Review by Thea Nietfield

Posted: May 24, 2013 in Uncategorized

Review of Needle in the Bone: How a Holocaust Survivor and a Polish Resistance Fighter Beat the Odds and Found Each Other by CarynMirriam-Goldberg, 2013

Maybe its because I was still unsettled from a visit to Israel/Palestine some years ago; maybe its the re-connection after decades with my friend and the book’s author, Caryn; maybe its because several lively voices tell this story with the complexity and clarity needed in these times…I was intrigued by the blend of history through personal story and data, blended into warm present-day Kansas relationships.

Like the needle in Lou Frydman’s foot, the Nazi era and its Holocaust stays with us – no matter where we live, no matter our religion or ethnicity. We need resources like Needle in the Bone to learn how to talk about this global trauma through inherited gut judgments. We need to practice honoring stories so that we can hold each others’ gaze until human needs for understanding and safety are satisfied.

I recommend this book to people who challenge themselves to face difficult truths so we can lean into the future with hope that we too can live with courage and resilience, and share our stories with friends.

~ Thea Nietfeld

Kansas City Review & Radio Show

Posted: January 27, 2013 in Uncategorized

Untitled 2 copyThis week, Needle in the Bone was featured in both the Kansas City Star and on KCUR’s “Up to Date” radio show.

The radio interview with me highlighted the themes of the book and what struck me as important about this story. You can listen to it here. The review, part of Brian Burnes’ Readarama column, looks at when and why I wrote this book as well as the book’s title — see it here.

Both the interview and radio show highlight my upcoming presentation on the book at the Plaza branch of the Kansas City Public Library, 4801 Main St., Kansas City, MO, which is happening 6:30 p.m. on Thurs., Jan. 31st. If you’re in the area, please join us! There will a short reception before the reading and a chance to ask questions afterwards.

Read this review, used with permission of author, of Needle in the Bone (review to be published in K.C. Jewish Chronicle).

Kansas poet laureate Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg has crafted a beautiful, moving story about the lives of two survivors of World War II, both of whom ended up at the University of Kansas where they became close friends. She interviewed both men over the course of several years. Now in Needle in the Bone, she exquisitely combines their World War experiences into a narrative that informs readers and at times brings them to tears. She also demonstrates the power of friendship and a belief in the essential goodness of people which can overcome prejudice, misconceptions, and the devastation of history.

Lou Frydman was a nine-year-old Jewish boy when the Nazis invaded Poland. When the Warsaw Ghetto was liquidated, he and his brother were sent to six concentration camps and on three death marches, miraculously surviving until they were liberated in 1945. Jarek Piekalkiewicz was descended from a well-to-do Polish family and became involved with the Polish resistance army at the age of fifteen, forming his own unit. He was captured by the Germans and sent to a POW camp from which he was eventually liberated by the US Army which took him on as a contract worker until the end of the war.

Both young men lost virtually all of their extended families during the war. Both were driven by a desire for education. Jarek went to Trinity College in Dublin. Lou went to City College of New York. Each one met a wonderful woman who became his wife. And in the end, each one became a notable scholar in his field, both teaching at the University of Kansas where they met and became close friends.

This summary does not do credit to Mirriam-Goldberg’s sensitive writing. The way she was able to blend both life stories into a seamless whole, her personal involvement with her subjects, her exhaustive research about Poland and the Holocaust during the war, and about the misconceptions of Polish anti-Semitism are truly impressive. Needle in the Bone should become required reading in any World War II or Holocaust history class. It is much more than the reminiscences of two old men. It is world history at its finest.

On January 31 at 6:00 pm the author will speak about her book at the Kansas City Public Library Plaza Branch sponsored by the Midwest Center for Holocaust Research.

~ Andrea Kempf

Andrea Kempf is a retired librarian who speaks throughout the community on various topics related to books and reading.

Needle in the Bone Book Launch

Posted: January 2, 2013 in Uncategorized


44700_4069537058430_72832791_n“Is this the High Holy Days?” a friend asked me as the crowd swarmed into the Lawrence Jewish Community Congregation for the Needle in the Bone launch party. With over 150 people finding seats around tables, against the walls, in the lobby outside the social hall, or simply standing in corners, it looked a little like we might launch into “Kol Nidre” instead of a presentation on this book about the survival and friendship of two local men, one a Holocaust survivor and one a Polish resistance fighter.

