As we enter the third millennium, eyewitness accounts by survivors of Hitler’s ruthless effort to exterminate Europe’s Jewish population are becoming increasingly rare. Moreover, many Holocaust stories are so devastating that audiences recoil from attending. Some parents are loath to expose their children to the insane cruelty of Hitler’s camps. In At the Mercy of Strangers: Growing Up on the Edge of the Holocaust—selected as Best Book for the Teen Age in 1998 by the New York Public Library— I never shy away from the reality of the situation, nevertheless the story is uplifting, because throughout the book I am grateful to the many people who, at the risk of their own lives, hid me from my executioners. My lecture emphasizes we are all responsible for our actions regardless of their popularity or futility.
Adults and students continue to identify with the story of this “ordinary” young girl who faced the constant threat of capture while also struggling with the turmoil of adolescence. The diary I kept during those years of working hard is woven into the text of the book. The diary, coupled with the main text I wrote as an adult, tell of my fears, my hunger, my frustrations and homesickness, my fantasized love life. The book explores conflicts with my mom, the pain of being an outsider, my defiance of danger in moments of youthful bravado, and of my stubborn belief in the future in the face of defeat.
In the spring of 1999, after one of my early presentations at the John Smith Jewish Day School in Rockville, Maryland, Director Dr. Geraldine Nussbaum wrote:
“Suzanne Loebl’s visit to our school was memorable. The students responded warmly to her very personal story. They identified with the ordinary young girl who grew up under such unusual circumstances. It was most valuable for them to see how both positive and negative life experiences can be the source of excellent books.”
As a thank you to those who helped preserve my life, and as a memorial to the millions who perished, I usually waive my presentation fee.