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Powerful Holocaust book ‘world history at its finest’

“Needle in the Bone: How a Holocaust Survivor and a Polish Resistance Fighter Beat the Odds and Found Each Other,” by Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg. (Potomac Books, 2013)

Kansas Poet Laureate Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg has crafted a beautiful, moving story about the lives of two survivors of World War II, both of whom ended up at the University of Kansas where they became close friends. She interviewed both men over the course of several years. Now in “Needle in the Bone,” she exquisitely combines their World War experiences into a narrative that informs readers and at times brings them to tears. She also demonstrates the power of friendship and a belief in the essential goodness of people which can overcome prejudice, misconceptions and the devastation of history.

Lou Frydman was a 9-year-old Jewish boy when the Nazis invaded Poland. When the Warsaw Ghetto was liquidated, he and his brother were sent to six concentration camps and on three death marches, miraculously surviving until they were liberated in 1945. Jarek Piekalkiewicz was descended from a well-to-do Polish family and became involved with the Polish resistance army at the age of 15, forming his own unit. He was captured by the Germans and sent to a POW camp from which he was eventually liberated by the U.S. Army, which took him on as a contract worker until the end of the war.

Both young men lost virtually all of their extended families during the war. Both were driven by a desire for education. Piekalkiewicz went to Trinity College in Dublin. Frydman went to City College of New York. Each one met a wonderful woman who became his wife. And in the end, each one became a notable scholar in his field, both teaching at the University of Kansas where they met and became close friends.

This summary does not do credit to Mirriam-Goldberg’s sensitive writing. The way she was able to blend both life stories into a seamless whole, her personal involvement with her subjects, her exhaustive research about Poland and the Holocaust during the war, and about the misconceptions of Polish anti-Semitism are truly impressive. “Needle in the Bone” should become required reading in any World War II or Holocaust history class. It is much more than the reminiscences of two old men. It is world history at its finest.

Andrea Kempf is a retired librarian who speaks throughout the community on various topics related to books and reading. She is a member of the Council of Advocates of the Midwest Center for Holocaust Education.

Kansas poet laureate discusses new book

Join author Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg on Thursday, Jan. 31, as she discusses her book, “Needle in the Bone,” sponsored by the Midwest Center for Holocaust Education and the Kansas City Public Library at the library’s Plaza branch. The book weaves together the stories of Holocaust survivor Lou Frydman and Polish resistance fighter Jarek Piekalkiewicz. For reservations, call 816-701-3407 or email www.kclibrary.org. 6 p.m. reception; 6:30 p.m. program.