All day leading up to the event was a combination of all-okay and all-not-okay because, as Jarek said during the launch, “This is also very sad day because two people aren’t here.” When I started this book, it was about four people — Lou and Jane Frydman, and Jarek and Maura Piekalkiewicz. With both Maura and Lou dying in recent years, and on the same date (January 24 – 2011 for Maura and 2012 for Lou), it’s both tender and heartbreaking to share their stories with the community without them here.

Community came in abundance: well over 150 people showed up, the books sold out in a flash with many orders for more, and people listened intently to the presentation. Ken told me that the power point slide show about Lou and Jarek’s lives revealed just how important family was to each, starting with the family they lost and ending with the family they made in a new land.

Jarek spoke about he had a choice as to whether to risk his life against the Nazis, but Lou and other Jews didn’t have such a choice. He pointed out that Lou’s survival aimed Lou toward a life of family and service, reforming mental health laws that were damaging to children. He also said that even if Jews didn’t have saints, Lou was a saint to him as well as to many of us because of Lou’s heart and humor.

Jane told of how Lou survived, partially because of how smart his parents, brother and he was in thinking on their feet at crucial moments, and mostly because of “dumb luck,” such as the train out of the Warsaw Ghetto not going to Treblinka, which barely anyone survived an hour, but in saving grace, going to Majdanek instead. The near misses — while hiding in Warsaw on the Aryan side, in the camps, and even on the death march — kept Lou alive, but it was also his parents’ legacy that he could think so quickly and clearly on a dime of what to do or say to save his life.

I told about the four themes of the book, which I grappled with when writing it and will always grapple with: 1) What it means to survive such trauma, and how we carry such trauma within us; 2) The relationship of Poles to Jews when it comes to both anti-Semitism and how so many Polish families risked everything to save Jews; 3) The nature of good and evil, and how such a thing could happen; and 4) How we stand or could stand in relation to atrocities such as the Holocaust. Here is an excerpt of what I read:

Both Lou and Jarek bear an obligation, based on the holocausts they each went through, to create, educate, and make a difference. Maybe it’s a Jewish thing, a need to draw nourishment from the painful memory of near-annihilation: “The ultimately Jewish statement is the Messianic statement. We say this world will be redeemed; we say that human life will ultimately be worth everything. Anne Frank wrote in her diary that if she survived the war, she understood that she would have to make something of her life. The rabbis told us that the Messianic act is achieved when, in the face of total destruction, people choose to take on the grubbiness, the difficulties, the complexities of recreating life at all costs,” writes Eli Wiesel. Or maybe this is even more a human thing.

Surely, the weight of an experience such as the Holocaust is made bearable only by what we can make out of the wreckage.

In the end, there were lines of people hugging us and having us sign books, laktes, Kelley’s cookies, Terry’s vegetarian meatballs and lots of treats to eat, lingering visits while cleaning and packing up.

As Lou was dying, I knew he didn’t believe anything happened to us after death but that we simply and completely were no more. I believe quite the opposite, that the soul lives on (and not just in the hearts of loved ones). I told Lou that if I was right and he was wrong, he should send me a sign. This morning, I woke up to realize last night was a sign as well as a high holy day of its own.

Read a great article about the book in the Lawrence Journal-World.

Thank you to all who helped: the Lawrence Jewish Community for passing on all the food, drinks and wine left over from the Hanukkah celebration and hosting us, the Raven Bookstore, my husband Ken who worked with me for hours to prepare for and clean up from the event (as well as set up the AV), and many who helped: Sandy Snook, Kelley Hunt and Al Berman, Eve Levin, Forest Lassman and others. Special thanks to Jane and Jarek.

Missing Maura & Lou

Posted: December 3, 2012 in Books

It’s no wonder that driving across the Sunsh1130121037ine state with a stack of Needle in the Bone in the passenger seat makes me miss Lou and Maura. The book, which tells the entwined stories of Lou, a Holocaust survivor, and Jarek, a Polish resistance fighter, also weaves in the stories of their wives, Jane (Lou) and Maura (Jarek). When I started it was inconceivable to me that by the time the books came out, two of these four people would be dead.

