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Finding hope

Irv Lubliner of Ashland retired from Southern Oregon University in 2014. After teaching mathematics for almost 40 years, he determined it was time to do something else. That something else was to resurrect his mother’s words and the hope that carried her through Auschwitz during the last years of World War II.

The result is “Only Hope: A Survivor’s Stories of the Holocaust.”

Irving was born to Felicia and Abram Lubliner after the camps, after liberation, after the war, and after the couple found a new life in Oakland. Irving discovered his mother’s stories after her death in 1974 at the age of 52, and knew instinctively that her voice was compelling and important. Felicia’s words are plainly written in a way that draws the reader into a cataclysm of unimaginable events.

The first story in “Only Hope” is “Follow Me into Auschwitz,” as Felicia, a 22-year-old woman is delivered to the camps. It’s a first-person account where Felicia invites the reader to walk with her, to think of another time and a horrific place. The narrative is hard to read, impossible really, to imagine.

“... Follow me if you will into Auschwitz and spend a day there, and meet some of the people in the nameless mass of bodies,” Felicia wrote. “Try, if you will, to feel, even for a moment, that you could have been one of them, that in fact you were one of them.”

Felicia Lubliner grew up in Poland where normal life gradually collapsed. The Lubliners were moved from Jewish ghetto to Jewish ghetto, and then finally in August 1944 taken by boxcar to Auschwitz where, like millions of others, the family was separated, never to see each other again.

Unable to forget these terrible events, Felicia was haunted by nightmares throughout her life. She was determined that others know of her experiences and related her stories in schools and universities, at conferences and assemblies. She explained that hope was the only thing that kept her and others alive. That hope was an essential and fundamental resistance, a refusal to give in. That every day lived was defiance of death.

Irving Lubliner first read Felicia’s stories to Betsy Bishop’s English classes about six years ago at Ashland High School after he saw “And Then They Came for Me,” a play about a friend of Anne Frank’s who was taken to the concentration camps.

“The students were mesmerized, totally in the moment, watching the scene unfold as Irving read his mother’s stories. They cried; he cried,” Bishop recalled. “Storytelling, stories of real, live people often speaks to history better than facts and statistics.”

Felicia Lubliner’s stories add to the collection of Holocaust literature, and the book’s publication in Oregon is timely.

Oregon, along with 11 other states, has just passed legislation that requires every school district to provide instruction specifically about the Holocaust. Sparked by a friendship between Claire Sarnowski, a fourth grade girl from Lake Oswego and Alter Wiener, a Holocaust survivor, state Sen. Rob Wagner, D-Tualatin, introduced legislation that had unilateral, bipartisan support. Gov. Kate Brown signed SB664 into law on June 4, making it effective Jan. 1, 2020.

“What I like most about SB664 is that its broader objectives are explicitly related to respect for diversity, human rights and the consequences of prejudice, racism and stereotyping,” explained Dr. Margaret Perrow, associate professor of English education at SOU “The SB664 initiative is very aligned with other types of educational legislation in Oregon like SB13, which mandates statewide curriculum related to the Native American experience in Oregon.”

“Bills like these recognize that schools can play an important role in developing respectful, thoughtful and empathetic human beings who are capable of seeing complicated issues from multiple perspectives,” Perrow added.

Perrow and others agree that genocide and crimes against humanity must be brought forth, acknowledged and understood so that these terrible facts of human history are not forgotten.

Theater companies follow that same path, recognizing that dramatic works can be effective teaching and learning tools. Consider the Oregon Shakespeare Festival’s 2010 production of “Ruined,” concerning the savaging of women in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, “Off the Rails” in 2017 about the eradication of Native cultures as white populations moved West, and in 2019, “Cambodian Rock Band,” about Pol Pot’s murderous reign in Cambodia.

Irving Lubliner continues his mother’s legacy by speaking to school groups and now, by assembling and publishing her memoirs of survival and hope.

“This is the most important work I have ever done,” admitted Lubliner. “These are wonderful stories to read aloud, that lend themselves to understanding as springboards for discussion”

Felicia Lubliner’s “Only Hope: A Survivor’s Stories of the Holocaust” is $18.99, available online from OnlyHopeBook.com and at Bloomsbury Books in Ashland. A digital download version is in the works. Schools are eligible for a 25% discount on orders of 12 or more copies of the book.

Reach Ashland freelance writer Maureen Flanagan Battistella at mbattistellaor@gmail.com

Only Hope: A Survivor’s Stories of the Holocaust by Felicia Lubliner, edited by her son, Irving.
photo by Maureen Flanagan BattistellaA portrait of Felicia Lubliner shortly after her liberation from the camps graces the pages of “Only Hope,” stories edited by her son, Irving Lubliner.