July 23, 2008

Daughter of survivors keeps memory alive

Reprinted from: The Jewish Standard

April 4, 2008

by Abigail Klein Leichman

Joseph Horn died in 1999, 30 years after moving to Glen Rock and 60 years after the Nazis began a series of devastating actions that would leave him as the sole survivor of his Polish family.

Horn and his wife, Dinah, did not discuss their wartime experiences with their three daughters — not until Sandy, at age 10, discovered a black notebook with yellowed pages covered in her father’s handwriting.

"I knew it was something my parents didn’t want me to see," Sandy Rubenstein recalls today. "I locked myself in the bathroom [to read it] because I yearned to know where they got those tattoos, why they spoke with foreign accents, why we had no grandparents. I read voraciously, and the more I read the less I really understood."

The stories gradually started spilling out when she confronted her parents with her discovery. The notebook, she learned, contained memoirs her father had started to write in a displaced-persons’ camp in Stuttgart.

"I remember the sadness that would come over his eyes when I asked certain questions," said Rubenstein, a Woodcliff Lake resident. "He would pat my head and bemoan the fact that this was the legacy he had to leave us. He did not belabor the answers; he was patient and wise."
The Horns both came from the same city, Radom, and had met in its ghetto when Dinah (then Danka) was 12 and Joseph was 15. Dinah survived Bergen-Belsen and met up with her future husband again at the DP camp. "My father arrived in New York in 1947; my mother arrived in July 1949 and they were married in November 1949," Rubenstein related.

In 1995, Joseph and Dinah Horn sat for a videotaped interview with Steven Spielberg’s Shoah Foundation. A year later, using his old notebook as a starting point, Horn wrote "Mark it With a Stone: A Moving Account of a Young Boy’s Struggle to Survive the Nazi Death Camps"(Barricade Books). Rubenstein said she did not know her father’s full story until she read it in its preliminary stages.

With his book in hand, Horn began speaking of his experiences at schools and community groups in order to actualize the words he chose for his foreword: "I implore God to give me the strength to do justice to those we left behind. To tell their story and mine so it may touch the hearts of people, now and in the future. To make sure, to the extent that I can, that our ordeal will not have been in vain."

Last year, Rubenstein had approached her father’s publisher about reissuing his book and received an enthusiastic response.

In February, Barricade Books released a new paperback edition of the 223-page book, with an introduction by Rubenstein giving her perspective as the child of survivors.
Rubenstein is a reading and language-arts teacher at Horace Mann in Riverdale, N.Y., where she first began following in her father’s footsteps by presenting 35-minute multimedia talks to middle- and high-school classes about his experiences. Now that the new edition of the book is out, she has expanded her schedule to venues in New Jersey as well. The presentation begins with a picture of the cover of "Mark it With a Stone" and includes up to 20 DVD clips from the Shoah Foundation interview.

"My dad was 12 when the war began, the same age as many of the children I speak to," she said. "The day he was supposed to enter seventh grade, the bombs began to fall. There’s a clip of him talking about what it was like on that day. When we talk about statistics, it doesn’t mean anything. But to tell one personal story touches hearts."

She also is working with the New Jersey Commission on Holocaust Education to devise workshops teaching children of survivors how to pass along their parents’ stories.
Her mother, who now lives in Washington Township, is not comfortable with public speaking but has attended some of her daughter’s lectures.Rubenstein is hopeful that her presentations encourage students to "reflect on their own moral responsibility, and to stand up and fight against genocide and prejudice, which still occur today. The concept of remembrance is not only about what happened in the past, but how to behave in the future. I believe this heartfelt program marks the advent of ways to teach the Holocaust after survivors are no longer with us."