Last night at the reading at Ellen (daughter of Jarek) and Marek’s home, people repeatedly asked me how I met Lou, Jane, Jarek and Maura, and I had to answer that I don’t know. We were just in the same community, led to each other by the humor and holidays we enjoyed together, the mutual friends or family in between and the great swirling of the big tossed salad that IMG_0005 5is Lawrence, Kansas. Like many people you can know for years with only hearing glimpses of their stories — Jarek’s uncle was president of the Polish underground, Maura was Irish and lost her mother at a young age, Lou survived many concentration camps, Jane practiced law and loves literature like nobody’s business — it wasn’t until I began interviewing everyone that the glimpses turned into coherent and multi-layered narratives.

Part of those layers were the memories we were making together simply through the interviewing process. I sat at Jarek’s dining room table while Maura, in her bathrobe because she wasn’t feeling well that day, put her hands on my shoulders and told me how thrilled she was that I was doing this book. Years later, Maura gone six months from a sudden death due to arrithythmia, we were in Jarek’s living room, in the middle of toasting Jarek with shots of vodka all around for his birthday. Lou, standing beside me, kissed the top of my head. Years before, I sat for hours with Lou in his sun room, visitiIMG_0040ng many Tuesday afternoons, laughing hard at Lou laughing hard as he told me some of the most outrageous turns of living through the Holocaust.

I wish so much that I could place the beautiful copy of the book into Lou’s hands and laugh with him about how it’s finally done, it’s finally out, and here it is. I wish I could point to the photos of Maura getting married with her and tell her that she was utterly gorgeous, in spirit and appearance, her whole life. Yet I  am blessed beyond blessed to have been given all their stories to share, and not just because of how much hard stories put life into perspective. The time with these four people is now part of my own story.

Please join us for the book launch party for Needle in the Bone: How a Holocaust Survivor and Polish Resistance Fighter Beat the Odds & Found Each Other at 7 p.m., Sat., Dec. 15th at the Lawrence Jewish Community Congregation, 917 Highland Dr. (one block east of 9th and Iowa).

Jarek Piekalkiewicz and Jane Frydman will be there to share some stories, I have a fascinating slide show of both families through the war and over the years, and because it’s Hanukkah, we’ll be lighting menorahs and celebrating the miracle of survival against the odds and across time.

The Raven Bookstore will also be selling books, and you can get yours signed by Jarek as well as me. Plus, we’ll have luscious delights to eat and lots of fellowship to bask in on a winter’s night.

Hanukkah is doubly-significant because the final scene of the book takes place during this holiday. Here’s the excerpt:

I remember Hannukah a few years ago, Jarek standing beside me, saying, “You know, the candle lighting was very beautiful.” He, Maura who seemed too alive to ever vanish, and 45 other people were jammed into our living room, kitchen, and dining room for our annual Hanukkah party.

“You mean the menorah lighting? Yes, it’s lovely.”

“When I see all those candles lit, it makes me cry, but not tears of sadness. It just makes me so happy.”

I put my arm around him as Lou and two of his leggy granddaughters wave and head toward their coats, Rick telling me to keep the cookies he brought.

“Because we’re all still here?” I ask Jarek.

“Yes,” he says. I kiss him on the cheek as Maura comes toward us, her arms outstretched, her face radiant.

“It’s so good to have the lads here together,” she says, while I nod in agreement.

The miracle isn’t just that they survived. The miracle is how they found a way to live with courage, laughter, and joy, while carrying those needles in the bone.

