourcefulness, helped them to narrowly escape a dire fate.
In the book, Miri’s story alternates with that of her granddaughter Nessya, a girl consumed with curiosity about the past when she learns that her grandmother is a survivor.
The book’s American publisher – Bethesda-based Margie Blumberg of MB Publishing – fell in love with the book when Ruth Lieberman, the author’s cousin, sent her an unsolicited synopsis.
To illustrate the English version, Blumberg turned to award-winning Guelph, Ont., artist Laurie McGaw, who had illustrated Blumberg’s 2003 children’s book Avram’s Gift. Blumberg, who founded her company 12 years ago, has published both fiction and non-fiction for children and young adults.
McGaw found models for her illustrations through Guelph’s Beth Isaiah Synagogue and friends in the Guelph Jewish community, as well as Torontonians who had modelled for characters in Avram’s Gift. On April 17, at 3:30 p.m., McGaw will speak at the Guelph Public Library about how she illustrated Escape in Time, and will also touch on information about Munkács and World War II.
Working on the “very meaningful manuscript” was a fantastic experience, she said at a launch party she hosted for the models and their families.
Blumberg said Escape in Time is “an important story that we felt we needed to be a part of, and we’re honoured to be a part of.”
Lieberman, whose mother was a sister to Miri, was taken with “the quality of the writing and compellingness of the story” when she read it in the original Hebrew. She felt strongly that the book would have international appeal.
A research scientist who lives in Boulder, Colo., Lieberman enlisted help from translator Leora Frankel, and “lucked into” an agent who sent the English version to more than 20 publishers. They all “seemed to absolutely love it,” but declined to publish it, Lieberman said. Undeterred, she continued the search on her own, contacting 10 more companies.
After championing the book for years, Lieberman said, “I’m really thrilled that my mother’s family story is hopefully going to be part of the middle school Holocaust education or reading canon. I think it’s very inspiring. I think that they were amazing people who just had to make really tough decisions, and I think that they were really brave.”
As of early April, Lieberman had two events scheduled for this month, a reading at a local middle school, and a discussion with bar and bat mitzvah students.
Miri’s real-life close friend, Malka Marom – part of the singing duo Malka and Joso in the 1960s – remembers Miri and her family as very brave, very wise, and good storytellers. Lowenstein-Malz, who uses Marom’s name in one scene in the English version, inherited their storytelling ability, Marom said.
Lowenstein-Malz told The CJN in an email that as a child, she felt embarrassed by her mother, a Holocaust survivor with no number on her arm, who hadn’t been in a concentration camp, and was “even beautiful and radiant.
“But she always managed to survive the horrors of the Holocaust, to escape in time. I then understood that this story that I was so ashamed of during my childhood, is a story I want to tell to the generations to come. Through this story, one can understand what happened in the Holocaust without being too scared.”