I have so much to be thankful for to NEXT GENERATIONS. First, to Nancy Dershaw and then to all the wonderful NEXT GENERATIONS' members for their friendship, kindness, camaraderie and understanding. You have all been a wonderful support and positive influence for me in recent years, especially in connection with my own journey through “Aaron’s Journey – From Slave to Master.”
Unlike most survivors of the Holocaust my parents freely spoke about their experiences. While my mother, Helen Herskowitz, endured the tragedy of Auschwitz, Bergen-Belsen, and other death camps, my late father, Aaron Herskowitz, related an incredible tale that my siblings and I thrilled to as an epic adventure, that in its own unique way is far different than anything in Holocaust literature or history.
"So Dad, how many Nazis did you kill?" was the question I always asked my father as a young boy.
He often kept me spellbound with stories about his incredible struggles and fantastic escapes from the Nazis, so it was the most natural follow-up question for a boy to ask. Somehow, though, my father always avoided answering that one question. He would manage either to waltz out of the room or to skillfully change the subject.
But at last, after decades of talking with my father about the events of his youth, I videotaped, audiotaped and took extensive notes in a series of interviews with him. He was well known in the family and local community as a captivating storyteller, who could enhance his testimony even more so by impersonating the facial expressions and voices of other characters, including his incredible memory of the very conversations he had with these people. As he began to tell his story, it quickly became apparent that all the hours I’d spent listening to him as a boy had not prepared me for the full breadth of the horror, madness, and triumph he had endured.
One of the greatest impressions left upon me was Aaron’s resistance against the Nazis, especially when he had to kill his would-be Nazi assassins, sometimes with his bare hands; and then upon his escape, his ultimate revenge against his erstwhile tormentors for their crimes against humanity. To me and to my siblings, Aaron was a hero greater than any we had ever experienced in literature, history or on the silver screen. There are too few stories of Jewish resistance arising out of the Holocaust. Yes, there was the Warsaw ghetto uprising, the miraculous story of the Bielsky brothers, amongst very few others.
After I grew up and then became a lawyer, I maintained empathy for the innocent underdog, and experienced the same sympathetic passions in my study of history, where innocent outnumbered individuals or nations achieved victory against overwhelmingly superior odds. Drawing upon my historical and family roots as the son of two survivors, I have striven to become a champion of the underdog.
But as Aaron’s story continued to unfold, during my continual talks and interviews with him, and as my own research and study of the Holocaust grew, I did find myself plagued by another simple question that has fascinated many historians and observers about the plight of the Jews during the Nazi occupation: Why didn’t they fight back? And where was God? As Aaron’s tale unfolded, I began to understand the untold truth kept virtually secret until now, revealed in the book I’ve written: “Aaron’s Journey - From Slave to Master,” the site for which can now be quickly accessed on the web at aaronsjourney.com.
When I completed the book in its pre-final form, I gave a copy to Nancy Dershaw. I’ll never forget when she called me the next day and said “Howard, I couldn’t put it down. Before I started to read I thought it was going to be another Holocaust story, but it’s NOT. It’s the most incredible unique action packed story of survival and revenge, and it has affected me so emotionally, that I had to call you. I had to cancel appointments and meetings just so that I could finish it without interruption. Your father was one of the greatest heroes of the Jewish people ever. This story needs to be told to the world. And you have written it so beautifully.” I couldn’t thank Nancy enough for her kind support. I told Nancy that her reaction was similar to those I’ve been receiving from Jews and non-Jews alike, since the theme is universal. The background just happens to be the Holocaust. Other NEXT GENERATIONS' members have read the book and have given me similar encouragement. And now NEXT GENERATIONS has been kind and gracious enough to have me as a guest speaker about Aaron’s Journey on a panel about heroes of the Holocaust.
And indeed Aaron was heroic. After surviving years of terror after the Nazis and their Hungarian allies forced him into slave labor upon their invasion of Russia, Aaron escaped to the Russian side, for whom he became a hero, crossing back over enemy lines, arresting and capturing hundreds of Nazi officers and spies. When the tide of war turned, the Russians appointed Aaron as overlord of a captured enemy town. Thus, in an incredible reversal of fortune, Aaron became master of his former tormentors. The Russians gave him full authority to punish those enemies who committed crimes against humanity. It is this ordeal that tested Aaron’s own capacity for humanity itself.
As the late senator Tom Lantos quoted an ancient proverb upon reviewing a draft of Aaron’s Journey: “Don’t judge a man until you have walked two moons in his own shoes.”
Again, many thanks to Nancy, Rose, Zvi, Judi, Brenda, and all the other members of NEXT GENERATIONS for which I don’t have the space to name for their undying support. And NEXT GENERATIONS must always be recognized for the many invaluable programs, services, and education the organization brings to the entire community. I look forward to working with NEXT GENERATIONS for many years to come.
Kindest Personal Regards,