The book comes out in November, but already reviewers are praising Needle in the Bone. Here are some early reviews:

Needle in the Bone is the powerful tale of two young men’s courage, heroism, heartbreak, and survival during and after the Second World War. Both Poles, one man survived six concentration camps and three death marches, while the other was a Resistance fighter who, at age sixteen, commanded his own underground army of 100 men. Lovingly conceived, exhaustively researched, and beautifully written, this book is a magnificent achievement that not only provides important insights into the Holocaust and the Resistance, but also documents the indomitable will of two extraordinary men. — William Tuttle, author of “Daddy’s Gone to War”: The Second World War in the Lives of America’s Children,  and other books

Rich in factual detail and personal revelations, Needle in Bone is an intimate portrait of two friends who witnessed unimaginable atrocities during the Holocaust, and, in later years, grabbed a good share of happiness. The author, a loving friend of both men and their wives, holds the reader spellbound as she  elicits their indelible, horrific, and hope-inspiring stories. Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg’s authentic emotional presence and self-disclosure ends up being a huge gift to her readers, and the book is a valuable, highly personal, contribution  to the literature on Holocaust history.  –Harriet Lerner, PhD., author of The New York Times bestseller, The Dance of Anger, and Marriage Rules

Needle in the Bone is a compelling, story of two Poles—a Jewish resister who survived the Warsaw Ghetto, Auschwitz, and other Nazi atrocities, and an Underground fighter who fought and survived the Nazi regime.Author Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg weaves in her own story as a Jewish American, adding valuable context and insights into the lives and experiences of Lou Frydman and Jarek Piekalkiewicz. Mirriam-Goldberg, a skilled interviewer, draws out their life stories, and that of their wives, Jane Frydman and Maura Piekalkiewicz. The two couples paths cross on a Fulbright in Poland, and they return to Kansas, becoming close friends and entwining their lives.In the hands of the author, we come to know the Frydmans and Piekalkiewiczs, and to better understand America and ourselves as Mirriam-Goldberg reflects on their lives, her own life, and the America in which the two couples live.It is a very American story of survival, new beginnings, hope and laughter in the face of horror, and faith in human goodness. You can’t resist liking and caring about Lou and Jane, Jarek and Maura, and Caryn Miriam-Goldberg.

— David Katzman, Professor Emeritus of American Studies, University of Kansas

With a poet’s eye for beauty among the ruins, Caryn Miriam-Goldberg has crafted a contemporary tale of two different men with a history of woe in common.  A welcome addition to literature about the Holocaust, and a reminder that good sometimes does survive and prosper.

~ Leonard Zeskind, author of Blood and Politics: The History of the White Nationalist Movement from the Margins to the Mainstream.

The book may not be coming out until mid-November, but you can now pre-order copies at Potomac press by visiting this link. In the past month, I’ve gone over the very careful and complete final copy edits, including meeting with Jane to check on Lou’s facts and with Jarek to check on his own, and now the book is on its way to design and layout. For a project that started five years ago, it’s a joy to know how fast it’s moving toward publication. Lou had a chance to see the final version of the book, and I believe he would have liked this cover from the publishers, which I find very appropriate, artful and to the point (no pun intended). I wish Lou could have held the book in his hands before he died, but I know he was able to participate in conveying all the nuances of his story as accurately as possible through out years working on this together. I look forward to sharing his and Jarek’s stories as well as what they had to say about the vast realities of war, community-building, change, families, and making new lives out of old ruins.

Posted: July 1, 2012 in Uncategorized

Rick, Tess and Hannah singing “Sunrise, Sunset” to open the celebration

The memorial service for Lou Frydman, held June 4th in Lawrence, KS., was intensely moving with singing, poetry, stories and letters — even a remembrance with stage directions — shared from Lou’s children, grandchildren, brother-in-law, friends, students and fellow activists. Here is the talk and poem I shared.

Some years ago, Ken and I were having brunch — blintzes of course — with Lou, Jane, Jarek and Maura, and the thought I had been percolating for years — that someone should write a book of Lou’s story of the Holocaust, Jarek’s story of the Polish Underground, and their remarkable friendship — slipped out my lips. I asked them if I could write this story despite my repeated thoughts over the years that I shouldn’t offer such a thing because I was way too busy with work, writing and living in a household of teenagers. It was the best slip I ever made.

Although Lou and I disagreed about all things spiritual (or even the existence of spiritual), for me, receiving Lou’s story was one of the two greatest spiritual gifts of my life, the other being the wave of love and forgiveness I experienced at my father’s death. Lou’s story is obviously about survival, making a life in a new

John (Lou’s son) telling us that Lou was just like a father to him

world after the world he came from was destroyed and eliminated. Yet it’s also a story about how to live, particularly in light of the worst darkness humankind has experienced, that of the most systematic murder of millions.

