‘Heroic Children’ focuses on a few to tell the story of Holocaust victims

By R.M. Grossblatt

Rabbi Hanoch Teller offered the crowd at Congregation Beth Jacob’s Heritage Hall some insight into the publishing industry Tuesday night, Dec. 1.

Signed copies of “Heroic Children,” which lists for $26.99, are available at Judaica Corner.

Signed copies of “Heroic Children,” which lists for $26.99, are available at Judaica Corner.

“Whoever says ‘They don’t judge a book by its cover’ never tried to sell a book,” Rabbi Teller said in introducing his new book, “Heroic Children: Untold Stories of the Unconquerable,” which almost didn’t get printed because of the cover.

Rabbi Teller got permission from the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum to use for his cover a photo of several children the day they were liberated from Auschwitz in January 1945. The image appeared in sepia, but he decided to add color to a child in the middle.

A few hours before printing, with the plate already cut, Rabbi Teller was told he couldn’t use the image because he didn’t have permission from the boy to change the picture.

“I’m not such a rollover,” said the rabbi, a scholar and docent of Yad Vashem. “I’m a fighter.”

All he knew about the boy, 70 years later, was that he lived in Europe, and his last name was Hirsch.

Rabbi Teller spent two hours making inquiries to try to find the survivor, and just seven minutes before printing, the prolific writer spoke with the survivor, who gave him permission to color his picture.

“I took that as an omen for the book,” the rabbi said.

Perhaps the attention on one child on the cover resulted from Rabbi Teller’s belief that it’s easier to relate to one person than to all the victims of the Holocaust. He said that in the 1940s the United States was concerned about the survival of only one person, Sigmund Freud.

Rabbi Ilan Feldman (right) welcomes Rabbi Hanoch Teller to Congregation Beth Jacob on Dec.1.

Rabbi Ilan Feldman (right) welcomes Rabbi Hanoch Teller to Congregation Beth Jacob on Dec.1.

In another example, he said that it’s easier relating to Anne Frank, although she didn’t live in a ghetto, than to the 6 million Jews who were killed, many of whom did live ghettos.

The author spoke about the depraved life in the ghetto and how the Germans deceived the Jews, often offering to transport them to a better place. He shared what happened to the doomed ship St. Louis and the efforts of a couple who traveled from America to save 50 children.

One touching involved a group of American rabbis led by Rabbi Aharon Kotler, who went as far as the White House to ask for $1 million to save 800,000 Jews. The money wasn’t granted.

The back cover of the book stands out for the endorsements:

  • “By telling the courageous and heart-thumping stories of nine children, Rabbi Teller has created the perfect means to convey the history of this period in a way that is mesmerizing and cannot be forgotten,” said Rabbi Israel Meir Lau, a former chief rabbi of Israel and chairman of Yad Vashem.
  • “We cannot change the past, but by remembering it, we can change the future. On no issue is this more vital than the Holocaust, all the more since the survivors are growing older and fewer, while anti-Semitism, almost unbelievably, has returned to the arena of global politics,” said Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, the former chief rabbi of the United Kingdom.
  • “Hanoch Teller has put all of the students of the Holocaust — and of the human condition — in his debt,” said Martin Gilbert, the official biographer of Winston Churchill.

Many at the lecture felt indebted in some way to Rabbi Teller, who presented information that they had never heard. After the lecture, Marci Greenberg, a Beth Jacob member, said, “With what’s going on in the world right now, what we heard tonight was necessary.”

Rabbi Teller hopes that “Heroic Children: Untold Stories of the Unconquerable” will inspire with its special cover and change the way people think.