THE CARILLON

University of Regina

October 28, 1999

 

FINDING HOPE IN THE MIDST OF HORROR

Light After the Dark book focuses on survivors’ stories from the Holocaust

by Erin Hidlebaugh

 

A graphics designer by trade, Alvin Abram took a course in creative writing at York University after a heart attack in 1994 left him wondering what to do.

            Marilyn, Abram’s wife, was literally the driving force behind this course and the book The Light After The Dark. Not being able to drive himself, she drove Abram to the university for his class.

            Abram wrote the first story in 1982 for his friends’ children. He had no idea then that the story would turn into a book. In total he wrote 16 stories, three that were later set aside and it wasn’t until 1994 that he got the idea for this collection.

            That was when Survivors of the Shoah, a production company led by Stephen Speilberg who concentrate on making documentaries about the horrors of the Holocaust, came to Toronto and offered an interviewing course. Abram took it, deciding to bring the experiences of other survivors out after attending the course.

            The documentaries made by Spielberg’s group had to condense a person’s experience into two and a half hours of video. This meant that the company was forced to drag out the ‘gross and the ugly’ generalities of the Holocaust as opposed to detailing the survivor’s stories, in order to get the people to listen.

            Abram didn’t want to dwell on the horrors, but to tell the personal stories instead.

            “The stories I wrote were about the individual, what he or she had to survive during that particular period,” says Abram. “My stories were positive by chance as compared to theirs which were documentaries.”

            He approached 13 of the 16 survivors to rewrite the stories and include them in his publication.

            The only condition Abram made in this creation was that neither he nor the survivors shall profit from pride and liberties. $3000 went to Survivors of the Shoah to continue with the videoing.

            “Spielberg donated umpteen millions of dollars, but money has a way of running out, so we made a donation.”

            The March of The Living is an organization that allows students from the US and Canada to “make a mass trek through all the bad places in Europe to see with their own eyes that which was lived by the survivors. It’s not a vacation as much as an experience and the cost is not cheap. Unfortunately, it’s not subsidized and so that’s why I donated.”

            The March of the Living will be receiving $2000 to pay for a student who cannot afford the expense.

            The idea was that Abram was going to do two books no matter what. The first one had to be written and it had to make such an impact that there would be a need for a second follow up.

            “My book is a Holocaust book, it was coming out a year before Israel was turning 50, 600 other books were coming out at the same time [about related history], so 601 by an unknown writer was one too many.”

            Because nobody wanted to take him on, Abram’s wife encouraged him to self-publish, because of the quality she felt was contained in the stories.

            The book was designed with hopes of finding a publishing company who would be willing to publish the book.

            “I’d put up the money and that way if it was a bomb nobody got hurt except me. It was a financial risk that I felt I could take.”

            2600 hard cover books were produced and within three months most of them had been sold. A soft cover version of the same book was then produced. Because all the money was going to charity, he only produced the books he could sell. By selling the books himself all the money would go to the charities and no commission to the book stores. As he was selling the book privately, Abram was approached by Key Porter Books to buy the rights.

            “The condition was I put my book aside [to] work on theirs.” It was released in July 1998 and by this time with all the different versions sold over 4000 had been purchased.

            “I’m still out there selling,” he comments.

            Telling the stories is a way of healing for the survivors.

            Abram found that in almost all of the cases it was just a matter of extracting the stories.

            “A few were very simple, the words just flew out, as if the faster [they told the story] the better they’d feel.”

            Since the stories were public and some of the people went on to speaking engagements where they had a chance to say in their own words how they felt, they have begun to heal. What they kept to themselves they are now sharing.

            “You can’t go through that experience and then say I’m healed, but you can say I understand now what happened to me. Don’t let it happen again. The process worked very well.”

            Abram found the project emotionally exhausting.

            It’s an emotional experience and not something I can do for long intervals. I do it in short intervals because I usually break down. Some of the things they say are horrific. I’m more interested in the inside story, the story with the story. If no one approaches me about book two, I’ll self-publish. I’m convinced it’ll sell. This one cost-nothing, so I have nothing to lose.”