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DOWN UNDER and BACK UP again

An author talks about her fascination with Mel Gibson, and how it became a novel.

DOWN_UNDER_COVER-330When a Jewish author, daughter of Holocaust survivors, writes a novel inspired by the life of Mel Gibson, there must be a good story attached. And there is. In fact, there are two parallel stories, one concerning the notorious international superstar, and one about his fan, that daughter of Yiddish-speaking, Orthodox, Lithuanian immigrants. The child of survivors of Stutthof and Dachau.

Let’s start with the second strand. The child, of course, is me – author of a recent memoir called The Watchmaker’s Daughter, which told of my life as the daughter of heroes. My parents met at a Lithuanian Survivor’s Ball in New York City. At the moment they took to the floor in a Viennese waltz, they’d already endured the ghetto, the camps, four years in Germany as DPs, and the arduous process of starting anew in America. My mother had been about to debut as a pianist when her world fell apart. Her father and two brothers were killed, and her mother sent to the “bad” line, marked for death. My mother heroically got her out, keeping her alive until liberation. My father had a similarly valiant tale. Years before the Nazis invaded, his father was killed by the Cossacks.  This tragedy had forced him, at 13, to apprentice as a watchmaker — and that trade saved his life at Dachau.  Germans needed someone to repair their timepieces. My father, by that time a master watchmaker, did that, and more. He saved lives as a prisoner in pajamas, bringing other Jews into his workshop whether they could fix watches or not.

These were my parents, people who could walk through hell, and do it helping others.  They were also people who could really dance. When they fell into each other’s arms at the Survivors’ Ball, when they sailed across the floor to Strauss, or flew in the air in a polka, they recognized each other. Kindred spirits who could live like that and hope like that and dance like that must marry.  Soon after, they did.  And not too long after, they had a boy and a girl – a New World family dream come true.