A Holocaust survivor recounts life lessons of use to the latter-day downtrodden.
Born Szmulek Rosental in Lodz, Poland, Ross, founder of the New England Holocaust Memorial, was a young boy when the Germans arrived and set about destroying Jewish homes and killing Jewish men, women, and children. An early victim, he writes, was a grandmother who was thrown from a high window after failing to produce hidden treasures quickly enough. Ross quickly came to a realization: “God will not protect us.” Left to his own devices, he grew up too quickly in a sequence of concentration camps yet lived to tell the tale. Under the aegis of postwar relief organizations, he came to the United States after the war ended, followed later by a surviving brother. A born negotiator, he excelled at practical politics, which stood him in good stead in social work and later as an administrator in Boston’s city government, in charge of education in underserved communities where education was not a given. One of the highlights of the book is the author’s account of strong-arming an unwilling admissions officer into admitting ghetto kids into a storied top-tier school: “I will bring you six qualified students, and you will let them take summer classes here. On a scholarship. If they are successful, you can enroll them in school here and either pay for their tuition or provide them with aid tied to a job here on campus.” Ross adds that he had a newspaper reporter in tow to chronicle the outcome of the meeting, a fine bit of blackmail that worked. The author emerges as a resilient character who is determined not to allow the enemies of the past to re-emerge in the present unchallenged; his book opens with a cri de coeur on Charlottesville, and it ends with a defiant testimonial: “I am a survivor.”
A worthy memoir of dark times, full of practical lessons for resistance and community organizing today.