In telling me his story, Lou didn’t just invite me in for the ride; he made sure my seat was well-padded with laughter to make the passing through all the places we would visit bearable for me. The worst the atrocity, the harder we laughed. One time I ran into Rick in the produce section of the Merc, and he told me, “My mom says you and Dad are laughing your asses off.” It was true, in some part because of the jokes Lou told me, like this one:

It turns out Hitler survived WWII and was in hiding in Argentina when some SS men find him and beg, “Please, Furor, can’t we just do it all again? Please?” Hitler thinks it over for a moment, sighs, and then says, “Well, alright, but this time, no more Mr. nice guy.”

Lou brought so much humor to his story that one of the many publishers that rejected the book — Needle in the Bone: How a Holocaust Survivor and Polish Resistance Fighter Beat the Odds and Found Each Other — said that Lou was too happy and obviously not coming to terms of what he had been through. This limited view of a Holocaust survivor is one of the many mythologies Lou sought to break through, and his story as well as his life is a testament to living outside narrow views, closed-mindedness and apathetic or frightened avoidance of what’s most wrong with the world.

But beyond the jokes, Lou constantly made me laugh, both of often laughing so much I would start to cry too. Lou had one of the greatest laughs of all time, and he also brought that laughter to his story not just to show how ludicrous the Nazis were (which, in addition to being evil to and beyond the bone, they were), but how life goes on despite and because of almost all his beloved — mother, father, cousins, aunts, uncles, friends — killed.

Lou’s story didn’t just teach me about survival and resiliency, but about what it means to live with our eyes and hearts wide open. His discernment of what he experienced was profound and precise, but he also saw what could be. The goodness he made out of his life was more expansive and higher than the depth and complexities of the evil he experienced.

When Lou’s cancer started metastasizing, and it seemed likely he didn’t have years left but only months, I decided to write him a poem. Having written a poem for Maura’s (may she rest in peace) memorial service, I knew I would want to read Lou a poem too, but why not write it while he was still here so he could have that too? Strangely enough, as some of you know, Lou died on the one year anniversary of Maura’s death. While I would much rather have had to dig this poem out years from now for Lou’s service, I’m sad to say now is the time, yet for me, Lou is still here — right in my heart.

For Lou, While He’s Still Here

“I won’t last long,” Lou says, his voice bright on the phone.

I pace the deck on a shining autumn morning, Lou stands

in his kitchen or walks to his couch, the books to re-read

marking his place. We talk of his health, his grandkids, my kids,

and of course, Nazis. “This one just cracks me up,” he says,

his voice rising to tell me what he found in the paper. Meanwhile,

more doctor’s appointments, his granddaughters’ college papers,

a magazine article in Polish, another book on what really happened.

Never paranoia in Lou’s case, but the simple clarity of facing

death too many times. He rifles through his memory, lands

on a story he wants to tell, and starts talking.

Almost 70 years ago, he fell asleep instantly each night in the camps,

his body trained on survival. He stood at attention when he had to,

shoveled or peeled or carried for hours, and walked until

he could no longer go on, ready to die. Having lived, he made a life

from tenderness and beyond the ruins of evil. Now he laughs about

how, after the darkest pain last night, he ended up, this morning,

drinking 7-up, amazed at how delicious it was. Meanwhile,

the cancer advances, the world continues to fall apart and

come together, brilliant photos of sea creatures come across

the internet, and his son shows up with home-made cookies.

If anyone can show us what it is to live, it’s Lou, who keeps close

the folders of news clippings, a photo of family at a costume party

before the war, receipts and visas, letters delivered years later.

The family long gone, and the family now here: all he lives for,

their entwined voices alive with laughter, urgency and calm,

stories and realizations, song and surprise because of him,

because of what he shows us about the love that endures.

Lou Remembered in Local Paper

Posted: January 29, 2012 in Uncategorized

Our local paper, the Lawrence Journal-World, ran a story in remembrance of Lou today. Check it out here. I was very moved by so many comments from readers who deeply valued Lou’s teaching, activism and presence in our community.