Monday, April 22, 2013

Livia's story

I met one of my favorite people, Livia Bitton-Jackson, in the street the other day and we were chatting.  She told me that she was going to meeting someone and then told me a story that is quite amazing.  Livia is a historian and was a Professor of History and Judaic Studies at City University of New York.  She is also a Holocaust survivor, who has the distinction of having survived as a 13 year old when she and her family were taken in 1944 by the Germans in Czechoslovakia and transported to Auschwitz. 
In 1980 she wrote about her experiences in a  book entitled "Elli: coming of age in the Holocaust" (Elli Livia Friedmann was her original name).  It was well received and and widely distributed.  As a result she received many letters from all around the world, including Britain, Europe and Japan.  One letter she received was from an American boy in San Diego named Jim Bailes who is not Jewish and he told her that he knew nothing about the Holocaust until he had read her book and it had a tremendous impact on him.  He wanted to meet her, but she and her husband had moved to Israel in 1977 and she only went to NY to teach each year. 
In the meantime they lost contact and apparently Jim continued trying to locate her, not knowing she had moved to Israel.  By chance he met a Jewish couple, the Segals, who lived in the building where he was the custodian, and he asked their advice, but they could not trace her either (this was all before the internet).  They eventually also moved to Israel. Then she published her biographical work, "I have lived a thousand years: growing up in the Holocaust," in 1999 and Jim Bailes wrote to her again.  Fourteen years ago when Livia went to a demonstration with the Women in Green, someone called out her name.  The Segals happened to be sitting at the nearby bus stop ready to leave, but when they heard her name "Livia" called out they ran to her and asked, "are you Livia Bitton-Jackson?"  Soon they contacted Jim Bailes, and since then he comes to Israel to see her once every year.


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